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Conversation with Richard Sheen on the Meaning from Life: Independent Artist, Philosopher, Photographer, and Theologian (6)

September 1, 2020

Interviewer: Scott Douglas Jacobsen

Numbering: Issue 24.A, Idea: Outliers & Outsiders (Part Twenty)

Place of Publication: Langley, British Columbia, Canada

Title: In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal

Web Domain: http://www.in-sightjournal.com

Individual Publication Date: September 1, 2020

Issue Publication Date: January 1, 2021

Name of Publisher: In-Sight Publishing

Frequency: Three Times Per Year

Words: 2,648

ISSN 2369-6885

Abstract

Richard Sheen is a young independent artist, philosopher, photographer and theologian based in New Zealand. He has studied at Tsinghua University of China and The University of Auckland in New Zealand, and holds degrees in Philosophy and Theological Studies. Originally raised atheist but later came to Christianity, Richard is dedicated to the efforts of human rights and equality, nature conservation, mental health, and to bridge the gap of understanding between the secular and the religious. Richard’s research efforts primarily focus on the epistemic and doxastic frameworks of theism and atheism, the foundations of rational theism and reasonable faith in God, the moral and practical implications of these frameworks of understanding, and the rebuttal of biased and irrational understandings and worship of God. He seeks to reconcile the apparent conflict between science and religion, and to find solutions to problems facing our environmental, societal and existential circumstances as human beings with love and integrity. Richard is also a proponent for healthy, sustainable and eco-friendly lifestyles, and was a frequent participant in competitive sports, fitness training, and strategy gaming. Richard holds publications and awards from Mensa New Zealand and The University of Auckland, and has pending publications for the United Sigma Intelligence Association and CATHOLIQ Society. He discusses: the importance of understanding where other people are coming from in life; passion into ordinary considerations of daily living; love; meaning; these descriptions of love and meaning relate to understanding and compassion; and the meaning of it all – of life and existence.

Keywords: life, meaning, philosophy, Richard Sheen, theology.

Conversation with Richard Sheen on the Meaning from Life: Independent Artist, Philosopher, Photographer, and Theologian (6)

*Please see the footnotes, bibliography, and citation style listing after the interview.*

Scott Douglas Jacobsen: Understanding and compassion reflect different sides of the same coin in humanizing others and oneself, the realization of the gap between seemingly very different people as not quite as big as one thought before. The realization of the frailty of the human frame and flesh. That which, from many religious points of view, God gave Mankind as a gift and blessing while cursed by the fallen nature of Satan and Evil, and the fundamental Sin of Adam and Eve at the beginning of Man in the Garden of Eden with the Redemption of Mankind in the death, burial, and Resurrection of, God made Man in, Jesus Christ. From naturalistic views, that particular organism, primate or human animal, which evolved to be good enough for the perpetuation of form or survival based on various selection pressures in its relevant ancestral environment, where this implies various capacities, limitations, and flaws in a naturalistic, evolved order. In either case, the understanding of human vulnerability remains marked in many ways, probably not in others. This universalization, in a normal person, typically, induces more compassion for other people. While taking into account the in-depth responses on reason and faith, science, metaphysics, ethics, philosophy, society, the human person and humanity, and the like, what brings these together in the acknowledgement of the importance of understanding where other people are coming from in life?

Richard Sheen[1],[2]*: I believe what truly brings people together, regardless of occasion, is the acknowledgement and realisation of universal values – of which the most important and central value is love. From a philosophical perspective, it is sometimes understood that we, as sentient human beings capable of rationality and free will, are “cast” into existence in this world – we are here not by our own volition, we simply open our eyes one day and find that we happen to exist, without even knowing what the concept of “existence” means at first. Our constant struggle to grasp for meaning, purpose, and the contemplation of finality gives us the motivation to continue to unravel the reasons behind our own existence, and ponder upon the eternal curiosity of why there is something rather than nothing. Through this constant struggle with meaning and reason, we come to realise that we are all seeking a common goal – an answer, or perhaps something to soothe the soul’s uncertainty, for the Ultimate Concern, as Paul Tillich would put it.

