Why am I Here?
I am “just” a human being… one among billions thrust into an impossible existence… uniquely blessed and burdened by a genetic and circumstantial inheritance I did not choose.
So, what shall I do with this fleeting and perilous “opportunity”?
My answer is as simple as it is challenging: I must make the most of it… by living a life that matters.
Freedom & Responsibility
Having never chosen to be born, here I am… inescapably “condemned to freedom”. Even the rejection of freedom is an exercise of freedom, is it not? And no “authority”, earthly or divine, can relieve me of this never-ending burden.
Authentic freedom is as precious as it is demanding… and embodies the following principles and attributes:
- Individual, responsible liberty is the only ethical and sustainable foundation for peace and justice.
- Freedom of the individual is sacrosanct. I affirm the right of every human being to the greatest possible freedom that is compatible with the freedom of others.
- Denial of freedom is a form of evil. I reject any philosophical, religious, or political system that denies, stifles, or constrains free thought and free association.
- Liberty is so profoundly sacred that its sacrifice cannot be justified even if it guaranteed universal peace.
- Individual liberty means nothing without a commensurate measure of responsibility. Such freedom is SO responsible that it goes beyond the freedom to do as I like. It also includes the freedom to do as I don’t like.
- Responsible freedom requires me to assert myself as a source of values and hope for a better world. This is not conceit or the sin of pride, but a courageous acknowledgement of moral autonomy and deep responsibility.
- Responsible freedom is always a risk. Each opportunity to succeed is also an opportunity to fail.
- My freedom is always at risk… forever suspended between hope and despair, living or dying with everything I do or fail to do. As such, responsible freedom is a most heavy burden and its honorable exercise a rare and heroic accomplishment.
Knowledge, Truth, & Wisdom
We are all part of an incomprehensibly vast and mysterious unfolding… where everything… matter, energy, time, and consciousness… are inextricably interconnected.
What resources shall we employ in order to understand this mystery and our place in it?
The following principles come to mind:
- Obedience to “authority” is the least reliable way to know the truth. Direct experience is the most reliable way to know the truth.
- It is unethical and irresponsible (dare I say sinful?) for anyone to believe anything without sufficient evidence or moral justification.
- Nature is everything and everything is nature. And the self-critical, self-correcting process of science (guided by genuine human concerns) is how we understand nature’s ways. “Supernatural” is just a word for things we currently do not, and perhaps never will, comprehend.
- The truth can never be known… and real problems can never be solved… from a safe, “objective” distance. Truths are many, and can be found only in the concrete life stories of real human beings.
- Human destiny is something that we can influence with our own minds, hearts, and hands. This recognition renders us all responsible… to ourselves, to each other, and to eternity.
Right & Wrong
Ethical principles should be open to rational discussion and negotiation… in dual service to individual fulfillment and the collective welfare… guided by reason, honesty, fairness, science, and love. Such a discussion can be had, in fact can ONLY be had, by appealing to universal, natural human concerns… not by obedience to “authority”, earthly or divine.
It is not enough to be responsible for my actions. I am also responsible for defining my values. My values and actions are authentic only to the degree that I have considered them deeply and can accept or reject them with my full consent. Even then, I do not merely choose my values; I create them with everything I do or fail to do.
Obedience, popularity, utility, social approval, avoidance of punishment or promise of reward are never valid justifications for any behavior. Something should be done for one and only one reason… because it is the right thing to do. Doing the right thing is often fraught with agonizing dilemmas, but one principle is inviolable: The only person I need to explain my behavior to is ME. For this reason, I will always be my toughest audience… and my most important and challenging project.
“I do, therefore I am” carries infinitely more existential weight than “I think, therefore I am” or “I believe, therefore I am.” Sentiments, beliefs, and principles mean nothing unless they are transformed into meaningful action. The only way to BE somebody is to DO something that matters.
There is no scientific evidence for an afterlife of any kind. Neither is there any moral justification for an afterlife of either eternal agony or eternal joy. Contrary to rendering my painfully short and uncertain time here meaningless, the finality of death renders my life here infinitely precious… and I must make the most of it. So I embrace my mortality… not out of morbid fascination and dread… but as a boon to living… as motivation to reject the routine, vulgar, petty, and trivial. Thus, immortality becomes an urgent and personal project… found in compassion, generosity, creativity, and courage in the here and now.
