Viktor Frankl’s Logotherapy in a Nutshell: There are no Accidental, Meaningless Human Beings

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“[H]uman existence,” writes psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, “can never be intrinsically meaningless.”1 In other words, you were born for a reason. That may be hard to understand, because many people do not even know why they exist. You are meant to be alive. If it were not so, then you would possibly be dead already. But since you are reading my article, you are, obviously, alive.

However, you are, according to Logotherapy, responsible for finding a meaning to your life. That is thrust squarely upon you, not someone else. There is, then, a rightful place for you in the world, as if it were made for you alone. To accept that view, however, requires a faith-commitment, an existential “leap of faith.” Such a commitment cannot be proven logically or reduced to a logical argument. Therefore, take a leap of faith, that is, keep on seeking until you find a meaning to your life. After all, if the search were not worthwhile, you would not be looking for meaning in the first place.

If that, too, fails, then consider another possibility for a meaning to your life, which Dr. Frankl calls “self-transcendence,” a moving away from self-absorption, self-preoccupation, or moving away from focusing all your attention on yourself. In other words, the meaning of your life is directed to others, helping them find meaning in their lives.

Every day, every hour, indeed, every second, life is a choice, either unconsciously or consciously, to live. Despite life’s many uncertainties, you are responsible – either to your own conscience, to others or even to God, or in all three respects – for staying alive. And you will do that much better with, rather than without, a meaning to life. As Frankl writes, giving advice to those who have not, at the moment, found a meaning to their lives,

“[T]ry to be patient and courageous: patient in leaving the problems unresolved for the time being, and courageous in not giving up the struggle for their final solution.”2

Endnotes

  1. Viktor E. Frankl, The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy, trans. Richard and Clara Winston, 3rd ed. (New York, N.Y.: Vintage Books/ Random House, 1986), p. 44.
  2. ———-, The Will of Meaning: Foundations and Applications of Logotherapy (New York, N.Y.: New American Library, 1969, 1st printing 1970), p. 95.

Christianity, the Liberal Arts and the Humanities

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The Liberal Arts

In ancient Greece and Rome, a liberal arts education was for men who were not slaves. It taught free men to be good citizens, that is, to live freely and responsibly, so that they could remain free all of their lives.1 The premise of the liberal arts is that education will aid human being in living good lives, both for themselves and the common good, the good of society.2 The two-fold purpose of the liberal arts, then, is to “seek knowledge for its own sake,” for truth is good in itself, and the application of knowledge to enrich one’s own life, as well as the lives of others.3

Originating from the Human Mind

The liberal arts are different from the material arts, which are formed out of matter and, thus, from human hands.4 Liberal arts are free from matter, that is, they are formed from the human mind. For example, a speech is made or composed by the human mind, even if it is written on paper. Other examples are literature, music and logic, all of which originate, first, from the mind and may later be written on material data.5

Disciplines within the Liberal Arts

Today, the liberal arts include a broad range of disciplines, such as the study of rhetoric (public speaking), writing, literature, mathematics, history, political science, education, philosophy, theology, religion, science, psychology, sociology, culture, anthropology, the arts, theater, music and physical education. The purpose of such studies is to give students a well-rounded education, allowing them to become generalists in knowledge, while at the same time, focusing on a specific discipline for their degree, allowing them to become specialists in knowledge.6

Not a Vocational Education

The liberal arts should not be confused with vocational education, which prepares a person for an occupation, such as becoming a carpenter, plumber or an electrician. The primary focus of vocational education is “What can I do with my training?” However, the main focus of a liberal arts education is the shaping of “a person’s understanding and values.”7

The question about studying the liberal arts is not “What can I do with it?” That reduces knowledge to an instrumental value or a useful art. Rather, the right question about the liberal arts is “What can it do to me?” That supposes the intrinsic or innate value of knowledge. In other words, it is good in itself, needing no practical justification.8

The Humanities

Situated in the liberal arts, and virtually equivalent to them, is the studia humanitatis, “studies of humanity” or the humanities. They represent the human person’s concern with human beings and their human world.9 The humanities, then, are the products of human creativity.10 In short, they are from humans and for them. The humanities teach about human beings – morally, economically, artistically, politically, religiously and in countless other ways – at their best and worst.

