Ultimate Concerns

Teaching About Religion
in support of civic pluralism
Each person seeks an understanding of reality
and meaning that satisfies the heart and mind.
Some find satisfaction in the answers provided by a religion.
Others find a nonreligious worldview that gratifies this human angst.

Humans are "meaning-seeking creatures," and enigmas of large magnitude
face every thinking human. These are lifetime concerns and sources of
anxiety. They involve weighty matters. Expressed in the form of queries, here
are some examples of ongoing human concerns:

- What can give meaning to my life? Does it have purpose?
- What happens to me at my death?
- Does my daily conduct matter in the long run?
- How far out does the universe go? How did it begin, or did it?
- How was it that we humans came about here on earth?
- What is good and bad?
- How should I be treating others?
- How should I be living my life?
- How can I know?

Such troubling issues exist for the individual before, during, and after
material challenges relating to food, clothing and shelter, and some measure
of sexual satisfaction, have been achieved. Philosophers and sociologists
have delineated these
ultimate human concerns in many ways. Here is one
listing that gives rather strong emphasis to the internal angst of being human
(from a handout developed by Rich Ownby, philosophy instructor at
Sacramento City College, 1999):

Death - There is tension between our awareness of our pending death and
our wish for continued consciousness.

Freedom - There is a clash between our desire for objective and external
guidance in the choices of life and our awareness that, ultimately, we have to
make choices on less than rational grounds.

Disaffection - There is a head-on collision between the collectivist
demands for conformity and the everyday reality of social rituals used to
cover up selfishness and a deep-down lack of concern for others.

Isolation - There is mismatch between our awareness of solitariness and
our all-too-human desire for contact and protection (we want to avoid
loneliness and be part of a larger whole)

Oneupmanship - There is conflict between our desire for unique
self-assertion and control and our need for human love and friendship
(tradeoffs necessitated)

Self-deception - There is disparity between our imaginative and
self-serving self-concept and the more detached and accurate reports of
others (prompts us to patch up apparent flaws and inconsistencies with a
network of excuses, buck passing, and hard to prove fabrications

Meaninglessness - Along with our growing scientific understanding of
cosmology, there comes a
dilemma of our meaning-seeking and our
awaking in the middle of nowhere in a universe that has no apparent
purpose or meaning we can know

Such concerns as these appear to be universal - not so much
culturally-imparted as "givens" of human existence. Each thinking individual
seeks an understanding of reality and meaning that satisfies the heart and
mind. Some individuals find their satisfaction in the answers provided by
some form of religion. For others, keeping to a nonreligious worldview is

Corrections and comments invited. [last modified: 4/30/01]
Authors: Mynga Futrell, Ph.D.