Tuesday 1 February 2011

Big Questions Unsatisfactorily Answered

What are the Big Questions of life? (Actually, that in itself might just be one.)
They often present themselves as (1) Who Am I?, (2) Where Did I Come From?, (3) Where Am I Going To? and (4) What Is It All For?
Far be it from me to attempt to answer them - but hey, why not? Here's my stab at some kind of answers...

1. Who Am I? I am the I asking this question. If there's one thing that's certain, it is that I am I and no other.

2. Where Did I Come From? and 3. Where Am I Going To? Here's the Venerable Bede:

'The present life of man, O King, seems to me, in comparison of that time which is unknown to us, like to the swift flight of a sparrow through the room wherein you sit at supper in winter, with your commanders and ministers, and a good fire in the midst, whilst the storms of rain and snow prevail abroad; the sparrow, I say, flying in at one door, and immediately out at another. Whilst he is within, he is safe from the wintry storm; but after a short space of fair weather, he immediately vanishes out of your sight, into the dark winter from which he had emerged. So this life of man appears for a short space, but of what went before, or what is to follow, we are utterly ignorant.'

In other words, out of darkness and mystery, back into darkness and mystery.

4. What Is It All For? Ah yes, the biggest of the big ones. Being dubious of any overarching plan and suspicious of any scheme of things that subjugates the human individual - a universe in itself, and full of unplumbed mysteries - to a larger purpose, I incline towards something like Keats's view of 'why we are here', as expressed in his great letter of February-May to his brother and sister, which begins with the poet getting a black eye the first time he takes a cricket bat in his hand, and goes on, through many wonders, to this:

'The common cognomen of this world among the misguided and superstitious is 'a vale of tears' from which we are to be redeemed by a certain arbitary interposition of God and taken to Heaven-What a little circumscribed straightened notion! Call the world if you Please "The vale of Soul-making". Then you will find out the use of the world (I am speaking now in the highest terms for human nature admitting it to be immortal which I will here take for granted for the purpose of showing a thought which has struck me concerning it) I say 'Soul making' Soul as distinguished from an Intelligence- There may be intelligences or sparks of the divinity in millions-but they are not Souls till they acquire identities, till each one is personally itself. I[n]telligences are atoms of perception-they know and they see and they are pure, in short they are God-How then are Souls to be made? How then arc these sparks which are God to have identity given them-so as ever to possess a bliss peculiar to each one's individual existence? I- low, but by the medium of a world like this? This point I sincerely wish to consider because 'I think it a grander system of salvation than the chrystiain religion -or rather it is a system of Spirit-creation-This is effected by three grand materials acting the one upon the other for a series of years. These three Materials are the Intelligence-the human heart (as distinguished from intelligence or Mind) and the World or Elemental space suited for the proper action of Mind and Heart on each other for the purpose of forming the Soul or Intelligence destined to possess the sense of Identity. I can scarcely express what I but dimly perceive-and yet I think I perceive it-that you may judge the more clearly I will put it in the most homely form possible-I will call the world a School instituted for the purpose of teaching little children to read-I will call the human heart the horn Book used in that School-and I will call the Child able to -read, the Soul made from that School and its hornbook. Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make it a Soul? A Place where the heart must feel and suffer in a thousand diverse ways! Not merely is the Heart a Hornbook, It is the Minds Bible, it is the Minds expe rience, it is the teat from which the Mind or intelligence sucks its identity. As various as the Lives of Men are-so various become their Souls, and thus does God make individual beings, Souls, Identical Souls of the Sparks of his own essence-This appears to me a faint sketch of a system of Salvation which does not affront our reason and humanity-'

That, tentative and questing as it is, will do me. For now.


  1. One day, perhaps, those nice young people at Google will include a little box....

    Bede of course famous for supporting both Sunderland and Newcastle, the first known dual nationality. He must have written that whois whilst gazing over Jarrow Slake towards the sunny vista that is Wallsend, hence the rather gloomy prognosis.

  2. Brilliant Malty! I'm sure you're right.

  3. A pedant writes:
    The passage of course in in Bede but it's actually spoken by one of King Edwin's pagan counsellors. For Bede, exit left may lead to sunlit uplands, intensive house-training, or sparrow-on-a-spit. As long as it doesn't crap on those feasting beneath, the sparrow can probably avoid the latter.

  4. Just because a question may be asked does not mean it has an answer.