To begin these thoughts, I acknowledge and welcome any well-thought out opposing perspectives. Share your own in the comment section below.
I grew up in a middle class family, but I was socially situated among the upper and upper-middle class based on church location and congregation. I can’t say I specifically remember someone telling me that the point of life was to live as long as possible. And though I don’t remember that exact sermon series, in retrospect, I can see its message running underneath almost every moral teaching and social construct. I was taught by my privileged sub-culture that I needed to make smart, safe, morally good decisions in every moment that would ensure that my life would last at least until my 80s. Essentially, the good life was a long life. Some examples: Save your money because you never know when you’re going to need it for yourself. Be somewhat obsessive over your body image – more than it being unhealthy, being overweight does not ensure great social status or bring quality mates. Hang out with a morally upstanding crowd to preserve reputation because reputation is everything. Have nice things to present yourself as a quality human being. Always be seen as “put together.” Never show a mistake or a failed-risk (whether emotional or physical) because it is not attractive and, therefore, should never be shown to others. Be good at something and fully commit to it rather than wandering aimlessly along the endless buffet of possibilities.
School, past a certain level, is nothing but an extremely high concentration of privileged individuals. Since I have left that environment, I have been fortunate enough to be around many individuals who do not seem to share my same privileged sub-cultured formation. Many of them seem to be formed by their myriad of experiences and exposures to life and its endless possibilities. There isn’t this assumption of living life in a way that ensures an 80th birthday. They seem to live more entirely in the moment, enjoying it, struggling in it, failing it, capturing it. They are less dominated by the hope for their own preservation and more focused on daring to take risks for love, for what is good and just, for pleasure, for challenge and for difference.
I don’t think this is too much of a stretch reading for the Christian faith, which has a long and controversial tradition of hailing martyrdom and finds its central figure to have lived a life barely into his early 30s. Even tucked within the supposed words of Jesus, we see the ultimate “good life congratulations” being about a job well done not a life long lived. Though not immediately apparent, living well and living long are quite different, and I think the postures of each say much about what we believe about ourselves, about life, and about the divine.