MIntroductionIy family comes from northern Sweden. The house where my mother wasborn, and where I have spent every summer of my life, is on the BalticSea.Thedramaticlandscape—withitssweepingforests,raggedmountains, and tall cliff formations looming over the sea—is carved outby the descent of the ice from the last glacial period, twelve thousandyears ago. The land is still rising, the retreat of the glaciers allowingfurther parts of the landscape to emerge. What used to be the sandybottom of the sea when my mother was a child is now part of our garden.The rocks under my feet are a reminder of the geological time in whichwe are but a speck. Being there, the brevity of my life is made salient bythe forms of time to which I am recalled. As I step into the house wheremy grandmother lives, I can see our family tree on the wall—fragile linesof farmers and rural workers reaching back into the sixteenth century. AsI climb the mountains that rise out of the ocean, I can see the scale ofglacial time, still forming the landscape in which we find ourselves.To return to my family house is to be reminded of how my life isdependent on history: both the natural history of evolution and the socialhistory of those who came before me. Who I can be and what I can do isnot generated solely by me. My life is dependent on previous generationsand on those who took care of me, with all of us in turn dependent on ahistory of the Earth that so easily could have been different and thatmight never have brought any of us into being.Moreover, my life is historical in the sense that it is oriented toward afuture that is not given. The worlds of which I am a part, the projects Isustain and that sustain me, can flourish and change in a dynamic way,but they can also break apart, atrophy, and die. The worlds that open upthrough my family and friends, the projects that shape my work andMartin Hägglund.This Life: Secular Faith and SpiritualFreedom.New York: Pantheon Books, 2019.
political commitments, carry the promise of my life but also the risk thatmy life will be shattered or fail to make sense. In a word, both my life andthe projects in which I am engaged arefinite.To be finite means primarily two things: to be dependent on others andto live in relation to death. I am finite because I cannot maintain my lifeon my own and because I will die. Likewise, the projects to which I amdevoted are finite because they live only through the efforts of those whoare committed to them and will cease to be if they are abandoned.The thought of my own death, and the death of everything I love, isutterly painful. I do not want to die, since I want to sustain my life andthe life of what I love. At the same time, I do not want my life to beeternal. An eternal life is not only unattainable but also undesirable, sinceit would eliminate the care and passion that animate my life. Thisproblem can be traced even within religious traditions that espouse faithin eternal life. An article inU.S. Catholic