For Christians, the humanities are due to the imago Dei, the “image of God” in the human person. God is the Creator, and thus, the author of creativity. Because human persons are made in his image, they reflect, in a finite way, the creativity of their Creator.11 They can create, because they are made in the image of their Creator.

The humanities have a special meaning for Christians. As philosopher Arthur Holmes says, “We are to image [reflect] God in all our creaturely activities, our cultural existence and every phase of our humanity. To image God in the fulness of our humanity is our highest calling.”12 In short, Christianity rejects nothing that is genuinely human. Sin, however, is not genuinely human. Rather, it is a distortion of the human will, a human aberration or abnormality.

The Fragmentation of Knowledge

Today, colleges and universities suffer from the fragmentation of truth. They are producing specialists. In the words of Christian apologist Francis Schaeffer,

“In our modern forms of specialized education there is a tendency to lose the whole in the parts, and in this sense we can say that our generation produces few truly educated people. True education means thinking by associating across the various disciplines, and not just being highly qualified in one field, as a technician might be.”13

Knowledge is interrelated. But it is up to the student to integrate or see the connection between different areas of study. Schaeffer continues,

“Today we have a weakness in our educational process in failing to understand the natural associations between the disciplines. We tend to study all our disciplines in unrelated parallel lines. This tends to be true in both Christian and secular education. … We have studied our exegesis as exegesis, our theology as theology, our philosophy as philosophy; we study something about art as art; we study music as music, without understanding that these are things of man, and the things of man are never unrelated parallel lines.”14

Today’s Multiversity

Unlike the Christian concept of a medieval university, today’s university is really a multiversity. It has no unifying world view or point of integration.15 It is literally disintegrated, with fragmented departments of knowledge. According to theologian R. C. Sproul,

“The students’ schedules are filled with liberal arts courses which expose them to wide variety of academic disciplines. But these disciplines have no apparent cohesion with each other. Students move from lecture to lecture, absorbing differing and often mutually exclusive views. The information they glean about their own humanity incites … confusion. In psychology, one view; in biology, another; in philosophy … [still another].”16

In short, in many modern universities, there is incoherence, diversity without a source of unity.

University: Diversity within Unity

A Christian university is patterned after the concept of the medieval university. Like a universe, a university, in Sproul’s words,

“[was] a place where the many (diversity) come together into the unified whole (unity). The working assumption was that all diverse particulars of knowledge discovered and analyzed in the specialized academic disciplines, found their coherence in God. It was the unifying power of theology that elevated her to the queen of sciences, being assisted by her metaphysical handmaiden philosophy.”17

A Christian university, then, consists of diversity in unity and is structured “on the premise that all knowledge is ultimately coherent and unified.”18 Such a university “retains a unifying Christian world-view and brings it to bear in understanding and participating in the various arts and sciences, as well as in non-academic aspects of campus life.”19 For a Christian university or college, the source of integration is the Christian concept of God.

God the Creator is the author of sacred (spiritual) and secular (natural or pertaining to the world and human beings) truth, whether already discovered or yet to be discovered by humans. That is to say, all truth is God’s truth, no matter where or by whom it may be found.20 The humanities, then, Christianly understood, discover the truth of God’s world, especially the truth about human beings.

Christian Humanism

However, Christian universities do not teach that human beings possess the highest value of all that exists. That is reserved for God, the Supreme Being, the only One who is worthy of worship (from the Old English words worth ship). In other words, humans do not have ultimate value, because only an Ultimate Being, God, does. However, out of all the creatures of the world, the cosmos, God gives humans the highest intrinsic value, making them highest in being.21 That is why they are worth studying, understanding and loving.