The Ultimate Concern is the one concern which qualifies all other concerns as preliminary, and in itself provides the answer to the meaning of life. This concern demands total surrender and sacrifice of all other concerns in its pursuit. For Tillich, who is a theologian, this one greatest concern is faith and God, or more precisely, an “ecstatic passion” for God through faith that transcends the profane and ordinary. For many others, it may be the well-being of their parents, their children, their academic and financial success in life, and in the most petty of cases, simple basal pleasure unguided by any principle or faculties of the intellect. There are perhaps as many concerns as there are people who have ever existed, but the one concern that brings us together universally, is love, as the Christian teaching preaches for. To those of us who follow this path, the understanding, pursuit and realisation of love within this limited world through the faith and teachings of Jesus Christ becomes the Ultimate Concern in which we seek to align our words and actions with. At the end of the crossroads, I believe that all concerns ultimately gather at the destination of love, be it love for the self, for others, or for the greater good. This desire for and gradual realisation of love from oneself to one another is what truly brings forth a deepest level of understanding and compassion for one another as human beings. In colloquial terms, in order to understand one another, we need to “be in the shoes of one another”, allowing us to gain insight into the concerns of others, and ultimately, be able to understand and show compassion towards others.

The differential nature of our concerns naturally lead to disagreements, and in many cases, these conflicts cloud our judgement and lead us astray. A concern for the greater good is not universally shared between all of mankind, as there are those who are concerned only for their own personal interest. Dead ends in our pursuit for meaning and purpose occur ubiquitously, particularly within today’s world of social media where distractions and diversions constantly hammer at our capacity to focus. We are met with disagreements, conflicts, and a constant reaffirmation of our egotistical desires, all of which lead us away from the purposes of love. But the power of love brings us together in spite of our differences, it demolishes the ego and restores our faith in the good of the world. Regardless of religious or naturalistic interpretations of our earthly bodies, the capacity and yearning for love is what we must embrace in order to achieve the kind of understanding and compassion that we both desire for mankind as a whole.

Jacobsen: How does this, to you, bring compassion into ordinary considerations of daily living, where the advanced ideas are brought down to the dirt?

SheenThe capacity to experience and love one another is our foundational faculty in which compassion stems from. While one does not necessarily have to love another in any colloquial sense to be able to understand and show compassion towards another, one must at least be able to acknowledge each other as persons, rather than objects or mere means to an end in order for such compassion to arise. As such, from a most fundamental level, compassion arises from our purest capacity to love and care for one another as both an emotional response, and as a rational desire to care for another solely for the well-being of the other. This may be slightly different for non-human animals (or non-persons), however the universal pattern is the acknowledgement and acceptance of others not as mere objects or means to an end, but as ends themselves. This way, we allow ourselves to see and experience the world through the perspective of the other, and hence, extend our ability to care for one another based on the needs of the other. This empathy and perspective from the bonding of love and understanding is what I believe brings compassion to reality.

Jacobsen: What is love to you? Some philosophers, even metaphysicians, simply leave this question alone, probably, because of the profound importance in all of our lives of this deep portion of human nature. Something experienced by most or all, yet ineffable in many ways.

SheenThis is a question that I have wrestled with for many years, but am yet to understand. For me, I often refer to the Bible in terms of understanding what love is, and there seems to be multiple layers to this question. Love can manifest in many ways, in the narrowest sense it would imply some sort of desire within us, a desire or enjoyment of something, such as eating mango. Love can also manifest as a feeling of intimacy or attraction towards someone, such as romantic love. It can also manifest as genuine care for the well-being of another, such as brotherly or parental love. But I believe the greatest of love is Godly love, which is distinct from the former types of love, but lays out the foundation for all other forms of love.

Godly love is unconditional, it does not depend on some quality or characteristic in the object, or demand something in return in order to manifest itself – there is no reciprocal relationship in Godly love. Godly love, according to the Bible, is unconditional, ever-persevering and humble. Unlike all other types of love, Godly love does not involve some sort of emotional desire or transactional relationship (e.g. I love mango because it provides the tasty sensation in my mouth when I eat it). Godly love seeks truth and justice in eternal faith and hope, it denies falsehood and selfishness, and rejects evil in all its forms. Godly love is the unconditional teleological framework of the moral good. It is the love that disarms all hatred and animosity, as we are called to love our enemies by Jesus Christ. In practice, Godly love is the love that wills nothing but the good, unconditionally, for any and all, in accordance to the teleological framework of the highest moral goodness. In this sense, Godly love is selfless, it does not distinguish between the self or the other, nor does it demand any sort of quality or characteristic in order to manifest itself. Godly love wills for the reformation of the criminal, the abstinence of the alcoholic, and the well-being of the single mother. It’s will for good persists eternally, in faith and humility. It is this Godly love that we Christians aspire to learn and practice, and suffice to say, it is hard.

