About the Journey? Medieval and Modern View

In the modern world, the decline of reason has led to the rise of cheap clichés by which people run their lives. A person no longer has the ability or (what is the real problem) patience to follow a logical argument to its conclusion. Nor does he have the will to modify his thinking or life according to the conclusions of that argument. Society today is less concerned to reason and more concerned to rationalize, less concerned with justice and more concerned to justify. In such a world, man is forced to live by cliché. Reason is too risky; once begun, one never knows where it might lead; far better to never let the process get started in the first place.

One could dedicate an entire blog to exposing modern slogans, but the one that concerns us here is the oft repeated idea that life is “about the journey not the destination.” I read one comment on another blog post saying exactly this:

The journey always matters more than the destination. In fact I don’t think life actually has a destination… it’s just a journey without a specific destination. If it had a destination, then what should we do once we reach that destination? There would be nothing to do. The whole thrill of life comes from the fact that there is no destination to reach (1). 

In the Middle Ages, such an idea would have been considered nonsense. There, the destination mattered tremendously; it was what gave the journey meaning. When the crusaders set off on a journey of hundreds of leagues to recapture Jerusalem, the destination, Jerusalem, was the point of the whole affair. Thousands of men, whether rightly or wrongly, suffered and died for that destination and because of that destination the journey was a meaningful one. This was also the point of pilgrimage, the destination was what made the journey special, worthwhile, and gave it meaning. For a crusader or pilgrim to have intended to go to Jerusalem, taken a wrong turn, ended up in Asia, and concluded “well, I guess it’s about the journey, anyway,” would have been absurd.

What is more, in the medieval world-view, life was a journey, with a destination. It was a journey to the grave- the expression sometimes used is: pilgrimage of life and death. Everyone, saint and sinner, ended up there sooner or later. But it was not only a journey to the grave, but beyond it. In the medieval view, there was an end point beyond death and that was God and heaven. It was the destination toward which everyone hoped to make his or her journey. Like a pilgrimage, the destination made the journey meaningful; and so life was meaningful because it was headed somewhere. It was a journey, a pilgrimage, because there was a destination that mattered.

No so today. Unlike medieval man, the modern world-view typically has little room for God or heaven. The journey has no meaningful point, no north by which a man may set his compass, and no meaningful end. One thinks of Nietsche’s madman, who proclaimed the death of God and the consequences: nihilism.

Whither are we moving? Away from all suns? Are we not plunging continually? Backward, sideward, forward, in all directions? Is there still any up or down? Are we not straying, as through an infinite nothing? Do we not feel the breath of empty space? Has it not become colder? Is not night continually closing in on us? (2)

Is there still any up or down?” Nietsche thought not. A life without a destination, end, or point is a pointless life and a pointless life is simply unlivable. Yet, this is the world that modern society lives with. So, it tells itself nonsense about the destination not mattering– the journey is more important. What would there be to do anyway, once we reached a destination? As if a man has nothing to do once he reaches the Louvre. The destination gives the journey meaning- without that, it is not a journey at all, only wandering.

(1) https://deepthinkings.wordpress.com/2012/08/23/its-about-the-journey-not-the-destination/

(2) http://www.allaboutphilosophy.org/nietzsche-and-the-madman.htm


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