Endnotes

1Arthur F. Holmes, The Idea of a Christian College (Grand Rapids, MI.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1975), p. 35.

2Anon. 2019. Liberal Arts: What is Liberal Education? Christendom College. [Web:] https://www.christendom.edu/academics/liberal-arts/ [Date of access: 7 September 2012].

3Peter Kreeft, The Best Things in Life (Downers Grove, IL.: InterVarsity Press, 1984), p. 31.

4Mortimer J. Adler, The Great Ideas: From the Great Books of Western Civilization, ed. Max Weismann (Chicago and La Salle, IL.: Open Court Publishing Company, 2000, 5th printing 2002), pp. 242-243, 245.

5Ibid. 246. In antiquity, the liberal arts were divided into two parts, namely, the trivium and quadrivium, consisting of seven areas of study. The trivium consisted of grammar, logic and rhetoric. The quadrivium consisted of arithmetic, geometry, music and astronomy.

6Anon. 2003-2012. What is the Difference between Liberal Arts and Liberal Sciences? Learn.org. [Web:] http://degreedirectory.org/articles/What_is_the_Difference_Between_Liberal_Arts_and_Liberal_Sciences.html [Date of access: 17 September 2019].

7Arthur F. Holmes, The Idea of a Christian College, op. cit., p. 36.

8Ibid., p. 37.

9Mortimer J. Adler. 2008-2009. The Mortimer J. Adler Archive: Aristotle’s Ethics — The Theory of Happiness, Part I. The Radical Academy. [Web:] http://radicalacademy.org/adleraristotleethics1.html [Date of access: 17 September 2019].

10Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian Worldview, Vol. 5: A Christian View of the West, 2nd ed. (Westchester, IL.: Crossway Books,1982), p. 427.

11Ibid.

12Arthur F. Holmes, The Idea of a Christian College, p. 35.

13Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, A Christian Worldview, Vol. 1: A Christian View of Philosophy and Culture, 2nd ed. (Westchester, IL.: Crossway Books,1982), p. 12.

14Ibid., p. 211.

15Arthur F. Holmes, The Idea of a Christian College, p. 19.

16R. C. Sproul, John Gerstner and Art Lindsley, Classical Apologetics: A Rational Defense of the Christian Faith and a Critique of Presuppositional Apologetics (Grand Rapids, MI.: Academie Books/Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), p. 10.

17Ibid., pp. 9-10.

18Ibid., p. 9.

19Arthur F. Holmes, The Idea of a Christian College, p. 19.

20Ibid., pp. 24-25.

21Norman L. Geisler, Is Man the Measure?  An Evaluation of Contemporary Humanism (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1988), p. 123.

Minute Meditation on Suicide Prevention: Finding Reasons to Live

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Founder of Logotherapy

Usually, a person who wants to commit suicide is not thinking rationally, clearly; his or her mind is clouded by emotional distress. The reason is that it is instinctive, even unconsciously rational, for the human creature to want to live, to gravitate toward being. There are, in fact, always good reasons for a person to live, even if he or she, at the moment, may not recognize them. There are, for instance, other persons to encounter in love and service. There are also projects to complete and possibilities to actualize in the future, even if a person does not clearly recognize them in the present. But there is no good reason to end one’s life. Suicide is a negative act that ends the possibility all positive acts. It is the wrong answer that ends any right answers to a problem. It is the ultimate choice against ending all choices. It is an act against oneself, because true self-love will always care for the self it loves. Viktor Frankl writes,

“[I]t is our duty to convince the would-be suicide that taking one’s own life is categorically contrary to reason.”

If a person is in despair, contemplating suicide, not knowing why he or she should stay alive, then that person needs to be given reasons to live, to be reminded that life, despite the emotional distress of the present, is a great good to be cherished and preserved.

