"You cannot qualify war in harsher terms than I will. War is cruelty, and you cannot refine it; and those who brought war into our country deserve all the curses and maledictions a people can pour out." - William Tecumseh Sherman

Name: The General
Location: Sacramento, California, United States


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Thursday, March 17, 2005
  The Purpose Driven Life
Many speculated when Brian Nichols murdered a judge, court stenographer, sheriff (all three in the span of a few minutes) and still escaped, that he would not be taken alive. I confess to being party to such speculation. So when he emerged earlier this week alive, in the custody of police, one of the first questions on everyone's mind was: why did he surrender? What made him give up his utter contempt for life and bloodshed?

Ashley Smith, the hostage he had taken, had an answer when she appeared before the press. She told them that, "an excerpt of the book [The Purpose Driven Life] that she read to the suspect, Brian Nichols, during the seven hours he held her hostage was a turning point in ending her captivity..." (Mention of 'Life' book in crisis drives up sales).

The Purpose Driven Life, written by Rick Warren, is already a bestseller. Before having received this latest burst of publicity, the book had already sold in excess of 20 million copies since it was published in 2002. Before Mr. Nichols capture, the book was ranked 54th on Amazon.com; today, it is 2nd, beaten only by the newest book in the Harry Potter series.

The book seeks to answer a question which plagues many people today; as the subtitle of the book asks, "What on earth am I here for?" Unfortunately, the answer the book gives is pernicious, and sabotages the very people who need purpose the most in their lives. The author, an evangelical Christian, dismisses outright the possibility of any this-worldly purpose in man's life. For Mr. Warren, purpose can only come from God, and obeying His purpose is one's most important duty.

Mr. Warren begins his book with a quote (with which he completely agrees) from the philosopher Bertrand Russell: "Unless you assume a God, the question of life's purpose is meaningless." Using that as his springboard, Mr. Warren wastes no time in getting to the heart of his thesis:
It's not about you.
The purpose of your life is far greater than your own personal fulfillment, your peace of mind, or even your own happiness. It's far greater than your family, your career, or even your wildest dreams and ambitions. If you want to know why you were placed on this planet, you must begin with God. You were born by his purpose and for his purpose.
The search for the purpose of life has puzzled people for thousands of years. That's because we typically begin at the wrong starting point-ourselves. We ask self-centered questions like What do I want to be? What should I do with my life? What are my goals, my ambitions, my dreams for my future? But focusing on ourselves will never reveal our life's purpose.
This is the worst kind of advice that someone seeking a purpose could be given. It is not from too much focusing on the self that people are left feeling empty, with lives that seem to have no meaning and never add up to anything. Rather, it is precisely because they never cared about their self in the first place.

A large part of this problem stems from religion, which has worked since the beginning of time to eliminate the possibility of selfishness as a good thing. Sacrifice others to yourself, or yourself to others; be as Judas or as Jesus, for there is nothing in between. Nothing could be a better prescription for creating unhappiness and that dreary feeling of helplessness which those who lack a purpose in their lives experience all too well.

I know, because there was a time when I had no purpose in my life. I went through my life day by day, trying to find whatever meager pleasures I could. But they never amounted to much, and only seemed to temporarily dull the constant agony I experienced, the self-doubt and at times self-loathing. But one day all that changed. And it didn't come from self-abnegation or mindless hedonism (both of which I had tried unsuccessfully). It began, when I first read these words:
In the name of the best within you, do not sacrifice this world to those who are its worst. In the name of the values that keep you alive, do not let your vision of man be distorted by the ugly, the cowardly, the mindless in those who have never achieved his title. Do not lose your knowledge that man's proper estate is an upright posture, an intransigent mind and a step that travels unlimited roads. Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark, in the hopeless swamps of the approximate, the not-quite, the not-yet, the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish, in lonely frustration for the life you deserved, but have never been able to reach. Check your road and the nature of your battle. The world you desired can be won, it exists, it is real, it is possible, it's yours.

But to win it requires your total dedication and a total break with the world of your past, with the doctrine that man is a sacrificial animal who exists for the pleasure of others. Fight for the value of your person. Fight for the virtue of your pride. Fight for the essence of that which is man: for his sovereign rational mind. Fight with the radiant certainty and the absolute rectitude of knowing that yours is the Morality of Life and that yours is the battle for any achievement, any value, any grandeur, any goodness, any joy that has ever existed on this earth.

-Ayn Rand, Atlas Shrugged, pg. 1069
That was 9 years ago. Every day since then has been a continuous confirmation of the ecstasy I first experienced when I read those lines. You don't have to give your life up, you don't have to become a slave to a "higher" power than yourself. In fact, doing that won't help you, it will only sedate you further with rationalizations as to why you still aren't happy.

Your purpose isn't to do what anyone else intended for you; it's to find those things which genuinely make you happy and give you fulfillment. It's to discover a life of productive effort and achievement, and the pride which you'll earn from doing so. The moral purpose of your life is to be happy, to enjoy your life. This earth is so full of wonderful things, waiting for you to discover them. What are you waiting for?

If you want to have meaning in your life (or just get it back), if you want to feel that overwhelming joy which is your birthright, you should get a copy of Atlas Shrugged. After that, stop by the Ayn Rand Institute, where you can continue your journey. The road to a purpose driven life is just a mouse-click away - why don't you take it?

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