Meaning & Morality
thoughts by Anitra L. Freeman

can build
pyramids, roads and prisons
and can't make anyone

     God is very real to me. God is adorable. God is the biggest, brightest and most beautiful Being in creation -- how can I help but love God?
     I do not feed hungry people because God tells me to. I don't even feed hungry people because I love God and God loves other people. I feed hungry people because they're there and I can. I love God because, what else could I do? I feed hungry people because, what else could I do?
     One day when both my son and I were hungry and had little money, I bought us a snack in a grocery store and the clerk accidentally included a $20 bill in the change for my five. I automatically gave it back. My son was rather round eyed. After a few moments, he decided he was proud of me, but we both did regret a bit that we couldn't have kept the twenty.
     I didn't give that $20 back because I'm a Christian, or because God was watching, or because it would be against the law to keep it. I did it because I live in a social mesh of many other human beings, and stealing from or cheating others in order to benefit myself isn't going to help any of us in the long run. Mostly I did it because the person I am reacts like that.
     I am bipolar -- it used to be called "manic depressive". Before I got diagnosed and found treatment, I reached a point in a long depression when I did consider suicide. I hurt, I had hurt everyone I loved, my life was a wreck -- and there was no meaning to existence. I looked to reason, and decided that there was no way to scientifically justify meaning and purpose to personal life. I looked to religion and knew that while I may have meaning for God, God could not make me have meaning and purpose for myself. I tried with the very dregs of what energy I had to call up a purpose. I knew that if I decided on a purpose in my life, that would be my purpose, I could structure my life around it and give it meaning. But I just sat there. I did not have the internal "oomph" to create a purpose for myself. I had no faith. I didn't have to have faith to be certain of the reality of God -- but I needed faith to be certain that the reality of God made any difference to me, and faith must be a form of energy, because mine had run out. I thought of suicide as just getting out of everyone else's way.
     Maybe it was the lack of energy. Maybe it was a dim remaining sense that my suicide would hurt the people who loved me even more than my continuing to blunder about living would do. Maybe it was a tenacious spark of will to live. I didn't exactly decide to live. I just didn't decide to die.
     And slowly I came back up again. I came back up to the point that one day I went to a doctor and said, "I think I'm bipolar, and I'm ready to try medication." Twenty minutes after my first lithium, I noticed the colors around me brighten, and I started tasting the food I was eating. Three days after I started taking lithium, I woke up one morning (on a mat on the floor of a homeless shelter) and I felt the fire inside. The fire of life, purpose, meaning, faith -- the fire that had driven me to Twelve Step groups, Scientology, Christian rebirth and all the steps of spiritual growth in my life, the fire of poetry and passion and soul.
     I do not think that anyone would be a loving and creative servant of God if they just had the proper balance of brain chemicals. I also don't think that anyone will be a loving and creative servant of God if God just wants them to. I do think that ultimately humans create themselves. I create myself out of everything available -- a body inclined to the shape of a round of buttered bread dough idealized by my Danish ancestors; long on brains and short on certain brain chemicals that stabilize mood and energy, so I get to experience religious ecstasy and the dark night of the soul more often than most mystics; a fundamentalist grandmother and an atheist father and a mystic mother, so I can arm-wrestle my own soul on three hands; and more. Like an artist, I conceive a vision and use whatever materials I have to embody it; or, I look at the raw materials of my life and see a shape in them which only I can bring to light. The purpose, the vision, the drive comes from within me.
     God wants it that way, I think. After all, God has to be bigger and better than I am in all things. I know that one of my main delights in the world is that it is full of people who do not think and say and act and create the same way I do. They do things that are new to me, that surprise me, that make me think and feel and do new things myself.
     It makes sense to me that if God created human beings, God created us because God loves to be surprised, too. So we each have our own inner drive, our own purpose from within, and the life-meaning that we create for ourselves. Everyone else in the Universe, including God, is a partner and adds to our lives and our sense of meaning -- but cannot create it for us.
     I'm coming to morality roundabout the back way. I believe that in human beings, morality is secondary to meaning. The sense that life has a purpose and meaning is critical to our survival. It is the first thing that we need. We base our system of ethics and morality on that foundation of meaning, and use it to reinforce and carry out that sense of purpose. We judge right and wrong by how it holds to our vision of "what is supposed to be" -- based on the peupose and meaning of life that we hold.
     I want people to be free to create and surprise me. I want people to "have life and have it more abundantly." I also want plants, animals, even physical rocks and dirt to "have life and have it more abundantly." If there are other beings off-Earth, I want them to "have life and have it more abundantly," and I want them to be free to create, and I want to hear their folk songs.
     To say yes to some things is to say no to others. I oppose any efforts to control what people can create. I oppose subjecting anyone to speech or anything else that they experience as abusive; they must have the ability to avoid it, without limiting their participation in other activities that they welcome. I support the rights of plants, animals and the physical environment to a healthy and pleasant life, too, even if that puts a limit on how many veal dinners and BMW's humans can have. I support the rights of all humans to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" and I deny the right of anyone to advocate hatred and violence in a public forum or to enforce their personal sense of purpose and morality on others except to protect life.

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