Thursday, 31 January 2013

Things That Don't Do The One Thing They Were Designed To Do - Part Two

If you had been passing Fenchurch Avenue a week or so back, you probably have no idea how close you came to being confronted by an angry young(ish) man with his trousers round his ankles hurling a useless plastic toilet-paper dispenser into the street.

Let me explain.

Some time ago now, you may remember, I spent several column inches venting my spleen about delivery companies, tin openers, badly designed clocks, and all Things That Don't Do The One Thing They Were Designed To.

Well, I've added to the list.

How hard is it to get a toilet-paper dispenser right? Yet there I was, for ten minutes, the chill effluvial winds of despair circulating around my unveiled posterior as, with arms akimbo and wrist contorted into the sort of shape that would raise some eyebrows at A&E, I attempted the key-hole surgery equivalent of finding the end of a roll of sellotape, operating entirely by feel and with a serrated plastic blade threatening to curtail my promising career as a concert violinist at any moment. Half a wheelbarrow's worth of plastic serving no function whatsoever other than to ensure that my only option for paper-based sanitising was the crumbling feathery chunk I hacked out of the roll with my door key.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is a Thing That Doesn't Do The One Thing It Was Designed To Do. And, if you have even a shade of empathy in your hearts, I hope you would have mentally applauded me as I hurled the useless abomination into the street and jumped up and down on its spiteful grabby entrails.

Anyway, now that my implacable plastic foe has been vanquished, mentally at least, and you've stopped applauding, and I've pulled up my trousers, it's time to consider the rather disturbing question I posed at the end of the original post: What if WE are Things That Don't Do The One Thing They Were Designed To Do??? Would God be justified in hurling us into the street and jumping up and down on us?

Which sort of begs the question: What, exactly, were we designed to do?
Or, to put it another way:

Of course, it's a question which all the greatest thinkers throughout history have cogitated over. Philosophers, scientists, artists - innumerable ingenious minds over many many centuries have all contributed their sparkling strands of speculation to this, the greatest debate in history. Intellectual giants, boldly locking horns with the intractable problems that blight every age of man, wrestling on our behalf to make known the mysteries that lie behind our very existence.

Let's look at some of their answers:

Britney Spears - Born To Make You Happy

I think this is a fairly common philosophy. It's probably got a fancy name. I'm going to call it the "Life is about making people happy" philosophy. I suspect a lot of people subscribe to it.

Here are some questions to ask of it:
1) Who exactly were we born to make happy?
2) What actually makes them happy?
3) Can we actually do what makes them happy?
For example, what if our sole purpose in life is to make God happy, and perfect obedience is what he likes, and none of us can do it?

Delta Goodrem - Born To Try

I've not really got a chuff what this song is about, but I'm going to name a philosophy after it anyway, and I'm going to call it the "Life is about doing your best" philosophy.

Questions to ask of the life-is-about-doing-your-best philosophy are:
1) Who, genuinely, has ever done their best? Okay, the narcissistic little twerps in the Apprentice may claim to be giving 210% percent, but that is because they are remedially-brained, mathematically illiterate asses.
2) How do you know that life is graded on effort, rather than achievement? Isn't that a bit of a gamble?
3) Do you best at what, exactly? (I hope it's not learning New Testament Greek. I've definitely not done my best at New Testament Greek. What the heck is an aorist?)

Incidentally, about three minutes into this video is the moment where musical enlightenment is reached. Ah, Delta.

Sha-na-na - Born To Hand Jive

As philosophies go, it would be a tough sell to suggest that our one true purpose in life is to repeatedly form our hands into strange shapes in time to some 50s rock music or the Blockbusters theme tune.
So let's broaden this out a bit and call it the "Life is about having fun" philosophy. Or, if you want to get all fancy, you could call this Utilitarianism, or Secular Humanism, or probably any number of other philosophies which are based around the idea that the happiness of the individual contributes to the well-being of humanity.

Questions to ask:
1) What if the thing you enjoy most happens to be eating living human skulls?
2) What if you aren't having any fun, because someone is eating your skull?*

Personally, I think this philosophy would work provided everyone wore those massive petticoats. Massive petticoats are pretty much all kinds of brilliant. I can't really imagine how anyone could be sad with an acre of crinoline frothing around them at every turn. Mark my words: what the world needs now is a massive petticoat.

Steppenwolf - Born To Be Wild

So, this is a cool song for cool dudes on cool bikes running cool and free through cool countryside. It doesn't get much cooler than this. Though I'd like to point out that real men use pedals.
Anyway, let's call this the "Life is about individual liberty" philosophy. I believe this could be termed classical liberalism.

Here are some thoughts about the pursuit of freedom:
How free is it possible to get in this life? Creation is ordered - there are rules built into the fabric of the universe, from which there is no freedom:
1) The human body is designed to work a certain way - you will never be free of the need to eat, drink, sleep etc.
2) You cannae change the laws of physics - so you will never be free to fly, walk through walls, turn yourself invisible, etc. This is a bummer.
3) Time only goes in one direction - you will never be free to undo past mistakes, you will never be free to be in two places at one time, and you can't stop getting older.

