Beyond Optimism and Pessimism
What’s up with being in the world but not of it? And why do bad things happen to good people?
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.
Keep reading lessons from philosophers: “6 Life Lessons From Six Philosophers.”
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