Evil in the World
Addressing the subject of evil, Larry offers a comforting explanation for why evil exists, making this one of my favorite and most memorable insights in the book.
“You could never have had the Himalayas without the unimaginable horror of a convulsion of the Earth’s crust. The Chinese craftsman who makes a vase in what they call eggshell porcelain can give it a lovely shape, ornament it with a beautiful design, stain it a ravishing color, and give it a perfect glaze, but from its very nature, he can’t make it anything but fragile. Isn’t it possible in the same way that the values we cherish in the world can only exist in combination with evil?”
But he admits this isn’t satisfactory. “The best to be said for it is that when you’ve come to the conclusion that something is inevitable all you can do is make the best of it.”
I like this because it’s pragmatic and honest. If it’s obvious there is evil in the world, and we have evil to help us recognize its opposites, goodness, and love, then evil at least helps us better identify and appreciate these positive aspects of life. If life was nothing but goodness, in other words, how would we be able to identify it? It would be the same as everything else and therefore perhaps not as appreciated and treasured.
Tirelessly and incessantly, Larry searches to find out what he should believe about life and why he should believe it. He offers this consoling insight that is helpful advice for all of us.
“Our wise old Church has discovered that if you will act as if you believed belief will be granted you; if you pray with doubt, but pray with sincerity, your doubt will be dispelled.”
Praying with doubt but also sincerely, an intriguing concept, strikes me as an uplifting idea. We all doubt. We all wonder if God exists. We don’t know if praying works if God is listening.
We are normal if we doubt our praying will work. I’m still doubtful that if I pray with sincerity my doubts will go away, but it’s at least worth considering as a habitual practice. What other choice do we have, than not pray because we doubt and have none of our prayers answered? That doesn’t sound attractive or helpful for us to cope with all of our troubles and uncertainties.
The key, Larry decides, is to not be selfish. He learns that work done with no selfish interest purifies the mind and duties are opportunities humans have to dismiss his or her separate self and unify with the universal self.
I didn’t enjoy reading this book because the questions that were addressed were not answered to my satisfaction. A man goes out to figure out the meaning of life and doesn’t really find it. He thinks he has some insights but nothing that I can use today in my own life to make me feel more spiritual and less selfish.
What Larry did with his life was selfish. He shunned marrying a woman and having a family, which would have been more selfless, to seek answers to life’s most difficult to answer questions, which was selfish.
He ultimately wrote a book about what he learned and gave it to his friends without any promotion of it or desire to make money from sales of it.
That’s nice and altruistic, but I’m not sure what the point of that was. If he shared what he learned in the book, I guess he figured his friends might learn something about life that would enrich their lives.
But this isn’t particularly smart behavior. Had he promoted the book, more people may have read it and gained knowledge. He didn’t share his wisdom in an effective way, mainly because of his belief that being selfish is wrong, which was wrong-headed thinking in this case.
There’s a pointlessness to Larry’s life that I find admirable in the sense that he’s not materialistic and suppresses his ego, but on the other hand, the question lurks as to whether what he did really helped anyone else.
Did his quest for knowledge serve any purpose?
Not really, it seems to me.
So we’re left with one looming question: Is the life Larry chose to live the right way to live? Who’s to say? No one person can live the life of another. He did what he did. It wouldn’t be my choice.
He learned what he learned. He thought what he thought. He wrote what he wrote.
Fine, but for what purpose?
It’s not clear to me he had one beyond his own curiosity. And I don’t think that’s enough of a reason or a big enough contribution to the world. I don’t think we’re called to just read books all day and see what we can learn.
I think we’re called to do more than that. If you write a book, make the effort to make it conducive for people to read it.
I have been rather critical of the messages in this book. I could have been less straightforward and written that it’s pretty good and worth reading. But that wouldn’t be honest. This ties in with my favorite quote in the book when the narrator watches a woman paint and offers this advice.
“Don’t try to paint like a man, my dear. Paint like a woman. Don’t aim to be strong; be satisfied to charm. And be honest. In business sharp practice sometimes succeeds, but in art, honesty is not only the best but the only policy.”
This evaluation of a book I’m writing now is honest so at least has a chance of being art. That I found to be a valuable reminder in this book, but nothing else was worth a whole lot.
Sammy Sportface, a sports blogger, galvanizes, inspires, and amuses The Baby Boomer Brotherhood. And you can learn about his vision and join this group's Facebook page here:
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