Sunday, July 29, 2007

Happiness, Joy, and the Meaning of Life, Pt. I

Nietzsche rather consistently presented the Christ on the Cross as a crime against life, as a pointer to seek redemption elsewhere. His beloved Dionysus in being torn apart was a symbol of desire for life and not just any life: this life. Not some life that might be found only in heaven. The Crucified was a curse on human life as we know it. The Crucifixion means that life is cursed and thus in need of redemption. Dionysus being torn apart was a blessing and benediction.

Even if Nietzsche's Dionysus is found to be less than compelling, his central questions remain: what is the meaning of suffering? What is suffering?

Christianity has a limited conception of happiness and joy. Even after allowing for "all of the joys of this world" that the most generous interpretation of Christianity might find, there still remains a lingering, inconsolable dissatisfied unhappiness. A poem by William Butler Yeats captures this gnawing unhappiness:

What Then?

by William Butler Yeats

HIS chosen comrades thought at school

He must grow a famous man;

He thought the same and lived by rule,

All his twenties crammed with toil;

"What then?" sang Plato's ghost. "What then?"

Everything he wrote was read,

After certain years he won

Sufficient money for his need,

Friends that have been friends indeed;

"What then?" sang Plato's ghost. "What then?"

All his happier dreams came true --

A small old house, wife, daughter, son,

Grounds where plum and cabbage grew,

poets and Wits about him drew;

"What then?" sang Plato's ghost. "What then?"

"The work is done," grown old he thought,

"According to my boyish plan;

Let the fools rage, I swerved in naught,

Something to perfection brought';

But louder sang that ghost, "What then?"

However great the joys of this world, alas, something is amiss. Something is lacking. Some something that makes everything significant, beautiful, and satisfying is not to be found amid the joys of worldly success, friendships, love fulfilled, or children grown to successful adulthood.

The question that came to me when I was studying Nietzsche and struggling with religious doubts and questions: could this gnawing dissatisfaction, could suffering itself, even, be an enhancement and even incentive to living this life?

Another poem. This time one of mine:

Just Once?

Just once, only once, dear Christ,

To hang from a tree and mock Death?

Just once, only once, dear Christ,

To suffer and suffer and find final relief?

Just once, only once, dear Christ,

To rise in joy, clothed in light?

Just once, only once, dear Christ,

And not over and over and over, and yet once more,

Until life herself shouts in ecstasy,

Oh, just once more, only once more, dear Christ?

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