Mankind has made some great advances, but in all the really big, important areas of life, there is no freedom whatsoever. Except in death. (And that's making some pretty big assumptions about what happens after death, too.)
Speaking of which:

Lana Del Ray - Born To Die

Or possibly Born To Stand Naked In Front Of An American Flag, or Born To Have Funny-Shaped Lips. The reason this post is about eight months late is that I made the foolish error of attempting to work out what this song is actually about. I went a little deeper into the rabbit warren than was perhaps advisable. I see from my notes that someone somewhere on the internet - possibly the voluminously be-lipped chanteuse herself - described it as a "homage to true love and a tribute to living life on the wild side". I shall call it the "Life is all about finding your one true love and then pursuing it recklessly at the expense of all other things because after all we are all going to die, so you might as well die in an explosive love-fuelled vehicle accident whilst wearing hotpants" philosophy.

I actually own some hotpants. Many of you know this.

Questions to ask of this philosophy include: ah, whatever. Just enjoy the tigers. She has tigers. Tigers are cool.

Bruce Springsteen - Born to Run

This is an easy one to critique:


I do not like running.

Okay, that important fact established, let's forget about the literal interpretation of the title, and blatantly hijack it in order to introduce the "Life is all about forgetting what life is all about and just getting on with things" philosophy, or Just-Keep-Busy-And-Don't-Think-About-Itism. What Existential Therapists call "Dereflection" - basically, the idea that worries about the meaning of life will evaporate if you just get on with living.

I suspect most of us, if we had to pick a philosophy, would pick this one.

How is this any different from just sticking your head in the sand?
Getting so engrossed in living that you no longer need to worry about why you are alive is a little bit like driving as fast as you can so that you don't need to worry about which direction to take. I've been in cars with drivers like this, and eventually we always had to stop, look at a map, and turn around.
Or to put it another way - when I'm really engrossed in work, I sometimes forget about the need to pee. 

But there always comes a reckoning.

Ray Price - Born To Lose

Finally, let's have the good old "Life is pointless" philosophy. We evolved, by chance, so there's not much purpose to anything. This is rather in vogue these days, what with Dawkins running around publishing books and bellyaching like a miserable old woman about all things religious. The sciency bits of it might be new, but that whole God-Is-Dead thing has been around since the 1800s. Existential nihilism, innit? Whatever.

Things to ask an existential nihilist when he tells you there is no point to anything:
What's your point?

The Bit You Knew Was Coming But Which I Don't Have A Cool Song For:

That's my hugely simplistic and limited tour of some of the answers I think people might give to the question "What do you believe is the meaning of life?"**

What do you believe is the meaning of life?
Any of the above?
None of the above?
Have you ever thought about it?
For more than a minute?

Because if there is a creator, who created us for a purpose, and we are not doing that thing for which we were created, then we are the deeply useless Thing Which Does Not Do The One Thing It Was Designed To Do. And that's not really a good place to be.

Here's the first question of the Westminster Catechism, which was written by a smart bunch of dudes who really knew their Bible:

Q: What is the chief end of man?
A: Man's chief end is to glorify God, and enjoy Him forever.

Making people happy is a good thing. The Bible says you should try it. But it's not the purpose of life.
Trying hard is a good thing. The Bible says we should try hard. But it's not the purpose of life.
Having fun is a good thing. The Bible wants us to have fun. But it's not the purpose of life.
Individual liberty is a good thing. The Bible has much to say about freedom. But it's not the purpose of life.
Love is a good thing. The Bible has much to say about love. But it's not the purpose of life.
(Running is not a good thing. Let's just gloss over that one.)

The Bible, over many centuries, through many stories, using many genres, by the mouths of many characters, reveals a purpose that fundamentally revolves around God, and our relationship to him. In a nutshell: Our reason for living is to glorify him, and to enjoy him forever.

And the Bible is quite clear that everyone was designed with the same purpose in mind - whether they believe that or not. It's also quite clear that the only way to Do The One Thing For Which We Were Designed is by putting our trust in Jesus Christ.

If we've not done that, I'm sorry to say, we are a broken toilet-roll holder, and we risk getting jumped on.

Jesus, incidentally, is the perfect Britney - the one man who made God happy, by doing what God loved, perfectly.
He's also the perfect Delta - the one man who actually did give 100%, all the time.
And he's the means by which we can have perfect, eternal fun - the "enjoy Him forever" bit...
And he's the means by which we achieve perfect freedom - freedom from the curse of sin, death, pain, all that stuff.
He also demonstrates perfect love... being, literally, born to die.
(And, though I hate to admit this, in one of his parables he portrays God as running.)

This website might help you explore these ideas further:

Thank you for your time.

*Of course, the internet solves a lot of these problems for us, because the people who enjoy eating skulls and the people who enjoy having their skulls consumed can now find each other in a skull-eating chatroom somewhere and hook up. But I think it's fair to say that, as long as there is death in the world, life is not going to be fun all the time for everyone.

**Limited mainly by the fact that it's hard to find good "Born to..." songs. I could have had Monie Love's "Born to B.R.E.E.D" in there, for instance, but that song makes me want to gnaw my feet off and stick them in my ears. I figure if I'm going to make you think about philosophy, the least I can do is ensure there are good songs involved. And Britney.


  1. have you invented the field of petticoat philosophy?

  2. You are now a master of philosophy as well as Christianity. I congratulate you. Hurrah! But you failed to highlight the last link in blue, wot a numpty.

    1. By jove, you are correct. I have attended to it. Please accept a thousand apologies.

    2. So you have. Actually in orange. All your links are in orange. This time it is I who are the numpty.

  3. Thanks, well done in every way.