Different images may surface when we speak of ‘life’. These images come in a wide variety. They range from debates about abortion ‘rights’ to fulfilling one’s bucket-list. For many of us, life is filled with too many awesome things to do, people to meet, places to visit, and friends to love. So how can ‘life’ be devaluating?
To understand the devaluation of ‘life’, we need to ask ourselves exactly what ‘life’ is. According to the Merriam Webster dictionary (n.d.), ‘life’ can be categorized into the following categories: 1) the quality that distinguishes a vital, functional body from a dead one, 2) the physical and mental experiences that make up the existence of oneself, 3) a manner of living, 4) a form of spiritual existence that transcends physical death, 5) something that provides interest and vigor, and 6) an animating and shaping force or principle.
However, for the purpose of this article, I will zoom in on the aspect that makes ‘life’ unique – the ‘thing’ or the ‘force’ that shapes people’s life. This is not the tangible, physical ‘life’ that is being lived by people. Rather, it is the innate force that causes people to have differing experience, purpose, and goal of “life”.
Hence, in my opinion, the devaluation of life refers to the degrading ‘essence’ of living. The degrading value of the very ‘thing’ that people live for. This ‘thing’ in question, should be something that is of greater value than oneself. Devalue this ‘thing’ and the direction of a person’s life will change accordingly.
The quest to find this ‘thing’ is never a modern idea. In fact, the search for this ‘thing’ spans the entirety of human history. Coincidentally, the search for this ‘thing’ runs hand-in-hand with the devaluation of life as people sought to fill the need for this ‘thing’ with tangible items that wasn’t meant to be.
Materialism as the Essence of Living – The Glorification of the Here-and-Now
The problem with materialism comes with the increasing glorification of enjoyment. The “You only live once (YOLO in short)” mindset promotes the idea of living to the fullest because life is short. It promotes a culture that sought to pursue once-in-a-lifetime activities, and often, such activities are dangerous. Thrill-seekers hitch a ride on this mentality, giving them a reason to pursue all sorts of activities for the purpose of self-enjoyment.
This mindset gave rise to a whole list of other trends such as the “bucket-list challenge” and the pursuit to be in line with “fashion”.
On the surface, all these seem pretty harmless. Sometimes, it is even seen as good. However, all of these modern trends were brought about by a “what I want, I will get” mindset that consumerism preaches. The “buy, borrow, steal” mindset places the essence of life on the endless pursuit of material things. This led to a life that is no longer purpose-filled but limited to things that we can see. The overall emphasis of life now revolves around the here-and-now instead of something that is of eternal value.
The Glorification of the Self
The idea of “self before others” is not a new idea. But in the current century, propelled by industrialism and capitalism, the idea that we need to love ourselves is getting louder. People are taught to love our selves before others and to meet our own needs before others. No doubt, all of these are important, but the over-emphasis of the self is pointing society in a direction where everyone else apart from the individual is objectified.
The idea of objectification I am referring to is not simply the ‘objectification’ mentioned in feminism. Rather, it is the complete objectification of every one. Karl Marx argued that differing social classes formed by whether or not one has the ability to own the means of production causes alienation among people. Similarly, this alienation further extends to the social realm in a similar manner. While people sought to have their needs met, people are alienated from one another. People only saw the things that they would want others to fulfill in their lives rather than treating people as people. Parents view children as a source of income to fulfill their needs due to their deteriorating ability to work. Boys looking to find sexual affirmation and company from girls. Girls looking for security and love from boys. Kids cry when their parents do not give them what they want. Employers sack employees when they no longer need them. Employees switch jobs when another company provides a better offer.
For this very reason, the human species have become a pleasure-seeking species rather than a social and relational one. No one saw each other as a fellow person but as a tool for self-satisfaction. Actions are centered on the emotions of oneself and not out of genuine care for others.
The pursuit of rights such as the rights to love came out of the idea of objectification. Without having a proper definition of love, anything that can fill the gap and provide the sense of affirmation will then be viewed as romantic love. Hence, the pursuit for the rights to love is for the purpose of fulfilling one’s desire to be affirmed.
Sure, there is a certain form of ‘progress’ such as the acceptance of a changing societal trend. However, the ‘progress’ in question is also a vaguely conceptualized idea. On this note, if we consider the deteriorating social integration and the weakening moral regulations of society, then we can say that humanity, in essence, is deteriorating.
Should “life” be focused on the self, then the focus of “life” will be limited to things that are of temporal value. The direction of life will then be centered on the endless pursuit of pleasure.
The Seal of Destruction – The Institutionalization of Norms
In my opinion, the present age that we currently live in can be seen as one of the darkest age of humanity. Dark, not because there are wars, conflicts, famines, and other disasters. Rather, it is dark because immoral acts are normalized and institutionalized; sometimes even celebrated.
School teaches students to excel in life, workplaces are marked with competition, and parliaments across the world are starting to downgrade moral values. The institutions institutionalize norms that shape the innate driving ‘force’ within the hearts of people that in turn, shape their ‘life’.
People no longer know what they are living for. On the surface, ‘life’ seems to be all about having a successful portfolio, a great career, a great marriage, and a fulfillment of everything on the ‘bucket-list’. But on a deeper level, people know that life is much more than these.
With the institutionalization of such mindsets, people who have eternal perspectives in life are then seen as oddballs who cannot seem to fit into the society at large.
The Overarching Problem
If Christians believe that life in this earth is to prepare us to be with God (Dailey, 2004), then the life should be centered on eternity rather than “the things of the world”. But if the focus of most people – Christians included – are on the here-and-now, then we will see an overall degradation of ‘life’.
If the overall purpose of life – the very essence and driving force of life – is centered on an eternal promise, then one can find satisfaction and purpose regardless of the duration of life and earthly resources. People laugh in disbelief when we speak of how terrorism thrived and people are willing to forgo everything to bomb themselves for “72 virgins in paradise”. But, there is a very important truth worth considering here – the idea of eternal life as a driving force of one’s ‘life’.
In eternity, people found a purpose for living in their current lives. In eternity, people found satisfaction that the material world cannot give. In eternity, people found ‘life’.
And for this ‘life’, people are willing to give everything up.
Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life”.
Is this what He meant?
Dailey, J. (2004). Preparing for Eternity – On Purpose. Retrieved from https://billygraham.org/decision-magazine/november-2004/preparing-for-eternity-on-purpose/
Emile Durkheim (n.d.). Retrieved from http://people.uncw.edu/ricej/theory/durkheim1.htm
Life. (n.d.). Retrieved June 25, 2018, from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/life
Ollman, B. (n.d.). Alienation: Marx’s Conception of Man in Capitalist Society Part III, The Theory of Alienation. Retrieved from https://www.nyu.edu/projects/ollman/docs/a_ch18.php
Warraq, I. (2002). Vrgins? What virgins? Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2002/jan/12/books.guardianreview5