Sunday, October 02, 2005

If You Are Not Outraged, Perhaps You Are Paying Attention to the Bigger Picture.

I am gruntled from faith, hope, and life.

I have the best life in the world. Best wife, best kids, good health, great job, friendly neighbors, smart colleagues, nice town, and a chance to make things better for other people. A great life helps one have a cheery outlook on life. Indeed, I think it would be ungrateful to feel otherwise. One of the requirements for sainthood in Catholic law is cheerfulness. Not optimism, and certainly not a naïve belief that everything is already perfect. But I have experienced that a cheerful approach to life is a help to me and to others.

But a great life is no guarantee of contentment, or even of being pleasant. I know people who are in what seem to me to be a great situation who nonetheless are disgruntled, and fuss about it often. In fact, they are prone to put a sticker on their car which says, “If You Are Not Outraged, You Are Not Paying Attention.” This seems to me to be a dangerous disposition. There is always a market for ideologies that justify breaking things, and the idea that outrage is the expression of righteous indignation is powerful fuel for destruction. The Bolsheviks thought that the best way to make things better was to make them worse – and hope that they emerged victorious from the rubble. Anger is a deadly sin. The Seven Deadly Sins were not so named because they are in themselves the worst sins, but because when they become habits, they produce so many other sins.

I have an informed hope that many things in life are getting better. The world, the country, my town, my family, are all richer, freer, healthier, and with a more open future than ever. Of course there are still bad things in the world. But more people have more capacity to make them better than ever before. One of the reasons that so many people have the option (indeed, the luxury) of being outraged is that many more problems can be ameliorated or even solved than ever before. Conditions in the world that can’t be changed are not “social problems,” they are facts of life. Sun spots are not a social problem; skin cancer is. Two hundred years ago polio was a bad thing that just happened, like a tree branch falling on your head; now it is a worldwide social problem that is nearly solved. Yes, there are very scary possibilities for the future. I myself am worried about the potential clash of civilizations. Yet this very danger also brings hope of an outcome – because civilization itself is a huge and hopeful achievement.

I have faith that Providence ultimately guides all creation. Of course, people use their God-given freedom to create problems all the time. I don’t know why bad things happen to good people. I also don’t know why good things happen to so-so people, like me. As my wife and I say to one another often, “it’s not fair.” We are grateful for our great kids, whom we did not create. Undeserved good fortune is as mysterious as undeserved bad fortune, and both are an argument for Providence – or nihilism and despair.

As for me and my house, we will have faith in Providence.

9 comments:

Tyler Ward- Centre Student said...

Me too. This is an excellent answer to Voltaire which I just finished reading in Centre's study abroad program in Strasbourg. And in a way, an excellent answer to Rousseau too. The reason that I like Rousseau better than Voltaire, is at least Rousseau is content, whereas Voltaire seems to wallow in his miserableness, with no hope for a better future. He thinks it an unjustifiable philospohy to see any optimism, when really, maybe he was just a crabby ass person.

Providence, which he mimics in jest in Candide, really does provide for a better life. With his mockery of providence, you really are left with a nihilistic existence, which in many ways make suicide a reasonable option. The other part that really erks me about those French Enlightenment folks, is that the think they have the capacity, and even the perogative to understand why! It is something that I think we as humans seek, the answer to why, but why should we be entitled to something that has the possibility of being so much larger than us.

Trying to become more gruntled!

Gruntled said...

Of course, part of Rousseau's contentment came from having kids with random women, then dumping them on the church to raise.

SPorcupine said...

Notice Gruntled practicing headship by making big pronouncement on household policy. Very big household policy. Huge policy with no implications for how shirts get ironed or what brand of toothpaste gets bought or which TV shows (if any) number-three child is allowed to watch tonight. His wife smiles affectionately.

Gruntled said...

Gruntled announces that it is family policy that husbands should never dispute their wives in public (and not often in private, if they know what is good for them).

SPorcupine said...

Everything will work out just find. My husband told me so :)

SQ said...

You're saying I'm never going to be a Catholic saint.

Gruntled said...

Never is a long time. You could reap the benefit of being cheerful today, whether or not you are ever a saint. Those around you would reap the benefit, too.

Steve Froehlich said...

Have you done an etymology of "gruntle"? The dictionary I consulted said it was the "frequentative" of grunt or grumble. The "dis-" of disgruntled is not a negative (as in dissatisfaction), but an intensifier (as in distort or dismay). So, it would seem that you are a grumbler. Would you agree?

Gruntled said...

I will grant that the Oxford Dictionary treats it as a form of grunting, but the American dictionaries tend toward "to put in a good humor" (Merriam-Webster). :)