Paul Tillich is one of the greatest philosophical theologians you’ve probably never heard of.
Philosophical theologian Paul Tillich was born in 1886 in Starzeddel, Germany (today Starodiele in Poland), and lived until 1965. His was a varied life, marked by the upheaval of fleeing Germany and seeking refuge in the USA after publicly opposing the Nazi party.
Tillich was a profound, intelligent, and deeply spiritual thinker. In his body of work are five important lessons for living your best life.
The best life is a rich and varied one.
Tillich wrote his philosophical theology using a methodology he devised called the “method of correlation.” This methodology involves examining one’s culture and considering the important questions that arise within it, then correlating these questions with spiritually significant answers.
In other words, he wrote his theology as a response to pressing questions that emerged in his cultural context. At the core of the correlation method is the belief that the best ideas are born out of interdisciplinarity and diversity.
The lesson: The best life is a varied one, in which your spiritual beliefs interact with and influence the other areas of your life. By embracing complexity, diversity, and nuance, you can live a rich and fulfilling life.
- Avoid compartmentalization and isolationist approaches to life.
- When making decisions, think holistically and take the time to assess how each of your choices will affect each aspect of you and your values.
In the face of life’s uncertainties, be courageous.
Tillich was an existentialist. He was deeply concerned with analyzing the human predicament, particularly our experience of existence and the (typically) negative emotions that arise from feelings of unease with ourselves or our place in the world. Tillich argued that in the face of the inevitable difficulties that arise in a human life, the solution is courage.
The lesson: To be courageous in the face of life’s uncertainties you must hold onto yourself, keep a firm grip of who you are and be brave. Tillich defines courage as “self-affirmation in-spite-of.”
- If you believe in yourself, affirming yourself despite whatever difficulties life throws at you, you become your own anchor in a swirling sea of uncertainty.
- By accepting anxiety as inevitable, but always conquerable, we can courageously bear the weight of existence, no matter what life throws at us.
Overcoming loneliness involves embracing the joy of solitude.
Tillich draws a clear distinction between loneliness and solitude, arguing that truly appreciating this difference is the key to unlocking self-acceptance and meaningful connection.
He defines loneliness as the pain of being alone; it is the ache we feel for community and companionship that manifests in the absence of meaningful encounters with others. Solitude, on the other hand, is the glory of being alone. One might experience the pleasure of solitude when reading poetry or in the silent presence of nature. By choosing one over the other, we have the ability to transform our experience of aloneness.
The lesson: Embracing the glory of solitude, and learning to love alone time, is the best antidote to loneliness.
- We will all spend periods of our lives alone, this we cannot control, but we hold immense power over how we respond to this aloneness.
- By embracing solitude, alone time can turn from lonely to truly joyful. There are ways to aloneness into a positive experience. (Tillich recommends stepping out into the powerful silence of nature, losing yourself in a great book, or listening to music that moves you.)
Life is about transformation.
One of Tillich’s foundational ideas is that life, specifically a spiritually fulfilling life, is all about the power of transformation. He argues that existence is riddled with anxiety and pain because we are separated from God, separated from each other, and separated from the truest realization of our own potential.
He calls this Old Being, the mode of existence that characterizes a fallen world. Its opposite, New Being, brings the alleviation of anxiety and a freedom from fear about the world and our place within it. You undergo this transformation by embracing spirituality and letting it flow into your life.
The lesson: Each of us has the ability to embrace spirituality and transform ourselves into a newly courageous and joyful individual whose life is rich and fulfilling in every sense.
- Allow yourself to step out of your Old Being into your New Being by embracing the power of spirituality.
- Accept transformation and change as a positive, spiritually enlightening experience.
Without spirituality, true fulfillment is unobtainable.
Tillich held that living a fulfilled and enriched life is only possible through spirituality. He differentiated between preliminary concerns (those things that concern us in our daily lives like science, politics, and work) and ultimate concern (namely God).
It is of the utmost importance that we do not let preliminary concerns overtake us, they must not displace the spiritual dimension of our lives.
The lesson: If preliminary concerns like work or politics take up a large amount of space in your life, care should be taken to make sure that these do not dominate you.
- Try to remain mindful of your beliefs, those spiritual aspects of your life that shape and guide you and that comfort you in times of boredom or trauma.
- By embodying spirituality, and living ethically and faithfully, you can use preliminary concerns as a lens through which ultimate concern comes into sharp focus.
Keep reading lessons from philosophers: “6 Life Lessons From Six Philosophers.”