"What embitters the world is not excess of criticism, but an absence of self-criticism." - G.K. Chesterton

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Cynicism vs. Joy

For me it is amazing to experience daily the radical difference between cynicism and joy. Cynics seek darkness wherever they go. They point always to approaching dangers, impure motives, and hidden schemes. They call trust naive, care romantic, and forgiveness sentimental. They sneer and enthusiasm, ridicule spiritual fervor, and despise charismatic behavior. They consider themselves realists who see reality for what it truly is and who are not deceived by "escapist emotions." But in belittling God's joy, their darkness only calls forth more darkness.

People who have come to know the joy of God do not deny the darkness, but they choose not to live in it. They claim the light that shines in the darkness can be trusted more than the darkness itself and that a little bit of light can dispel a lot of darkness They point each other to flashes of light here and there, and remind each other that they reveal the hidden but real presence of God. They discover that there are people who heal each other's wounds, forgive each other's offenses, share their possessions, foster the spirit of community, celebrate the gifts they have received, and live in constant anticipation of the full manifestation of God's glory.

Henri J.M. Nouwen The return of the prodigal son


I see much of myself in the cynic. Especially in religious scenarios. It is interesting to note that the joy Nouwen speaks of is not something that just "happens". It's chosen. I can see how, much like love, this joy is transformative to those who experience it. (an those who manifest it as well) It is my greatest hope that my life may in some small way be a "light" that might disperse much darkness. It is my greatest hope for you as well.

Speaking of which, what are we to make of the implied consideration that one must be a religious person in order to experience this joy? To this I would simply like to say that (at least in my view) the implication is misplaced. For those who don't assent to the intellectual proposition "there is a God" yet who's life displays a faith in love beyond self, I maintain they know more than they realize.

Tom once said to me he gets the feeling I believe in love more than I do in God. I'm not so sure there's much of a difference. I don't see how we could have one without the other.

"God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in him."
1 John 4:16

Choose joy. Choose love.

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16 Comments:

Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Alex said,
"Tom once said to me he gets the feeling I believe in love more than I do in God. I'm not so sure there's much of a difference. I don't see how we could have one without the other."

I said something along these lines a while back - looking for a compromise of sorts, but Matt fairly pointed out that I was really playing with semantics. Yes, if we say God is Love, and atheist's love, then atheists could reasonably said to be with God. By today's meaning, though, God and love are not yet synonymous, IMHO.

If later on that changes, I don't think most atheists will have a strong objection to Christians defining love and God in exchangeable turns. Power to them. I think we could all get along quite happily on those terms.

It only gets uncomfortable when a small group claim that this "Love" is conditional on the basis of scripture rather than reason. Discrimination against homosexuals perhaps being the obvious example in the current political climate.

2:54 PM

 
Blogger Linda said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

12:08 AM

 
Blogger Liz said...

I see much of the cynic in me too, and sometimes find it hard to choose joy.

I thank God for loving me in spite of me.

2:12 AM

 
Blogger Tom Freeman said...

This is really interesting. As I look at it, though, love isn't something you choose. If it were, life might be a lot simpler, but as it is love somehow seizes hold of you and sweeps you along, often transforming you in the process.

That's what makes it so wonderful (and sometimes tragic): it feels, from the inside, more like a force of nature than a position you've decided to take. If you could pick it up, redirect it or put it down at will, it would be something lesser. Indeed (like other strong emotions), love can sometimes get in the way of making sensible decisions.

Which gives us a certain paradox: possibly the two most highly esteemed aspects of human nature (whether or not one is religious) are our capacities for love and for rational choice. And yet the two seem in tension.

3:08 AM

 
Blogger Lord Higham-Johnson said...

It's a pity they will not know joy but they could if they only wished.

7:45 AM

 
Blogger Alex said...

Some VERY quick thoughts as I need to get on to writing a paper. (Though I'd rather fully dissect this topic with you all!

Incit,
God and love are not yet synonymous

I do not wish to be construed as saying everything we call love is God. I maintain that God is love and to the degree we enter into this love we are uniting with God himself. My hope is that this is true regardless of what analytical propositions we assent to, though I could very well be wrong on that.

It only gets uncomfortable when a small group claim that this "Love" is conditional on the basis of scripture rather than reason.

I'd say it's conditional upon God. Impeccable reason alone can lead you straight to the most horrible acts ever committed by man. Whereas bowing before a God who shows the depth of his love by allowing himself to be unjustly tortured and killed for the sake of the very same people who were committing the act... well if that's the anchor for your love, it leads to a beauty beyond what broken world can comprehend.

suffering over revenge... giving rather than taking... blessing rather than cursing...

Discrimination against homosexuals perhaps being the obvious example in the current political climate.

Have you signed that moral realism card yet? ;-)

Linda,
But what about loving someone unlovable?

and

I am powerless to choose in those moments. Only God can.

And I guess that's why we Christians say we need to experience a spiritual birth and allow God to change us from the inside out. Thank God we aren't expected to do this on our own! I know full well the Alex who is the calculating self-centered prig. But from time to time I'm blown away by how God is helping me die to that "natural" way of living.

Tom,
As I look at it, though, love isn't something you choose.

