Purpose & Meaning
In the book Man's Search for Meaning, Victor Frankl describes his experience in a Nazi concentration camp. According to Frankl, survival, life itself, even in the most horrifying circumstances, depends as much on maintaining purpose and meaning as it does on taking in food and water. Frankl's experience allowed him to see that we need a sense of purpose and meaning to exist, a reason to keep eating and drinking. If we don't have this sense, we attempt to find it, and a failed search leads us to despair, or even to perish.
According to many theorists, religion is the primary expression of humanity's need for purpose and meaning. On the one hand, religion is the search itself. From deep within religious traditions come difficult challenges, profound questions, and seemingly unanswerable paradoxes. If religious people choose to take up the path, religion pushes them to confront the most pressing difficulties of existence—and urges that they confront them with courage.
Quite often, however, religion also finds a way of settling matters. The deepest questions of life and death, love and sex, authority and freedom, or duty and fulfillment cannot be solved like algebra problems, but religion does have the power to create a kind of resolution. It indicates that questioning is itself meaningful, and it also marks off particular stories and practices that give some answers. To this extent, religious traditions challenge, but they also offer security and direction.
Jesus said that "man does not live on bread alone." Studying religion reveals that this is true. Religious traditions always turn to something beyond mere survival, something significantly deeper, to satisfy the human need for purpose and meaning.