This morning I was at Oprah.com seeking some inspiration.
Okay, I wasn’t seeking inspiration exactly, but I was seeking some inspirational quotes describing the limitless boundaries of human potential, quotes that I could then deconstruct in an upcoming lecture on theological anthropology.
Then I got sidetracked. Midway through a list of seventeen inspirational quotes, I became distracted by an apparent contradiction between two of the seventeen quotes. The first pearl of wisdom comes from Michael J. Fox:
In this quote Fox seems to repudiate the notion of attempting to find or discover purpose in life. Fox rejects this search for purpose beyond oneself and then opines that “Purpose is something for which one is responsible”. Saying one is “responsible” for purpose would be ambiguous except for the fact that Fox just repudiated any search for purpose beyond oneself. In that case, the meaning of “responsible” comes into focus roughly as responsible for creating or forming.
I find this to be deeply unsettling advice. In chapter 3 of God or Godless I describe a serial killer who is in a reflective mood as he enters retirement. He says to himself:
“Some value the human species. Others value spotted owls or sea turtles. As for me, I happen to value my own personal fulfillment. My impulses are the engine in my car, the sails on my ship. They are my ethical set of values.” “We each choose our paths to live. And I lived well.” (30, 31)
You could say that this serial killer embraced Fox’s call to take responsibility for one’s own purpose. But I am guessing Fox would be appalled at the man’s choice. And his revulsion is not merely a personal preference. Rather, it is a recognition that we do not merely create our own purpose. Rather, it is something we discover, something that lies beyond ourselves and to which we are responsible.
A few quotes later I found another quote, this one attributed to Eleanor Roosevelt. Read it quickly and it will sound profound:
Oooh. I feel wiser already.
The disconcerting thing about Roosevelt’s advice is that the serial killer I just described could read it and conclude yea and amen! You see, he would claim to have loved life, to have experienced to the utmost, to have reached out eagerly and without fear for newer and richer experience.
So Roosevelt’s advice is a bunch of feel good gobbledygook. (Let’s call it “Rooseldygook”.) In that sense it is a fitting complement for Michael J. Fox’s schlock. (Let’s call this “Schlox”.)
However, take another look and you find that the Rooseldygook doesn’t mix very well with the Schlox. You see, the Schlox insists that each individual takes responsibility for cultivating their own purpose. But the Rooseldygook insists that purpose transcends us and consists in the act of loving one’s life and engaging in a wide range of sensory experience. The more you try to stir them together, the more you find the whole concoction curdling into an unappetizing brew.
Now for the epilogue. In order to read these seventeen tidbits of gerrymandered pseudo-wisdom I had to click through five advertisements for various Oprah-approved products and services.
Because nothing inspires like the almighty dollar.