Assessment: Life There Are Many Great

Pages: 6 (2189 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 6  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion  ·  Buy This Paper

¶ … Life

There are many great mysteries related to human existence. Many people ponder why we are here and what the meaning of life is. From what I have seen of the world, it seems that the meaning of life is in being as kind as possible to those around us, to create something or do something so that life is more enjoyable or that there is less suffering. In his series of lectures about the secular saint, Francis Ambrosio (2011) explains what that term refers to and also which human beings from history have encompassed the principles of the secular saint. A person who is a secular saint is one who has been able to lead a meaningful life, by this I mean someone whose life has a definite purpose. According to Ambrosio, the secular saint has taken the responsibility of meaning upon him or her own self, determined to find their individual purpose rather than merely allowing events to happen. Examples of secular saints that he describes are Michelangelo, St. Francis of Assisi, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Martin Luther King, Jr. If I am honest with myself, I have not yet done enough to have acquired the title of a secular saint as I have yet to lead a life wholly with purpose. Much of my life has been dedicated to idleness or leisure and I have not yet done much which I believe has true meaning except for being a decent person. However, I am still young enough to recognize this and to dedicate myself to trying to embrace humanity and all its questions from this point on. In order to have a meaningful life, a person does not need to change the entire world, just the limited realm that encompasses his or her own reality.

In order to be called a "secular saint," there are certain criteria that the person must possess. First and foremost a secular saint is extremely brave. Their choices have affected all of humanity, at least within their own communities. Most importantly, in making those choices, they were already fully aware that there were potential ramifications for action. Being aware of the potential social, financial, and indeed bodily harm that might be inflicted upon them makes their sacrifices all the more significant. Ambrosio states that these individuals have to be viewed in a heroic context; that is to say, a secular saint cannot be identified as villainous. Adolf Hitler for example changed the world but most assuredly not for the better. The label of secular saint is bestowed upon people whose achievements are far-reaching as would be the case for someone labeled a religious saint, an achievement which can be intellectual or based upon their actions. The major difference being that a secular saint need not have performed miracles, at least not in the traditional spiritual definition of that term.

Michelangelo is described by Ambrosio as being a secular saint in the creation of his art, which many consider to be some of the finest works every created. During his lifetime, Michelangelo painted and sculpted many incredible works of art, but perhaps none has so much poignancy, particularly with regard to this topic, as "The Pieta," which was actually one of a series of works in the same theme. In the Renaissance, there was a growing disparity between religious belief and secularism. Human beings were developing scientific techniques in fields such as medicine and this knowledge replaced what had originally been explained away through religious belief. Many things which had once been the domain of spirituality and religion could now be understood according to scientific principles. There was thus a growing divide between those who believed in religion and those who prescribed to scientific theory. Ambrosio argues that Michelangelo was able to bridge the gap between these two factions. Through scientific understandings of anatomy and the satisfaction of curiosities, he could better represent religious iconography. He can be called a secular saint because he did not cut off a portion of his ability to understand by choosing either the side of the scientific or the religious. By embracing both aspects of existence, he could be greater than a person who intentionally chose to be ignorant of one or the other of these paths. At the same time, Michelangelo was not a perfect person who appreciated that his inability to choose a side was simply a matter of his humanity. Through his many journal writings, we know of Michelangelo's individual struggles with his own fallible humanity, namely his imperfections and inability to live according to either dogma or to live hedonistically. By being individual and experiencing life as an individual, while at the same time expressing that through his art, Michelangelo allowed others to experience their own humanity.

St. Francis of Assisi is unique in the pantheon of secular saints in that he is also defined as a religious saint according to the Catholic Church. However, despite his canonization by the church, St. Francis's past life has not been able to be erased. Rather, it is known that as a young man, Francis was a rough character. In his adulthood, Francis gave up his wealth and took up a life of poverty and followed the words of Jesus Christ literally. He made this choice despite the urgings of his father and of those who had known him in youth. By embracing Jesus Christ and his teachings, Francis became a better person. St. Francis experienced two illnesses which gave him fevered visions, which he interpreted as messages from God to walk in the footsteps of Jesus and to do his good works for the rest of his life. From that point on, he was dedicated to helping others even if it was at a cost to him in some way. These are all reasons why he would be a religious saint according to the church, but not necessarily why he would be considered a secular one. The explanation for his secular title has to do with his individual choice and autonomy. By living authentically, according to his own sense of right and wrong, and especially of purpose, he allowed other people to also find their way to God or to whatever it would take to achieve their own happiness. St. Francis's journey was not an external one, but completely internal. He looked within himself and saw his faults and flaws and rather than accepting them as simply being the way things were, he made an effort to better himself and consequently improved the lives of those around him.

Ambrosio posits that Friedrich Nietzsche should also be considered a secular saint. Nietzsche's philosophies were dismissed by the church and he was vilified by many religious authority figures for his position that stated God was dead because humanity no longer had a need for him. However, despite some of the more controversial things that Nietzsche said, and there were many controversial positions, he nevertheless made an impact on a large part of the population particularly in the creation of the character Zarathustra. If the secular saint is an individual who is dedicated to being wholly open to the mysteries of the universe and to searching for the answers to those questions in both humanistic and religious instruction, then Nietzsche cannot be denied this title. Zarathustra and Nietzsche are connected in the way that they sought out truth and meaning. He rejected the religious not because he saw flaws in its teachings, but because he there were limitations to the way religion could explain all the mysteries of the world. Declaring God to be dead and identifying the creation of the Superman is not a rejection of religion, but a suggestion of a different way to understand the universe. There are no satisfactory answers to these questions, but historically there have only been a few ways in which it was acceptable to seek out answers. Either a person could accept the teachings of the church which forces that person to refute a great deal of scientific knowledge, or the person could wholly dismiss religion and demand a scientific explanation for everything. However, in the view of the secular saint, this does not work out. There are things that religion does not satisfactorily explain and there are things that science has not yet been able to explain at all.

Martin Luther King, Jr. is revered both as an individual who gave the ultimate sacrifice in order to secure the civil rights of an underprivileged population in the United States. During the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 1960s, African-Americans and their allies fought to receive the same rights afforded to white citizens of this country. For far too long they had been treated as second-class citizens. In many states, especially in the American south, African-Americans were unable to hold jobs, to attend proper schools, to eat in restaurants with white people, or to sit at the front of the buses in their communities. More frighteningly, they were… [END OF PREVIEW]

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