26 March 2010

Share Your Faith #11: On "Ultimate Concern"

John and Hank Green, a.k.a. the vlogbrothers, discuss 
the notion of "ultimate concern"

In a series of videos posted last week as part of the popular YouTube series vlogbrothers, the writer John Green asked his brother Hank (and their thousands of fans, called "Nerdfighters") to think about the idea of "ultimate concern," which he defines as "the thing or value you prize above all others: the one you would die for---the one you would kill for."

Though he doesn't say it, Green is referring to a philosophy put forth by German theologian Paul Tillich. For Tillich, the "ultimate concern" of every human being---the thing we are called to devote our whole mind and heart to with utter and unconditional seriousness---is the thing that connects us to the infinite whole: to God. This concern will be different for every person, depending on his or her personality: for the artist, it could be painting; for the scientist, the exploration of the cell; for the parent, the act of unconditional love.

What the "ultimate concern" cannot be, according to Tillich, is anything he calls "finite": our worldly priorities (our loved ones, jobs, finances, churches, beliefs, etc.), no matter how important and valuable they are or may seem to us, can never satisfy our need for transcendence and awe and serve only to separate us from the source of all things:

Every concern is tyrannical and [...] tries to become our ultimate concern, our god. The concern about our work often succeeds in becoming our god, as does the concern about another human being, or about pleasure. [...] But these concerns are finite, they conflict with each other, they burden our consciences because we cannot do justice to all of them. --- Paul Tillich, The New Being

At the end of his first video about the concept of "ultimate concern," John asks the following questions:

Should your ultimate concern by limited to your family? Should it be about politics or policy? About your community or your nation or the human species? Should it take into account other species and if so should those species be treated as equal to humans? Or should self-preservation and our own needs trump everything?

Today's comment questions: how would you answer him? What, using either John Green's or Paul Tillich's definition, do you think your ultimate concern is right now?

Note: to comment, please click the "comments" speech bubble on the left. To rate this post, please click the thumb icons below the title.

blog comments powered by Disqus