It is clear terms need defining. The popular conception of love is that of the emotion accompanying close friendships, family, significant others and the like. Linda made a good point above that the love of this world is often parasitic. We know love feels good so we try to get as much of it as we can. We are constantly looking at how good it feels and trying to achieve more of this feeling. I submit to you this is not at all what the Christian means when we refer to love.

So many relationships fall apart when this very natural feeling begins to fade and the one is unable to produce the desired feeling in the other. They assume they made the wrong choice and set off to find the "real" one that will be able to continue to provide the feeling afresh.

The sort of love I am talking about is the agape love that Linda mentions. This is the sort of love that expects nothing. This is the love that gives regardless of conditions. This is the sort of love that allows itself to be marginalized, to have it's own rights trampled. This is the love that ascribes unsurpassable value and worth to all peoples with the undying conviction that there's a deep truth to such an action. More often than not this love is not a feeling and must be chosen.

I see no way this sort of love has any ground to stand on unless the core of your being is moving forward with the conviction that the foundation of all reality is this sort of love.

7:46 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

Linda said,
"Is that what we’re ultimately after? To get along happily? And die?

Yep. I'm with Epicurus on that score.

"Surely there has to be more to life than that?"

Why?

"I believe that we all have an innate desire for immortality."

Well, some of us may desire it but is it attainable? Or perhaps the better question is whether it's really desirable in the first place? I'm not sure it is. I think our lust for immortality is a byproduct of our personal vanity and our resistance to letting go.



Alex said,
Have you signed that moral realism card yet? ;-)"

Ha, ha. Well, you know that I maintain that there's no need for that based on my posting here, but I think we've reached a point where we'll just have to agree to disagree on the subject of our moral source.

8:58 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

9:09 AM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

I personally hope I'm not immortal. I'd love to be be able to live for an incredibly long time, but forever?

The idea of existing for billions upon billions upon billions of years (and for that to be tiny fraction of my total existence)... it's either nightmarish or so beyond my comprehension as to be neither desirable or undesirable.

Reincarnation wouldn't be too bad. Though I imagine that you'd eventually reach the stage where it all started to seem a bit pointless.

It's the fragility of life that makes it so precious to me. Remove that, and things all become a bit.. meh.

9:11 AM

 
Blogger Linda said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

6:56 PM

 
Blogger Matt M said...

If we had no hatred, war, and death, life would no longer be fragile, would it?

Nope.

But I don't think we'll ever conquer those things - the best we can do is aim to decrease them as much as possible so that people have more time to enjoy life while they can.

8:56 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"“Then why are you here discussing it, instead of out there living it up?”

I enjoy learning, discussion and social interaction. In fact, short of the ironing and washing the dishes, I manage to take up most of my time doing the things that I enjoy. I'll never be rich, but what the hell...

"But what else can I say to someone that says there’s no more to life than getting along happily and then vanishing into nothingness."

Who's really the skeptic here, though? It sounds as if you're suggesting that there must be more to life than... life? Is it really so tedious that one must hope/assume that there must be something better later on? I can't help but think that that might simply disincline one to make a better effort at making the most out of this life.

9:46 AM

 
Blogger Linda said...

This comment has been removed by the author.

1:53 PM

 
Blogger The Tin Drummer said...

Who's really the skeptic here, though? It sounds as if you're suggesting that there must be more to life than... life? Is it really so tedious that one must hope/assume that there must be something better later on? I can't help but think that that might simply disincline one to make a better effort at making the most out of this life.

Well, fair comment I suppose, as far as religion often seems or presents itself, but all the Christians I know try to improve their lives as part of preparation for the next one: in which a soul, best read as some kind of essence rather than as personality itself (through a glass darkly and all that) arrives at its home having been made ready.

Of course, you could also go to the other place....

Is it really so tedious that one must hope/assume that there must be something better later on?
You put your finger on the sceptic's problem with an afterlife. It just seems too good to be true. That's what keeps me wavering. But surely you're not arguing that life is too wonderful to need anything else?

Life. Don't talk to me about life...

6:07 AM

 
Blogger Rev. Dr. Incitatus said...

"But surely you're not arguing that life is too wonderful to need anything else?"

I think life contains the possibility of being all we could ever desire. That possibility being partly contingent on good judgment, but also very much dependent on sheer luck (so it goes). So, no for most of us life is arguably not at its peak of wonderfulness (although given the pleasant feeling of hope, and the fact that our happiness tends to constantly recalibrate itself in a manner which makes it possible for us to find misery no matter how fortunate we are, perhaps it's more perfect if it hasn't reached perfection?). In which case, we may want for more than the life we have grants us. But I don't see any reason here to hope that there's something beyond life entirely.

Way I see it, were alive for the duration that we're alive. From each of our individual perspectives, we are already immortal.

9:41 AM

 
Blogger The Tin Drummer said...

I think life contains the possibility of being all we could ever desire.

I think it offers us glimpses of being beyond our everyday struggles while we're kind of hidebound by desires and abilities beyond a 50 year period of maturity. Eliot's "hints and guesses"; but life itself is limited and circumscribed by chance and tragedy: it's generally a long way from what we could ever desire, which is why there's such a vast literature on the subject (and I mean literature, here, as opposed to specifically religious writing).

I think I understand your last statement(From each of our individual perspectives, we are already immortal), and I find it intruiging: it's an angle I've never considered - could you maybe explain a bit more? It might put an end to my lengthy and regular attempts to imagine being dead.

5:13 AM

 

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