Endnote

Viktor E. Frankl, The Doctor and the Soul: From Psychotherapy to Logotherapy, trans. Richard and Clara Winston, 3rd ed. (New York, N.Y.: Vintage Books/ Random House, 1986), p. 51.

The Difference between Knowing about and Knowing a Person

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Inter-Subjectivity

Indirect Knowing

There is a vast difference between knowing about and actually knowing a human being. The first kind of knowledge is indirect, that is, factual, objective, detached and dispassionate. Such knowledge does not require any real personal involvement in someone’s life. It is, using the language of the personalist philosopher Martin Buber, an “I-It” relationship.

Direct Knowing

The second kind of knowledge is direct, that is, experiencing another human being in his or her uniqueness as a person. Such a relationship involves self-transcendence, which is a “moving out,” a choice to move away from oneself, one’s own “world,” and move into another person’s “world.” In doing so, one person discovers another person’s emotional “highs” and “lows,” likes and dislikes. In other words, a human being enters, by virtue of direct experience, into another person’s intellectual, spiritual and emotional “world.”

Existential Encounter

The personal relationship that I am describing, which is the greatest or most enriching of all human relationships, is, in the terminology of existentialism, “an encounter.” Strictly speaking, a human being does not encounter things, such as rock, trees, boats, houses, and objects in outer space. Rather, he or she can only encounter persons. An encounter, then, is, in the words of Viktor Frankl,

“[A] relationship between an I and a Thou – a relationship which, by its very nature, can be established only on the human and personal level.”

It is, indeed, a human tragedy, a form of psychological and social alienation, for a human being to throughout his or her life, knowing all kinds about others but never really knowing someone as a person.

Indirect Leading to Direct Knowing

Of course, knowing about another human being may lead to knowing him or her as a person. However, for personal knowledge to occur, there must be a movement from the factual to the experiential; from the abstract to the concrete and from the general to the specific knowing of a here-and-now person.

There is, then, nothing wrong with knowing many things about others and, in general, the world of objects. But the knowledge of things, as important as it may be, is not nearly as important as the knowledge of persons, for persons are always and infinitely more important than things.

Endnote

Viktor E. Frankl, The Unheard Cry for Meaning: Psychotherapy and Humanism, rev. ed. (New York, N.Y.: Washington Square Press, 1978 and 1985), p. 73.

Making a Meaningful Difference in Students’ Lives, Often without Even Knowing about It

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Subject: Hey Rev!; Sent By: The Student Shall Remain Anonymous; On:Mar 03/18/16 2:05 PM; To: Timothy Lent tlent@mail.immaculata.edu

The following email to me was unsolicited:

Rev! I hope that you’re doing well! I haven’t seen you around campus lately, so I just wanted to check in and make sure you’re still alive. I’m graduating in May, and I suppose with that, I’ve come to reflect on my past years at IU. I was thinking of what classes and information that I would take with me in my future endeavors, and I think the class that had the most impact on me was your Christian Ethics class. I may not be a Theology major or minor, but I feel that I learned the most applicable and life-changing material in your class. Truthfully, I think I learned more from who you are as a person than the information that was taught.

I wanted to thank you for caring for your students. This may seem mundane, but the way that you genuinely cared for us made a huge impact on my life. I’ll always remember when you would tell us that “It’s okay to not be okay”. There is so much truth in that statement! For you to simply ask how we as your students were doing, made the class that much more of an impact for me.

I’m actually interning at a high school for my senior internship, and I’m loving it. As I learn more about my students, I keep thinking of all that I learned in your class. I remember your transparency with your students, and your honesty about the struggles you’ve gone through in your life. To know that a professor, a Reverend, and a PhD can be that authentic with his students shows a lot about who you are. I think if nothing else, God has given you the gift of transparency-not everyone can be honest, open, and relate to so many. I hope that as I move forward in my education and my life, I can be as caring as you were for us!

