Fine, be grumpy then


Leszek Kolakowski (above) was a Polish philosopher and critic of Marxism (he saw Stalinism as a logical development, rather than a distortion, of Marxism). He also wrote much with a theological vein. His essay “Is God Happy?” (in Is God Happy? Selected Essays, published by Penguin) asks an intriguing question. Kolakowski writes that if God has no emotions as we understand them he cannot feel happiness, but if he does (as the Bible suggests he does), he must be overwhelmed by the suffering in the world, and therefore not be, in a general sense, happy. Kolakowski’s point is not that this is a logical conundrum, but that our understanding of God must be, by necessity, inadequate.

He goes on to say that Christ cannot be said to have been (also in a general sense I suppose) happy. And that we will never attain what we might call happiness. Now this may fly in the face of what you would gather the point of the Christian life to be if you believed all the Christian pop psychology books out there, which are all about MY happiness. James K A Smith, author of How (Not) to be Secular: Reading Charles Taylor, touches on this when he comments that some church-goers may be surprised to learn that being happy is not the point of the Christian life. In his exploration of Taylor’s magisterial work of philosophy, A Secular Age, Smith outlines Taylor’s argument that the modern society we find ourselves in values the individual over the community (and there are historical reasons for this, including, ironically, the Reformation’s focus on the individual’s relationship with God). What this can mean for church-goers is that even they find it hard to get around the idea that the point of being in church (or being a Christian) is first-of-all about how it affects ME.


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