Jacobsen: What is meaning to you? Is this simply a synonym for significance? Those things, along a gradient, more significant than others to an individual or a collective seen as more meaningful reflecting an intrinsic and generated sense of meaning rather than imposed from outside individual people. Or is meaning something much different, requiring a belief of a higher-order power and source of it?

SheenMeaning or purpose as I see it, is the foundational motive or impetus of any and all human action, be it a petty desire for pleasure or a noble ambition to make the world a better place. I use the term meaning and purpose in roughly interchangeable ways because they both refer to the fundamental “teleology of action” – the reason(s) why an action of a free agent occurred in the first place. I personally see the meaning or purpose behind actions as the most important of all qualities or characteristics that make up our actions.

From a philosophical point of view we can see everything, including every relation in the world as largely belonging to one of three categories: logical, causal, or teleological. Logical entities are atemporal, as formal logic alone does not refer to temporality unlike causal entities. The equation 1 + 1 = 2 carries the same information regardless whether you read it from left to right or vice versa. Causal entities are always temporal, as the existence of particular contingent beings are necessarily preceded by something else that led to its existence. Causal relations reflect the temporal order in which one thing is followed by another. Teleology is unique in that it applies only to rational free agents such as human beings. Teleology is the meaning or purpose behind an action, it is the value that drives a free agent in pursuing a certain thing or result, and the greatest teleology or meaning, I believe, is Godly love.

Godly love, as the highest order teleological framework for the moral good, is necessitated as a prerequisite to all other forms of love, as love pertains to the good, and all subjective good must rely on the foundational concept or ideal of an objective good (otherwise we would have no idea what constitutes “goodness” at all). All other forms of meaning are hence partial representations of Godly love, not all of which are truly good. For example, an alcoholic’s love for beer is focused only on the pleasure of consumption, but looses sight of the perseverance for universal goodness, given that he is harming himself and those around him by constantly over-drinking. In this sense, the alcoholic’s “love” is a partial representation of the fullest extent of love that is Godly love. It is a poor imitation of Godly love, manifested within the worldly shallows of immediate pleasure.

I personally believe that it is imperative that a belief in a high-order (God as the ultimate teleological foundation of all meaning and purpose) is necessary for any and all forms of meaning or purpose to be valid, otherwise there would be no grounding as to why we should trust or cherish any of it. At the very bottom of the debate, the foundational disagreement between theism and atheism, as I see it, is the debate whether there is some sort of inherent meaning to life and existence, or if everything is merely an illusion of a perpetually unexplainable “accident” out of chance (which I term as the “accident of the gaps” argument, a satirical twist of the ubiquitous “god of the gaps” argument). I guess this quote by C.S Lewis might shed more light in this context:

“Supposing there was no intelligence behind the universe, no creative mind. In that case, nobody designed my brain for the purpose of thinking. It is merely that when the atoms inside my skull happen, for physical or chemical reasons, to arrange themselves in a certain way, this gives me, as a by-product, the sensation I call thought. But, if so, how can I trust my own thinking to be true?”

As a further extension of this perplexing situation, if it were the case that there is no ultimate purpose or meaning as an overarching teleology of the entirety of existence, even the question “Is there some sort of ultimate meaning?” wouldn’t make sense, as the very blueprints of meaning that led to the arise of such curiosity would not exist, any and all fragments of meaning would then be lost within the void of logical certainty and causal determinism.

Jacobsen: Do these descriptions of love and meaning relate to understanding and compassion?

SheenI believe they do, as understanding seeks truth, so does Godly love. Love without understanding can be misguided, as despite good intentions, it is possible to provide the incorrect aid to another even in genuine love, and make things a lot worse in the long run. For example, giving money or continuing to supply a homeless alcoholic with beer might seem like a charity on the outside, but the continued indulgence in alcohol will only lead to death and destruction for both the homeless alcoholic and those around him. If one only supports the homeless alcoholic with money without knowing what he intends to use them for, one may in reality be leading him down the path of destruction, despite one’s good intentions. In this sense, love and understanding are closely related – one cannot practice love effectively without understanding. This is also the reason why the Bible stresses the importance of truth in love, as love without understanding of truth can easily be led astray.

