Meditation Upon a Theme of Light

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What is light?

It is a question that has persisted throughout time, which many, from Greek philosophers, to the gurus of India, to Christian theologians have attempted to answer. The word “light” brings to mind a powerful force, one that is capable of crushing darkness and overcoming the evils of the world with good.

To study the nature of light is to study humanity itself. Humans have always existed in an endless limbo between the forces of good and evil, as it were. Our actions are not always good, but not entirely evil, either. We wonder about our purpose in life and whether or not we are doing the right things, but what exactly does it mean to be “right”?

Historically, humans have turned towards the divine to answer these essential questions of life, its meaning and its purpose. Throughout the ages, the gods of men have served them by providing answers in a religious context. With the Greeks came the idea of philosophers: men who proposed theories using reason. Through many other cultures have come belief systems that strive to provide answers. Yet even now, in 2015, despite all our advances in science and progress, we are no closer to finding these answers than before.

Most people would agree that one goal of life is to be a good person. It is a universally accepted tenet of the world’s major belief systems. However, what exactly defines a good person is hard to explain. Some ideas, such as treat others with kindness, do not cheat or lie to others, are accepted by religions and taught by philosophers, but some other definitions are often debated in a social or political context. Recent debates about whether or not to accept gay marriage are proof of this. As supporters argue they are “better” for understanding the LGBT community, detractors often point to their own religion or belief system and say that it is they who are being “good” for following their values in combating it.

This debate extends to perceptions of the Muslim community. As recent attacks perpetrated by the radicalized fundamentalists heighten many Americans’ fears of Islam and its followers, it is worth noting that the religion of Islam does not advocate violence. No major religion supports the use of violent acts against others. The hate that has been engendered by the misinformation and apprehension following the San Bernandino and Paris attacks is unfounded and profoundly unbalanced. The same people who would condemn Muslims for terrorizing others fail to note that the accused shooter who gunned down three people in the Colorado Springs Planned Parenthood attack in late November was motivated by his extreme views toward abortion.

In the midst of celebration, holiday observances provide an opportunity to search for meaning in an increasingly complex world. The end of the year is exactly two weeks away. It is a curious fact that many cultures celebrate a major holiday at the end of the calendar year. New Year’s, Christmas, Solstice, Hanukkah, Kwanzaa—all these celebrations nearly overlap, with close proximity to each other.

It is also important to note that these holidays are not necessarily religious in nature. For example, Kwanzaa is a cultural holiday derived from African traditions of feasting and community, first celebrated in 1966 by California State University, Long Beach professor Dr. Maulana Karenga, according to Holidays are “lights” of hope and kinship that empower individuals to think kindly of their fellow man.

The holidays should not be the exception, however. To be truly “good,” we need to follow our principles with actions throughout the year.

We need to channel the forces we have for good and determine how best to help others without falling into hate and radicalism. The Greeks used the term philia to refer to this; an unceasing, unselfish, benevolent love for humanity. This word originally was translated in English as “charity,” but over five centuries, it has now come to us as simply “love.”

In the end, the greatest thing we can all do is support each other in love: love for humanity and our fellow man.

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