The Scandal of joy
Today, I met a student who was a self-declared “Apathy-ist.” Apparently, the appellation belongs to a person who has an intentional stance of apathy toward questions about the meaning and significance of life. This is to be distinguished from someone who is “Agnostic”–one who simply believes there is no sufficient reason to take a stance on these questions. An apathy-ist, however, is characterized by raw and deliberate reticence to the questions that really matter. I was, to say the least, most thoroughly shocked by the announcement of this anti-philosophy of life.
However, I do not find fault with this particular student. Indeed, we had a very fruitful dialogue: he asked some tough questions and seemed incredibly honest. There were some ways in which our conversation was more productive than those I regularly have with other students. What I did find deeply, profoundly disturbing was the realisation that Apathyism is one of the dominant thought streams of my generation–I finally have an insight into the thinking of a great mass of students with whom I interact. But the question quickly arises: why is this way of seeing the world so appealing to my peers? I would like to point to one key assumption that has poisoned our thinking and caused it to wax dull and nihilistic. It is this:
Joy is impossible.
While this doesn’t immediately seem to be connected to the disposition of apathy described above, I believe the two are inextricably linked. Thanks to the ethics of utilitarianism and our hyper-capitalist culture, the concept of pleasure saturates every aspect of Western life and thought: moral and civic duty are reduced to pleasing ourselves by boosting the economy and 'getting ours'. But what if the vital pleasures of our culture have rotted out and replaced one of the most significant fruits of the Spirit–Joy? I do not know many people who possess real joy. And, more remarkably, I know very few who think it is even something that is attainable.
But, thanks be to God, there is yet a place for joy in our lives.
Jesus’ life and ministry is focused on Joy–not a fleeting pleasure, but a settled and unflinching sense of total fulfillment in the person and plan of God. His birth announces joy (Luke 1.14), His Kingdom causes unforeseen joy (Matt. 13.44), His miracles instigate intense joy (John 2), and His resurrection reaffirms well-founded joy (John 16.22).
The Christian view of the world contains the possibility of real, genuine joy and thus could not be any more different from the atheistic picture. Indeed, joy is at the very centre of the good news. And if joy is really possible at all, then apathy is not only an improper disposition–it is downright foolish.
Jon Thompson, 2011-2012 Apprentice
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