The Teleological Gaze: Part 4, The Outward Turn

In my upcoming book Hunting Magic Eels: Recovering an Enchanted Faith in a Skeptical Age, I devote a significant amount of time linking mental well-being with what David Kelsey calls an "eccentric" posture toward life. Readers of The Slavery of Death and long time readers of this blog will be familiar with how I've put this notion of eccentricity to use.

At its heart, eccentricity involves an "outward turn." An what's critical here is how this outward turn rests upon the belief that existence is not a bounded set. There is something "outside" and beyond us that we can anticipate, turn to, and be rescued by.

The connection I make in Hunting Magic Eels is how much of mental health demands an "outward turn," an eccentric orientation. I don't want to give too much of this part of the book away, but I can sketch here a bit of the argument I make.

Following the first three posts in this series, when we lost our teleological gaze we lost our ability to ground the value and purpose of our lives in something more substantial than our own self-evaluations and self-estimates. This is an extension of the point I made in Part 2 about meaning and now connecting it to mental health. Specifically, if life is a bounded set meaning is something I'm not given "from the outside." It has to be created from within the bounded set of my own existence. This is Existentialism 101. I have to look around at the resources life has given me--my talents and opportunities--as raw materials out of which I have to create a life that I deem, in my own eyes at least, as "worth living." Camus gets right at the question in the beginning of The Myth of Sisyphus: "There is but one truly serious philosophical problem, and that is suicide." Why is life worth living?

That's a great question, but without a teleological gaze pretty damn hard to answer. Oh sure, the talented and the affluent answer the question easily. The "winners" are having a delightful time. With their lives full of meaningful work, leisure time, and creative outlets, it's easy for these few to crush the existential game of building meaning out of the resources at hand within the bounded set. But for the rest of humanity, answering Camus' question can be difficult. Despair is always close at hand. Our work isn't engaging, creative, fulfilling or self-actualizing. Opportunities for self-care, restoration, and self-exploration are rare if non-existent. Life within these bounded sets can be very hard.

Consequently, meaning, purpose, value, worth, and significance have to come through an outward turn, from outside the bounded set. This is the genius of religion, that I don't have to answer Camus' question all on my own. I don't, in fact, have to answer it at all. I don't have to create my own telos as my telos comes to me as grace. My life isn't a game of self-actualization that can be won or lost, it is a gift to be received as primordially blessed and graced.

The Teleological Gaze: Part 4, The Outward Turn