I don’t know where you’re at in life, Rev- if you’re even at IU anymore, but I hope that wherever you are, God is using you to change the lives of others. If I’ve learned anything in working in this school, it’s that sometimes we go into our vocation and try to save everyone. That doesn’t always happen-and it’s easy to focus on that, but if we impact the life of ONE person we interact with-we have truly won. I know you’ve impacted my life and the lives of others-and I hope you keep on doing that!

I hope you keep on keeping on, Rev! In the words of Viktor Frankl, “What is to give light must endure burning”. I hope you’re not “burning” too much, but I know you’ve given light to others!

——-

Immaculata University | 2016 IU

Discovering the Deepest Meaning of Love in a Concentration Camp

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Viktor E. Frankl, Author of Man’s Search for Meaning

A Reading from Man’s Search for Meaning

Context or Setting: Psychiatrist Viktor Frankl is thinking about the love he has for Tilly, his wife, while being marched by soldiers to forced labor in a Nazi concentration camp on a cold, winter morning.

“We stumbled on in the darkness, over big stones and through large puddles, along the one road leading from the camp. The accompanying guards kept shouting at us and driving us with the butts of their rifles. Anyone with very sore feet supported himself on his neighbor’s arm. Hardly a word was spoken; the icy wind did not encourage talk. Hiding his hand behind his upturned collar, the man marching next to me whispered suddenly: ‘If our wives could see us now! I do hope they are better off in their camps and don’t know what is happening to us.’

“That brought thoughts of my own wife to mind. And as we stumbled on for miles, slipping on icy spots, supporting each other time and again, dragging one another up and onward, nothing was said, but we both knew: each of us was thinking of his wife. Occasionally I looked at the sky, where the stars were fading and the pink light of the morning was beginning to spread behind a dark bank of clouds. But my mind clung to my wife’s image, imagining it with an uncanny acuteness. I heard her answering me, saw her smile, her frank and encouraging look. Real or not, her look was then more luminous than the sun which was beginning to rise.

“A thought transfixed me: for the first time in my life I saw the truth as it is set into song by so many poets, proclaimed as the final wisdom by so many thinkers. The truth – that love is the ultimate and highest goal to which man can aspire. Then I grasped the meaning of the greatest secret that human poetry and human thought and belief have to impart: The salvation of man is through love and in love.”

Endnote

Viktor E. Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning, 3rd ed. (New York, N.Y.: Simon and Schuster, 1984), pp. 48-49. Italics are the publisher’s.

Mother Teresa’s Doubts

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Mother Teresa

Intellectual Doubt

Did Mother Teresa have doubts? Did she have questions about God, even agonizing over why the Creator allows suffering, poverty and evil? Of course she did! So do many saintly or godly women and men. However, doubt is not necessarily an enemy of faith in God. Actually, an honest, sincere kind of doubt is rooted in the search for truth, being open-minded to finding satisfactory answers to questions about one’s faith. I do not think that Mother Teresa, with her “rich” theological and philosophical heritage, was suffering from intellectual doubt. In what follows, I will explain why.

Feelings of Distance from God

Sometimes, Mother Teresa had felt as though she were only “going through the motions” of being a Christian, of serving others. For example, in one of her letters, she confessed,

“If you only knew what goes on within my heart. – Sometimes the pain is so great that I feel as if everything will break. The smile is a big cloak which covers a multitude of pains.”1

At others times, she had felt as if her faith were contradictory, desiring to be near God but feeling repulsed by him. In another letter, she admits,

“There is so much contradiction in my soul. – Such deep longing for God -– … a suffering continual – and yet not wanted by God – repulsed – empty – no faith – no love – no zeal. … Heaven means nothing – to me it looks like an empty place – the thought of it means nothing to me….”2

However, note well: Mother Teresa is experiencing the feeling, not the reality, of the absence of God. Faith is not a feeling! Rather, faith proceeds from the will. It is a decision, a firm, lifelong commitment to God. As such, it is not reducible to feelings about God. If it were, then a person’s life would, indeed, be contradictory, for on one day a person may have faith; and on another, he or she may not.

