Discovery in suffering

The heritage of Viktor Frankl – the Austrian Jew imprisoned by the Nazis in 1942 – still lives on. He survived the years 1944-45 in the horrific death camp at Auchswitz. This terrible place saw the birth of his theory of logotherapy: that human beings survive and flourish if they can see a meaning for what is happening to them, no matter how horrendous the circumstances.

The twilight of meaning?

A very different spin on human life is being preached by the militant atheists, such as the sociobiologist Richard Dawkins and the social critic (the late) Christopher Hitchens. Their theories accept that evolution is a blind and purposeless process which has no meaning except what humans bring to it. For them, power or pleasure rather than meaning is what drives life onwards.

The gift that is life

Various criticisms can be brought against this vision of the exponents of blind evolution. If it’s we humans who create and impose meaning then surely such meanings are totally arbitrary – Auchswitz is as legitimate as Disneyland, Nazidom as valid as democracy. It’s only convention or weight of numbers that prefers one to another, and over time that could shift. Why should human life be worth more than a dog’s life?

Such philosophies, it seems to me, dismiss and devalue the experience and intuitive soundness of huge numbers of human generations. They ignore that, in the vast majority of cases, a child is seen as a gift that has come into the world, that life is worth fighting for even in the bleakest of wars or famines. They ignore the innumerable experiences of men and women of all ages ‘dis-covering’ the power of beauty or a touch of the numinous, that is, something utterly beyond normal imagining. They did not invent, shape or conjure it up; it was already there, hidden and shining, just waiting to be uncovered or dug up.

In the Christian vision the universe is not just an intricate self-defining datum. It is a wondrous blend of blind law, synchronicity, chance and design that reflects a God whose entire being is the basis of law, freedom and love.


Father Neil Vaney

Next steps

This writing is based on the content of ‘What Catholics Believe’, Booklet 9, ‘Life of a Christian’ referencing pages 5. Should you like to read more just click either of the links below to download ‘Booklet 9’ or the complete set of ‘What Catholics Believe’.