Obedience is no virtue. Obedience is a parent of ignorance and strife… and should be opposed in all forms. To that end, I reject all dogmatic systems of thought and morality. I reject all appeals to “authority”, “tradition”, “divine command”, and “patriotism” to legitimize any body of knowledge or ethics. I pledge allegiance to no man, no flag, no God, no commandments. I pledge allegiance only to my innate conscience… guided by one master principle: “Love yourself, love others.”
There is no wisdom, freedom, or dignity in following the herd. Conformity is a parent of ignorance and strife… and should be opposed in all forms. To that end, I reject all patriarchal or bureaucratic conceptions of human organization… race, tribe, religion, nationality, gender… as the divisive and dehumanizing non-sense they are.
I have natural responsibilities to myself and to other living creatures. In fact, my wholeness as a human being is impossible to conceive without relationship with others. To that end, we should foster social institutions that recognize the complementary merits of both individual and collective effort.
The world’s problems will not be solved… because they cannot be solved… by choosing the “right” religion or by replacing “bad” religion with “good” religion.
The world can be healed… and humans fully liberated… only by the global embrace of secular values… values that are universal, timeless, natural, and self-evident.
Curiosity and diversity, not obedience and conformity, are the lifeblood of all scientific and moral progress, both individually and collectively. To that end, I reject the indoctrination of defenseless children into the dogmatic beliefs (religious, political, philosophical) of their elders. I advocate a liberal Socratic education that cultivates a moral and scientific mind with the freedom and power to seek honest answers to important questions.
Personhood is an achievement, not a birthright. My identity… my humanity… my meaning… is defined NOT by what I have (or not), but by what I choose to DO with what I have (or not). Dignity can only be earned, not merely claimed… by going beyond myself… beyond my perceived limits, beyond my fears, beyond my doubts, beyond my weaknesses, beyond my strengths… in dual service to self-actualization and service to others.
Suppression of desire is no virtue. A meaningful life is a passionate life… lived as a full participant and creator… with intensity, lust for adventure, and interest in others. Such enthusiasm transcends my animal drives to seek pleasure and avoid pain… by embracing the moral dimensions of curiosity, honesty, compassion, wonder, awe, joy, aspiration, empathy, forgiveness, generosity, creativity, courage, and love. All these things are sacred goods that require no sanction… and should be practiced with audacity and gusto.
It is not enough to believe something. It is not even enough to believe in something. I can claim no freedom or dignity unless I stand for something.
LOVE is the foundation of all ethics.
True LOVE is a verb, not a mere sentiment.
Encompassing freedom, power, and justice the exercise of LOVE is often the most painful thing imaginable.
Everything I do (or don’t do) matters… to me… and to all living things. Each and every one of my actions (or inactions) casts a vote for what exists in the world.
The Meaning of Life
So, what is the meaning of life? Answering this question is not optional. The meaning of life… the meaning of MY life… is answered emphatically, for better or worse, by what I choose to do (or not) each and every day.
Presented to the world as a celebration of life and a prayer for global solidarity and peace.
Frank J. Peter
9 June 2016
Afterword (Virtues of this Manifesto)
- The utter simplicity of these affirmations makes them comprehensible and applicable in all places, for all time, and for all people.
- These affirmations embody a universality that transcends the divisive doctrines and trappings of so many competing and failed attempts at human organization.
- These affirmations constitute both a rational and eminently moral response to the mystery, danger, and opportunity of our tenuous existence.
- Peace and justice are embedded in the recognition of our common plight, common foibles, and common aspirations… a recognition that ought to unify us in mutual concern and shared purpose… fighting against the real enemies: ignorance and natural evils.
- This is no abstract philosophy and no cheap faith, but an audacious commitment to FREEDOM… with all the joys and perils that authentic freedom entails.
- This an eminently optimistic view of human potential… optimistic in the most heroic sense. It celebrates the best in us by challenging us to rise above the worst in us.
- This is not the last word, but just the beginning of a deeply examined and meaningful life.
First, a confession. I have declared many things here with unapologetic enthusiasm and conviction, but I am no saint. While I do my level best to walk my talk, I fail in many ways, big and small, almost every day. Please forgive my imperfections… and walk with me for a while.
Second, an invitation. Although I have reasonable confidence in all that I have written, this manifesto remains forever open to revision… as new argument, evidence, and experience require. If you think I have something to learn, please exert your influence upon me.
Thanks & Peace.