Emotional Doubt

Mother Teresa may have been suffering from emotional, not intellectual, doubt. C. S. Lewis explains what goes on inside a person suffering from emotional doubt, saying,

“I have no rational ground for going back on the arguments that convinced me of God’s existence: but the irrational deadweight of my old sceptical habits, and the spirit of this age, and the cares of the day, steal away all my lively feelings of the truth, and often when I pray I wonder if I am not posting letters to a non-existent address. Mind you I don’t think so – the whole of my reasonable mind is convinced: but I often feel so.”3

Similarly, in still another letter, Mother Teresa, now a saint in the Latin or Roman Rite of the Catholic Church, expresses her emotional doubts. It reads, in part,

 “Where is my faith? — even deep down, right in, there is nothing, but emptiness …[and] darkness. … [H]ow painful is this unknown pain. It pains without ceasing. – I have no faith. — I dare not utter the words … [and] thoughts that crowd in my heart … [and] make me suffer untold agony. So many unanswered questions live within me.”4

Elsewhere, she writes,

 “In my soul I feel … that terrible pain of loss – … of God not being God … of God not really existing. … I have no faith – I don’t believe.”5

Prolonged stress adversely affects a person’s emotions.6 That may be why Mother Teresa, constantly caring for men, women and children in poverty and homelessness; in starvation, suffering and death, questions God. For certain periods of time in a believer’s life – some lasting longer than others – he or she may feel frustrated, at a loss for answers to his or her questions. That applies, in principle, to Mother Teresa. However, it does not mean she had rejected her faith; that she no longer believed in God.

That Mother Teresa’s questioning of God is not a denial of her faith is evident from the example of Jesus himself, the Founder of Christianity. While undergoing excruciating pain and suffering, as he approaches his death, he cries out to the Father, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46b, NIV). Those are also the words of the psalmist or biblical poet, another believer in God, yet questioning God (cf. Psalm 22:1, NIV).

Living with Unanswered Questions

If many, if not most, questions about life and its problems find answers by believing in God, then it is prudent to live by faith. Not having all the answers does not mean that a person’s faith is wrong. Rather, it means that he or she is a finite creature or finitum non capax infiniti, that is, “the finite cannot grasp or contain the infinite,” the creature cannot comprehend the Creator. After all, if every question has a rational explanation, one which reason alone can settle, then faith would no longer be faith; rather, it would be reducible to reason.

Mother Teresa did not abandon her faith in the Lord! Likewise, there are times in a believer’s life, when he or she may have a kind of psychological ambivalence, a mixture of belief and doubt, which says, “I do believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24b, NASB). Faith is a process, a pilgrimage, a journey to God. In that journey, there will be struggles, emotional “ups-and-downs,” questions and even doubts. But by the Lord’s grace, trusting in his providential guidance of a believer’s life, doubt eventually gives way to faith; belief eventually overcomes unbelief.

Endnotes

  1. Mother Teresa, “Letter to Archbishop Perier, July 15, 1958,” in Mother Teresa – Come be My Light: The Private Writings of the “Saint of Calcutta,” ed. Brian Kolodiejchuk (New York, N.Y.: Doubleday, 2007), p. 176.
  2. Ibid., “Letter to Archbishop Perier, February 28, 1957,” p. 169.
  3. C. S. Lewis, The Letters of C. S. Lewis to Arthur Greeves (1914 – 1963), ed. Walter Hooper (New York, N.Y.: Collier/Macmillan, 1986), pp. 398-399.
  4. Mother Teresa, “Letter to Jesus, Undated,” in Mother Teresa – Come be My Light, p. 187.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Cf. Frank B. Minirth, In Pursuit of Happiness: Choices That Can Change Your Life (Grand Rapids, MI.: Fleming H. Revell/ Baker Book House Company, 2004), pp. 68-83.