Most of us, most of the time, don’t think much about matters of even moderate importance, let alone ultimate importance.
I was at a party, speaking to a guy in his early 20’s, and I asked him if he was happy. He said, “Not really.”
I asked, “What would make you happy?”
“Man, I don’t know. I guess I just want to make some money.”
“But why do you want that? Nobody just wants stacks of money on a table. Money is a means to an end. So what do you want to get with the money that you think will make you happy?”
He looked puzzled. “I don’t really know. I hadn’t thought that far out.”
I was at another party, a New Year’s Eve party. Because the new year can sometimes be a reflective moment for some people, and because I had had two beers, I began asking people at the party if they were happy. One guy said, “No. I’m not happy. I don’t think I can be happy. I work, I make good money, I go home, and I play video games. That isn’t happiness, but I think that’s as good as it gets. I’m not sure if anyone can be happy.”
Both these conversations occurred a few years ago, but they have lingered in my mind because they were some of the few times I have spoken to strangers about matters of ultimate importance, like happiness. From these conversations, I have drawn two conclusions that have since been confirmed by further experience: 1. Most of us do not go very far in our reflections about matters of ultimate importance. Like the guy who just wanted to make money, that’s as far as he ever got. He had done very little actual reflection about what it would mean to be happy. 2. Many of us approach these topics pessimistically: we cannot be happy, we cannot make meaning of the world, and we cannot assign values to things, so why talk about it?
In these columns, I would like to do my part to rectify this situation by discussing matters of ultimate importance with honesty, openness, and humility. My primary goal is to ask questions about happiness, meaning, values, morality, life, death, and truth. These are not unapproachable questions, and they are not unanswerable, at least to a point. We cannot know everything, but that does not mean we know nothing.
A secondary goal for these columns has to do with approach. I come to these questions as a Christian theologian. That said, I will not ask readers to share my beliefs or values, only that they should share my commitment to see value in different perspectives when they are well thought out. It is my goal, however, to provide a Christian perspective on these questions that is a little different from the Christianity often on display in American culture, in the hope that you might find Christianity tolerable, interesting, perhaps even beautiful, whether or not you come into the fold.