Last week I had the pleasure of engaging a Buddhist professor in a debate on the meaning of life. It took place in Rome, in a literary café close to the university. The GBU, a Christian ministry for university students, invited the Soka Gakkai institute, which is the largest Buddhist organization in Italy, and boy, what a fascinating evening we had.
What we believe in makes a huge difference. It influences how we live, how we suffer, how we love. It shapes who we love and how much we love and why we love. Our innermost beliefs shape our lives like nothing else. Good old Albert Einstein puts it this way:
What is the meaning of human life, or, for that matter, of the life of any creature? To know the answer to this question means to be religious. You ask: Does it make any sense, then, to pose this question? I answer: The man who regards his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unhappy but hardly fit for life.
One of the conclusions prof. Roberto Francini and I arrived at is that, not so obviously to many, the world’s religions are quite different. Buddhists do not believe in any kind of divinity, for instance; there isn’t any sort of creator God. For them the world is eternal, history is cyclical, and there is no sin or need for salvation. That’s quite different from the Christian view: this world is created, we have distanced ourselves from God’s plan for a community of love around himself, but he has stepped into history in the person of Jesus Christ to redeem us to a glorious future in a new creation. Both views are not reconcilable. There can’t be any meaningful mix beyond first appearances. To try to forge a synthesis among different faiths would be like to try to take the personality of one woman, the smile of another, the hair of yet another, and say: this sinthetic woman is the one I’m marrying. It can’t be done.
So what is the meaning of life according to the Christian view? I hope we have been answering that question bit by bit at Wondering fair. Blink-blink: good starting points are here and here. Or feel free to watch the debate (and taste something of the most beautiful language in the world in the meantime).