A-1 - Encouraged by What You Read?

This current blog series on Reflections is intended to encourage Christians to read more vigorously by providing a beginner’s guide to Christian classics in theology, philosophy, and apologetics. My hope is that these introductions to important Christian texts will motivate todays believers to, as St. Augustine put it, “take up and read” (Latin: Tolle lege) these classic books.

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This weeks book, Mans Search for Meaning by psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl, is not a Christian classic but rather a contemporary one on finding meaning in severe suffering. Written just after World War II ended, Frankls bestselling book has been translated into 24 languages and has sold over 12 million copies worldwide. The Library of Congress and Book of the Month Club recognized Mans Search for Meaning as one of the ten most influential books in America.1

Why Is This Author Notable?

Viktor Emil Frankl (1905–1997) was an Austrian-Jewish neurologist and psychiatrist and one of the most influential thinkers of the twentieth century. After surviving the Holocaust, Frankl went on to found logotherapy, which is considered the Third Viennese School of Psychotherapy” after those of Sigmund Freud (psychoanalysis) and Alfred Adler (individual psychology). A prolific author, Frankl taught and lectured all over the world and received 29 honorary doctoral degrees.

What Is This Book About?

Mans Search for Meaning was first published in 1946 after Frankl had spent time as a Jewish inmate in three Nazi concentration camps, including Auschwitz and Dachau. His parents, his pregnant wife, and his brother all perished in the Holocaust. Frankls best-selling book combines elements of a memoir, psychological study, and existential philosophy to offer a way of finding meaning in incalculable suffering.

The book is divided into three parts. In Part 1, Experiences in a Concentration Camp, Frankl offers personal observations and reflections about his time as an inmate. He reveals that finding specific meaning in suffering helped him survive and lessen psychological damage to his inner self.

Part 2 is entitled Logotherapy in a Nutshell. In this section, Frankl unveils his meaning-centered therapeutic approach to psychoanalysis. He affirms that a person can find meaning in choosing how to respond to challenging circumstances.

Part 3 consists of a postscript written in 1984 entitled The Case for a Tragic Optimism. This section of the book makes the case that an optimistic approach to life benefits all people regardless of their suffering.

I was struck by three broad points that Frankl makes in his outstanding work. First, he quotes Friedrich Nietzsches popular statement, He who has a why to live can bear with almost any how.2 Thus, genuine hope and purpose in life can aid people when facing hardships of all kinds.

Second, Frankl proposes a common modern Jewish perspective that there are two kinds of people in the world: the decent and the indecent. (Obviously, this does not reflect the doctrine of original sin, which states that all people are radically sinful.) For example, he reveals that some of the concentration camp guards were decent while some of the inmates were indecent.

Third, logotherapy emphasizes the will to meaning. Frankl insists that happiness is a by-product of living a good and meaningful life and that objective sources of meaning can be found in (1) goodness, beauty, and love; (2) creative deeds or work; and (3) ones transformed attitude toward suffering.

Here Frankl describes the enigmatic nature of human beings as exhibited in the gas chambers of the Holocaust:

Man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those chambers upright, with the Lords Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.3

Why Is This Book Worth Reading?

Mans Search for Meaning is a book that every person should read, especially high school and college students. It is a classic about how one man came to grips with the horrors of the Holocaust. It reveals that hope, meaning, and purpose in life are essential if a person is going to have a livable worldview. Additionally, many of Frankls insights into facing common neuroses and the inevitable suffering that all humans encounter can resonate with Christians.

Read and reflect on this modern masterpiece.

Endnotes
  1. Esther B. Fein, Book Notes, New York Times, November 20, 1991, http://www.nytimes.com/1991/11/20/books/book-notes-059091.html.
  2. Viktor E. Frankl, Mans Search for Meaning (Boston: Beacon, 2006), x11.

Check out more from Dr. Kenneth Samples @Reasons.org

 

About The Author

Kenneth R. Samples

I believe deeply that "all truth is God’s truth." That historic affirmation means that when we discover and grasp truth in the world and in life we move closer to its divine Author. This approach relies on the Christian idea of God’s two revelatory books - the metaphorical book of nature and the literal book of Scripture. As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. My writings and lectures at RTB focus on showing how the great doctrinal truths of the faith (the Trinity, the Incarnation, the Atonement, creation ex nihilo, salvation by grace, etc.) are uniquely compatible with reason. This approach reflects the historic Christian apologetics statement - "faith seeking understanding." I work to help myself and others fulfill Peter's words in 2 Peter 3:18: "But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be glory both now and forever! Amen." As an RTB scholar I have a great passion to help people understand and see the truth and relevance of Christianity's truth-claims. • Biography • Resources • Upcoming Events • Promotional Items Kenneth Richard Samples began voraciously studying Christian philosophy and theology when his thirst for purpose found relief in the Bible. He earned his undergraduate degree in philosophy and social science from Concordia University and his MA in theological studies from Talbot School of Theology. For seven years, Kenneth worked as Senior Research Consultant and Correspondence Editor at the Christian Research Institute (CRI) and regularly cohosted the popular call-in radio program, The Bible Answer Man, with Dr. Walter Martin. As a youth, Kenneth wrestled with "unsettling feelings of meaninglessness and boredom," driving him to seek answers to life's big questions. An encounter with Christian philosophy in Mere Christianity by C. S. Lewis led Kenneth to examine the New Testament and "finally believe that Jesus Christ is the divine Son of God, the Lord and Savior of the world." From then on, he pursued an intellectually satisfying faith. Today, as senior research scholar at Reasons to Believe (RTB), Kenneth uses what he's learned to help others find the answers to life's questions. He encourages believers to develop a logically defensible faith and challenges skeptics to engage Christianity at a philosophical level. He is the author of Without a Doubt and A World of Difference, and has contributed to numerous other books, including: Lights in the Sky and Little Green Men, The Cult of the Virgin, and Prophets of the Apocalypse. He has written articles for Christianity Today and The Christian Research Journal, and regularly participates in RTB's podcasts, including Straight Thinking, a podcast dedicated to encouraging Christians to utilize sound reasoning in their apologetics. He also writes for the ministry's daily blog, Today’s New Reason to Believe. An avid speaker and debater, Kenneth has appeared on numerous radio programs such as Voice America Radio, Newsmakers, The Frank Pastore Show, Stand to Reason, White Horse Inn, Talk New York, and Issues Etc., as well as participated in debates and dialogues on topics relating to Christian doctrine and apologetics. He currently lectures for the Master of Arts program in Christian Apologetics at Biola University. Kenneth also teaches adult classes at Christ Reformed Church in Southern California. Over the years Kenneth has held memberships in the American Philosophical Association, the Evangelical Philosophical Society, the Evangelical Theological Society, and the Evangelical Press Association. The son of a decorated World War II veteran, Kenneth is an enthusiastic student of American history, particularly the Civil War and WWII. His favorite Christian thinkers include Athanasius, Augustine, Pascal, and C. S. Lewis. He greatly enjoys the music of the Beatles and is a die-hard Los Angeles Lakers fan. Kenneth lives in Southern California with his wife, Joan, and their three children.

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