Last April I had occasion to speak in Zurich, where I made some of these same points. After the speech, a few of the twenty-something members of the audience approached and said plainly that the phrase “a life well-lived” did not have meaning for them. They were having a great time with their current sex partner and new BMW and the vacation home in Majorca, and saw no voids in their lives that needed filling.
It was fascinating to hear it said to my face, but not surprising. It conformed to both journalistic and scholarly accounts of a spreading European mentality. Let me emphasize “spreading.” I’m not talking about all Europeans, by any means. That mentality goes something like this: Human beings are a collection of chemicals that activate and, after a period of time, deactivate. The purpose of life is to while away the intervening time as pleasantly as possible.
To my way of thinking this is the "eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow we die" mentality. If there is nothing after we die, then why not? But are we really here to simply enjoy life and its pleasures and then die? Is this all it means to be human? What about those who have little or nothing to enjoy in this life? What about the millions who endure poverty, violence, hunger, disease, and a premature death? It's one thing for wealthy and comfortable Americans and Europeans to enjoy this life and then die. At least we got to enjoy this one. But many people haven't had anything to enjoy in this life, and won't.
Furthermore, I believe that this kind of mentality strikes against the core of what it means to be human. In Jewish and Christian tradition, humans are created in God's image. That means that we bear marks of some sort that are like God. This includes, but isn't limited to creativity. To be truly human we should not be mere consumers of the pleasures of life, but we should be creative in our jobs, in the arts, in seeking justice and aid for the oppressed and poor of the world. This life isn't about my pleasures. If this "European" mentality is true, then why should I care about other "collections of chemicals" that don't have it as good as I do?
Lastly (for this post at least), what about the injustices of life? Isn't there something in each of us that cries out against violence against myself and about violence, rape, and murder against other people? If this life is all that there is, then there will be no justice for these people. How sad. Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Genghis Khan, Mugabe, Saddam Hussein, and many others will cease to exist, but they end up the same as all the people who have done good in this life. What's the point? If you want to leave a legacy, do bad things. You will be remembered for longer, and by more people than if you did good things.
But there is another option. God promises true justice, not just for history's "really bad boys," but for everyone. That includes the bad things that I've done as well. But if there is no life after this one, then the evil in this life, well, it just is.
Listen to Dennis Prager on this topic: http://dennisprager.townhall.com/