The Good Life and the Crisis of Meaning

June 1, 2016

Yale Divinity School’s Reflections magazine’s recent issue on Pluralism and Faith featured an article by YCFC Associate Research Scholar, Matt Croasmun. In the piece, “The Good Life and the Crisis of Meaning,” Croasmun reflects on what teaching the Center’s Life Worth Living course has taught him about today’s college students and our broader culture’s struggle to make sense of life.

For me, as the teacher, the seminar has been an indispensable crash course on the crisis of meaning that is afflicting millennials. Students repeatedly express a fear that the world, ultimately, has no meaning – a fear that meaning has to be invented. And they have a hunch that the production of meaning (if this is indeed their task) might simply be above their pay grade. One student protested: “The world’s great traditions have been carefully crafting answers to these questions for three millennia – and I’m supposed to invent my own answers in my free time?!”
This is not what I was led to expect coming out of graduate school. I was taught that students were fundamentally held in bondage by “regimes of truth” and desperately needed the liberation that comes in the form of deconstruction and destabilization. But by and large, I find that today’s students are less afraid of the unbending hegemony of Foucault’s regimes of truth than they are of Milan Kundera’s unbearable lightness of being, a sense that the world has no meaning, no ground.
Croasmun describes three false choices that our culture often presents students when it comes to wrestling with the big questions of life, choices between: liberation or meaning; truth or charity; meaning with homogeneity (through exclusion) or  diversity (through inclusion) without meaning.
Ultimately, he says, teaching the Life Worth Living course has given him hope that we can find our way out of these binds:
Imperfectly but steadily, I think we’re figuring out how to heal the collective trauma of our culture’s failure to wrestle charitably with the truth. We are not aiming to discern a lowest-common-denominator set of bland “universals.” We’re holding out hope that “meaning-full” liberation is possible. In the community created around the seminar table, we are finding, I think, the education – by which I mean the formation of human beings – that we need.

The full article is available on the Reflections website.