September 10, 2011
Do We Matter?By Richard Baehr
A Point in Time: The Search for Redemption in this Life and the Next, by David Horowitz, Regnery Publishing, Inc., 2011
David Horowitz has written many books about politics, and an autobiography, Radical Son, describing his own political evolution from left to right. In recent years, he has written a series of books that are far more personal, and less political, including one describing the life of his daughter Sarah, written after her sudden death.
His latest book is a rumination on death, the fate that awaits all living things. Now in his 8th decade, with a growing list of medical conditions and infirmities, Horowitz knows he is slowing down. He admits that his passions are dimming, and his life has become simpler and more routinized. A man who grew up in the heart of urban America seems content to live in a rural Southern California setting, with his wife, his horses, and his dogs. He writes, he walks around the property, he appreciates the connections with his family and his animals. And in this book, he tries to make sense of the life he has lived, what comes next, and human existence.
In this short volume, Horowitz touches on a number of subjects that have obsessed philosophers and religious leaders for thousands of years:
What is the purpose of our existence?
Is there anything after death?
Are we part of a march of history that is progressing towards a better world?
Does religious faith make facing death easier?
If we believe that we are judged by God, does this make us behave better?
If we believe we are judged only by our fellow man, what makes us behave better towards others?
Horowitz devotes major portions of the book to two writers who considered these subjects 1,700 years apart -- Marcus Aurelius and Fyodor Dostoevsky. It has been a long time since I read anything by Dostoevsky, and Aurelius was new to me. Aurelius poses questions he cannot answer:
"If the universe is only a confused mass of dispersing elements, why should I desire to continue any longer in it? Why should I care for anything but how I return to earth again?" Aurelius is a stoic, but he has trouble accepting that all his efforts are without meaning, and that one day he will simply vanish. So he poses a different question: "Is the world a chaos or a work of beauty?" If the latter, that suggests an order and a design, and there must be Gods, and they must take care of the world. Rather than accept nothingness, and the meaninglessness of existence, Aurelius offers the alternative of faith in a purposeful God. As Horowitz puts it: "I believe, therefore I am."
Horowitz begins the book with a section on his father, and the misery he experienced for his failure to personally advance the grand transformation that would make the world more just. Horowitz describes his father as "a missionary of the promised future in which a gentle rain of justice would nourish every seed." That justice, produced by the march of history, was best administered by the collective, of course, and based on knowledge, not any morality derived from religious texts. It would be a more just world when economic security and fairness were delivered by the state, allowed to trump individual freedom, in order to eliminate the unfairness of inequality.
Horowitz's section on Dostoevsky also explores the novelist's views on the meaning of life. Horowitz relates that this author was not one his father cared to read. After all, Dostoevsky, much like Horowitz himself, made the switch from young radical to virulent critic of socialism.
Horowitz says his father viewed the Russian novelist as a social reactionary, an enemy of the future and the utopian vision. Just as bad, if not worse from his father's perspective, Dostoevsky was a religious believer. He argued:
Horowitz is not a religious believer. And he parts company with Aurelius and Dostoevsky by accepting the fate that the stoic rejects:
But Horowitz does not conclude from this that how he behaves personally and how he lives his days are meaningless.
And as for his writing, to which he continues to devote significant time, he explains that while his books may matter to some, he writes because it is important to him. He is a writer. In a thousand years, or a hundred thousand years, who will know of any of this? Our lives are but a speck in the history of the universe, and we are the only living creatures on this planet who can be troubled by the insignificance of our lives.
This book will provide little comfort to many readers. Horowitz does not count on the immortality of his soul, or any kind of reincarnation into a new life at some point. For him, death is final. But Horowitz does not argue that the believers are wrong. He is simply not among their ranks. Whether we believe, and whether that belief is for our own sanity, or for the good of the world, are separate questions.
Richard Baehr is chief poltiical correspondent of American Thinker.
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