Updated: Dec 7, 2019
As with all reviews on this website, our goal is not to provide a complete overview of the book; rather, it is to examine how the book relates to the meaning of life.
The Meaning of Life Book by Rev. Grand Master Stephen Barham (10th-degree black belt) was initially written in 1984 and lightly revised a few times thereafter. According to the author, the book is about his search for answers, a search for meaning that started in 1971 and culminated in the publication of this work on Amazon Kindle in 2010.
Barham opens by sharing with us that when he first started this journey, he was in a very bad place—hating the world, hating humankind, wanting to destroy the world, and all that good stuff. Pretty grim to say the least. But Barham comes up with an alluring idea—he couldn't find all the answers to his questions in Christianity, or Scientology, or Buddhism, or any other religion for that matter. Instead, he realized the answers to life were found not in one religion, but in pieces spread throughout all of them. I had to stop to think for a moment. It is not that I haven't run across this idea before, but it is the first time that the idea made me pause for serious consideration. What if it was correct? What if each religion or philosophy held a piece to the giant jigsaw puzzle we know as life—and the only way to see the larger picture was to put all those pieces together? Then reality settled back in, it is a nice thought, might even make a good story or movie, but crumbles upon further reflection. Barham is correct that all religions can teach us something, and his idea of customized your own religion may resonate with some.
Getting back to the book, Barham borrows the eight dynamics (categories of life) from Scientology which include - Self, Family, Group, Mankind, Plants and animals, the physical universe, Spirituality, and the belief in a concept of a universal Supreme Being or God. He then ties these dynamics to virtues, of which he asks the reader to meditate on each day before continuing to the next section of the book. The virtues outlined by Barham are respect, dedication, patience, tolerance, self-control, responsibility, humility, forgiveness, mercy, compassion, and the most important—love.
The author is also mistaken that if virtues were taught in schools, there would be no troublesome students, crime, or prisons, etc. He states the following on the topic:
If you taught virtue in school you wouldn’t have troublesome students, and you would have less crime. And no prisons after a while. And if everyone were virtuous there would be no crime, no sin, just peace and brotherhood the world over. We could all work together without the egotistical barriers and labels which keep us separated.
This largely appears to stem from a point of view which does not comprehend how biology, society, and environmental factors play a role in the development of human beings. Again, another fantasy driven idea that crumbles upon further reflection. After all, isn't this what religion has been trying to do for the last few thousand years? How did that work out for us? If only the solution was that easy.
Barham's advise to meditate on the virtues is psychologically beneficial. However, as the book progresses he appears to get more and more aggressive towards the reader, and his rants get increasingly incoherent. Perhaps the author is not intending to offend the reader, but rather to motivate the reader into some sort of action to change his or her life. For example, take this line:
Answer me this. If you sin again and again give me three reasons why anyone, including God, should forgive an untrustworthy louse like you!
At times I thought the Barham was going to go Tyler Durden (Fight Club) on us, given the tirades on the evils of society. But he doesn't. In regards to meaning, only a few pages are dedicated to the subject at the end of the book. Although it could be argued that meditation on the virtues and study of the dynamics is what would lead an individual to find his or her meaning in experiences, it still comes up short philosophically. According to Barham the meaning of life is:
The Meaning of Life is what you learn from your experiences and the value is how useful that knowledge is to you now.
Overall, this potentially could have been an okay self-help guide to those open to learning about reflection and meditation. However, it comes up short because the author aggressively talks down to the reader and the author's rants get tiresome shortly after the opening. His transformation from hate to love is admirable, but given the plethora of works on meaning, self-help, and religion, there are simply better books to help you through the transformation.
Overall - 3 Meaning of Life Relevance - 3 Uniqueness – 3
Other great quotes from the book:
Be tolerant of race, religion, creed, sex, governmental systems, ideologies, and social ways of different cultures. You don’t have to be afraid just because things are different from you and you don’t need to conquer and control to prove you are better.
Love is inside you. Love is the highest virtue, it contains all of the others. Love is wisdom. Love is understanding. Love is enlightenment. Love your God, and you cannot sin against him!!! Love your neighbor and all mankind and how can you commit crimes against them?
If you are interested in reading the book it can be found on Amazon.