Jacobsen: What, in the end, is the meaning of it all – of life and existence?

Sheen:  That will really depend on who you ask. I do not proclaim to be able to find and identify the meaning for other’s lives, nor am I arrogant enough to define or regulate the purpose other people’s actions. I can only answer for myself, and my life’s meaning is to strive for love, justice and equality for all, and be able to best contribute to these purposes for our society with my greatest strengths and abilities. Love, altruistic justice, and compassion is what I seek as the highest meaning for my life, and at the centre of this triangle is God, realised through faith and a never ending pursuit of Godly love. To seek understanding, and bring forth realisation of the Grand Teleology of Design that is the realisation of the highest good in our universe, and be able to share this wisdom with others and actualise this divine image of the Kingdom of God, in spite of all the evils and imperfections of our world…perhaps at the heart of my desires, this love and reverence for the ultimate moral goodness is what pushes me forward.

Jacobsen: Thank you for the opportunity and your time, Richard.​

Appendix I: Footnotes

[1] Independent Artist, Philosopher, Photographer, and Theologian.

[2] Individual Publication Date: September 1, 2020: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/sheen-6; Full Issue Publication Date: September 1, 2020: https://in-sightjournal.com/insight-issues/.

*High range testing (HRT) should be taken with honest skepticism grounded in the limited empirical development of the field at present, even in spite of honest and sincere efforts. If a higher general intelligence score, then the greater the variability in, and margin of error in, the general intelligence scores because of the greater rarity in the population.

Appendix II: Citation Style Listing

American Medical Association (AMA): Jacobsen S. Conversation with Richard Sheen on the Meaning from Life: Independent Artist, Philosopher, Photographer, and Theologian (6)[Online].September 2020; 24(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/sheen-6.

American Psychological Association (APA, 6th Edition, 2010): Jacobsen, S.D. (2020, September 1). Conversation with Richard Sheen on the Meaning from Life: Independent Artist, Philosopher, Photographer, and Theologian (6). Retrieved from http://www.in-sightjournal.com/sheen-6.

Brazilian National Standards (ABNT): JACOBSEN, S. Conversation with Richard Sheen on the Meaning from Life: Independent Artist, Philosopher, Photographer, and Theologian (6). In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 24.A, September. 2020. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/sheen-6>.

Chicago/Turabian, Author-Date (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott. 2020. “Conversation with Richard Sheen on the Meaning from Life: Independent Artist, Philosopher, Photographer, and Theologian (6).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 24.A. http://www.in-sightjournal.com/sheen-6.

Chicago/Turabian, Humanities (16th Edition): Jacobsen, Scott “Conversation with Richard Sheen on the Meaning from Life: Independent Artist, Philosopher, Photographer, and Theologian (6).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal. 24.A (September 2020). http://www.in-sightjournal.com/sheen-6.

Harvard: Jacobsen, S. 2020, ‘Conversation with Richard Sheen on the Meaning from Life: Independent Artist, Philosopher, Photographer, and Theologian (6)‘In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 24.A. Available from: <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/sheen-6>.

Harvard, Australian: Jacobsen, S. 2020, ‘Conversation with Richard Sheen on the Meaning from Life: Independent Artist, Philosopher, Photographer, and Theologian (6)‘In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal, vol. 24.A., http://www.in-sightjournal.com/sheen-6.

Modern Language Association (MLA, 7th Edition, 2009): Scott D. Jacobsen. “Conversation with Richard Sheen on the Meaning from Life: Independent Artist, Philosopher, Photographer, and Theologian (6).” In-Sight: Independent Interview-Based Journal 24.A (2020):September. 2020. Web. <http://www.in-sightjournal.com/sheen-6>.

Vancouver/ICMJE: Jacobsen S. Conversation with Richard Sheen on the Meaning from Life: Independent Artist, Philosopher, Photographer, and Theologian (6)[Internet]. (2020, September 24(A). Available from: http://www.in-sightjournal.com/sheen-6.

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