Wednesday, May 27, 2009

A Pessimist Manifesto

Pessimists can be difficult to endure, but I have often thought that there was a certain value in pessimism. For instance, when you go to a ball game expecting your team to lose, you are especially thrilled when they win, and you are not terribly disappointed when they lose as predicted. Conversely, the optimist goes to the game and is only mildly satisfied with a victory, but is seriously upset after a loss.

I came across another way of looking at this,

Imagine a set of people all living in the same building. Half of them think it is a hotel, the other half think it is a prison. Those who think it a hotel might regard it as quite intolerable, and those who thought it was a prison might decide that it was really surprisingly comfortable. So that what seems the ugly doctrine is one that comforts and strengthens you in the end. The people who try to hold an optimistic view of this world would become pessimists: the people who hold a pretty stern view of it become optimistic.

C.S. Lewis, “The Christian View of Suffering,” C.S. Lewis: Readings for Meditation and Reflection
(New York: HarperCollins, 1992), pp. 103–104

What he was getting at was two opposing ways of viewing the world. One in which people believe God has placed us in a spot where we are supposed to be happy and having fun all the time (a Hotel), and the other where we look around a see bad things happening, and we believe we are being punished (a prison). He is imagining that the latter position is probably better for us in the end, for the ultimate optimism is the hope for and promise of eternal life.

I personally lean towards a mixture of pessimism and optimism held in balance. Some days, the world seems to be a wonderful place full of hope for the future, and the next day Homo sapiens sapiens seems doomed to eventual self extinction.

Today is an optimistic day for me thanks to a little reading from the Bible that brought out a musical memory,

John 15:11

"These things have I spoken unto you, that my joy might remain in you, and that your joy might be full."

1 comment:

  1. I think one of the problems with various current incarnations of Christianity, is the emphasis on being happy as opposed to being content. As you point out, if we believe that God is going to be a perpetual Santa Claus, we're in for a rude awakening and ultimately, a loss of faith, in view.

    Better to view this life for what it is: a veil of tears caused by our own rebellion, where God bestows his grace to help us make it through. I think with such a mindset, we tend to focus on our blessings and become content with our circumstances as opposed to acting like Job's wife, i.e. cursing God and dying.