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What is the Meaning of Life

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Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Analogy

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WHAT IS THE MEANING OF LIFE? Program 101 Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Analogy by Ernest O’Neill

What is the meaning of life? That’s the question which we are discussing on this program at this time each day. You know we’ve gotten as far as looking at some of the phenomena of our own personal lives to see if the explanation of the meaning of life that we have been discussing these past months matches with those phenomena. You can see that that is some kind of confirmation that we are on the right track. If, in fact, your nose is made for breathing and you can find air to breathe, that is kind of a confirmation of the purpose of your nose, or, if your nose is made for smelling, and you find that there are nice aromas around, that are worth smelling, in a way that confirms the purpose of your nose.

Similarly, I suppose, if your nose is able to hold up glasses and you find glasses that they can hold up, then to some extent that is some kind of confirmation of that ancillary purpose of your nose. On the whole, the philosophical concept is valid, that “if something is true, then it will work”.

Now, the pragmatic concept, that “if it works it’s true”, is not, of course, correct. But if a thing is true, then it is reasonable to believe that it will meet the needs and answer some of the problems that you face in your everyday life. That’s the point that we have reached. We have been discussing for some time now, the particular explanation of reality and the explanation of the meaning of our lives and the purpose of our lives that has come down to us from that remarkable individual that lived at the beginning of our era (that is, in the first century), the man that we know as Jesus.

We’ve been discussing that for some months now. It’s time, I think, to look at our own personal lives and see if His explanation of reality matches the phenomena or the experiences we have in our everyday life. Of course, one of the phenomena that we mentioned yesterday, was the Jekyll and Hyde syndrome.

I don’t think that there is one of us here in life that does not know immediately the reality of the Jekyll and Hyde syndrome. Even if you don’t know it by that terminology, you certainly know the reality of it in your own experience: Jekyll and Hyde. You remember, the names come from a novel that was written by the same man as gave us the wonderful story that we all read when we were children called “Treasure Island”.

You remember it’s that romantic story of pirates and doubloons and Long John Silver and Pegleg, one-eyed sea captains and revenue men and buried treasure. It was written by Robert Louis Stevenson who was a Scotsman who you probably recall spent most of his life on the desert island of Samoa, in the Pacific. Stevenson wrote many famous novels that a lot of us read at school.

One of them, in particular, is an outstanding classic because it deals, as Sir Arthur Quiller Couch of Cambridge said, with a perennial problem or a perennial issue in ordinary, everyday life and it deals with it in memorable and vivid terms. That novel that has become such a classic is called “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde.” It is a classic, not only because it deals with the subject in memorable and vivid terms, but because it deals with an issue or an experience in human life that is perennial and is universal.

In other words, all of us have experienced something of what Stevenson talks about in that novel. You might want, just for a moment, to recall the main outline of the story. Stevenson describes how one damp, cold night, in a certain area of London, when there was a heavy fog obscuring the view of everyone so that it was difficult to see too clearly two steps in front of you, Stevenson says he noticed a young girl wandering along a pavement in this particular district.

Then he noticed that she was progressing towards a corner of the street and he was able to see the road that came from the other direction that converged at that corner. Along that particular pavement or sidewalk, there was rushing a hunchbacked kind of creature, that looked nevertheless vigorous and strong and very forceful in his progress.

It wasn’t long before Stevenson realized that as the two were heading towards that same corner there was going to be a collision unless one of them changed course. But neither of them did. However, that was not what surprised him. What surprised him was that when the hunchbacked character came into collision with the little girl, instead of immediately lifting her up and dusting her off and asking her if she was alright, he lifted his walking stick and began to beat mercilessly upon her head and body until he had beaten her to the ground.

Of course, at that very moment, with her cries, a crowd of people gathered and began to accuse him of trying to murder the girl, whereupon he disappeared through the door of a certain building nearby and reappeared with a check that he presented to the girl’s parents. He said, “Here is a hundred pounds to compensate you for any hurt or pain that I have caused your daughter.”

The amazing surprise was that when they read the name at the bottom of the check that name was a name that they knew well, the name of a well-known and highly respected philanthropist and friend of the poor and the needy called Dr. Jekyll. None of them in the crowd, of course, could imagine how such a foul and degraded animal could have any relationship with such a moral and upright man as Jekyll, unless blackmail of some kind was involved.

Then you will remember how the novel proceeds. In the ensuing months, this weathered, hunchbacked figure became increasingly known on the streets of London for his brutal acts of assault on those people who wander the poorer areas of the city late at night. Because he had more brushes with the law, he was forced to reveal his identity and became known as Mr. Hyde.

Now, at the very end of the novel the mystery of Mr. Hyde’s identity is explained by the respected Dr. Jekyll, of all people, in a letter just before he committed suicide. In this letter he outlined the life that he lived in public, the life that everyone knew, the life of a respected, and kindly, elderly doctor who was a philanthropist, who helped the poor, who treated those who could not afford to pay for medical treatment, who was involved in helping the downcast, who attended church services and meetings to improve the social state of the lower classes.

In every way he was a man who was filled with the heart of human kindness. He then goes on to explain that along with those noble feelings of unselfishness and the desire to help suffering humanity, he discovered deep within himself another set of feelings completely, the very opposite of these good motives and good impulses. From within at times there arose passions of lust and hatred, of anger and resentment, of self-gratification and temper that he could not control. He says he wasn’t really a hypocrite, because a hypocrite is one who pretends to be what he isn’t. Dr. Jekyll said that he really was both these characters. He really was the elderly, kind doctor, who organized church groups to help the poor and needy, but he also was really the impatient, restless, licentious creature that resented others and lived only for his own satisfaction.

How did these two natures continue to exist in this one human being? Let’s talk about that tomorrow.


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