Morrie's guiding philosophy of life is that each person must not simply accept the larger modern (mid 1990s) culture, which he consistently critiques. He takes issue with modern culture's overvaluing of materiality, achievement, and superficial things, which he believes is not conducive to living a happy, fulfilled, and successful life. He instead advocates for the creation of personal cultures, or a system of living life that allows someone to be fulfilled through careful questioning of modern culture and religion. Throughout the Tuesday visits, he counsels Mitch to create his own personal culture so he too can live his life to the fullest.
Throughout his life, Morrie created a culture based on discussion groups, long walks, and spending time with friends. It is focused on interpersonal relationships rather than things and achievements. One way to understand Morrie's culture is through the way he interacts with television. Morrie doesn't watch much television himself, but when he is asked to appear on Ted Koppel's Nightline show, he agrees (after grilling Koppel about his own personal culture) and later agrees to two more interviews. He sees the interviews as a way to teach the tenets of his own culture and to engage with people, rather than entertain. While Mitch uses the OJ Simpson murder trial to link the way that other people use television directly to material culture, the following that Morrie amasses through the broadcast of the Nightline interviews further supports Morrie's idea that everyone is searching for more than what the present material culture has to offer.
Morrie is very interested in religion of all sorts. He was raised Jewish and became an agnostic as a young man after the death of his father. Despite turning to synagogue and religious services for comfort in his youth, he couldn't reconcile the tragedy that had befallen his family with the beautiful ideals of religion. As he began to age, however, he became increasingly interested in other religions and begins to borrow bits and pieces that feel right and true as he works on creating his own culture.
The book presents Morrie's personal religion and personal culture as a clear good, and suggests that it was his freedom from a single religion that allows him the ability to then create his own that works for him. Thus, the book questions how culture and religion shape how we live our lives and what we value. While the book doesn't go so far as to suggest that one must give up religion as a whole or completely forsake the given norms of society, it encourages readers to feel free to focus on the aspects of a belief system or culture that offer personal fulfillment. The parts that don't offer fulfillment or some sort of positive gain should get a hard and skeptical look.
Culture and Religion ThemeTracker
Culture and Religion Quotes in Tuesdays with Morrie
Instead, I buried myself in accomplishments, because with accomplishments, I believed I could control things, I could squeeze in every last piece of happiness before I got sick and died, like my uncle before me, which I figured was my natural fate.
Morrie observed that most of the patients there had been rejected and ignored in their lives, made to feel that they didn't exist. They also missed compassion—something the staff ran out of quickly. And many of these patients were well-off, from rich families, so their wealth did not buy them happiness or contentment.
“In the beginning of life, when we are infants, we need others to survive, right? And at the end of life, when you get like me, you need others to survive, right?”
His voice dropped to a whisper. “But here's the secret: in between, we need others as well.”
Then I'd go for a walk, in a garden with some trees, watch their colors, watch the birds, take in the nature that I haven't seen in so long now.
In the evening, we'd all go together to a restaurant with some great pasta, maybe some duck—I love duck—and then we'd dance the rest of the night. I'd dance with all the wonderful dance partners out there, until I was exhausted.
The last class of my old professor's life took place once a week, in his home, by a window in his study where he could watch a small hibiscus plant shed its pink flowers. The class met on Tuesdays. No books were required. The subject was the meaning of life. It was taught from experience.
The teaching goes on.