POC Blog

The random technotheolosophical blogging of Reid S. Monaghan

Where art thou Pessimism?

John Mark Reynolds has a refreshing dose of optimism online with his essay Great News Today! Or Despist Us the Church is Winning! OR Ten Reasons to be Happy!  over at the Scriptorium.  If you are typically found hanging out with Chicken little, lamenting how bad everything is or just tend towards a modicum of moribundity this little piece will be good reading for you.  Of course, you will simply want to refute his post and tell us how bad it really is...but hey, it is worth a try to look on the bright side every now and then...no?  Of course John Piper will tell you that our joy is in God and not simply good goings on in the world or culture...but if and when both may be true it is a day for smiling is it not?

Personally, I love Chesterton's exhortation for Christians to be irrational optimists.  At that I will leave you with one of my very favorite sections of Chesterton's book Orthodoxy...I find very few write like this today:

This at least had come to be my position about all that was called optimism, pessimism, and improvement. Before any cosmic act of reform we must have a cosmic oath of allegiance. A man must be interested in life, then he could be disinterested in his views of it. "My son give me thy heart"; the heart must be fixed on the right thing: the moment we have a fixed heart we have a free hand. I must pause to anticipate an obvious criticism. It will be said that a rational person accepts the world as mixed of good and evil with a decent satisfaction and a decent endurance. But this is exactly the attitude which I maintain to be defective. It is, I know, very common in this age; it was perfectly put in those quiet lines of Matthew Arnold which are more piercingly blasphemous than the shrieks of Schopenhauer --

"Enough we live: -- and if a life, With large results so little rife, Though bearable, seem hardly worth This pomp of worlds, this pain of birth."

I know this feeling fills our epoch, and I think it freezes our epoch. For our Titanic purposes of faith and revolution, what we need is not the cold acceptance of the world as a compromise, but some way in which we can heartily hate and heartily love it. We do not want joy and anger to neutralize each other and produce a surly contentment; we want a fiercer delight and a fiercer discontent. We have to feel the universe at once as an ogre's castle, to be stormed, and yet as our own cottage, to which we can return at evening.

No one doubts that an ordinary man can get on with this world: but we demand not strength enough to get on with it, but strength enough to get it on. Can he hate it enough to change it, and yet love it enough to think it worth changing? Can he look up at its colossal good without once feeling acquiescence? Can he look up at its colossal evil without once feeling despair? Can he, in short, be at once not only a pessimist and an optimist, but a fanatical pessimist and a fanatical optimist? Is he enough of a pagan to die for the world, and enough of a Christian to die to it? In this combination, I maintain, it is the rational optimist who fails, the irrational optimist who succeeds. He is ready to smash the whole universe for the sake of itself.