Even in bad times, remaining cheerful is a religious duty

By Dale Turner Nov 24,2001
Seattle Times Columnist

   Since Sept. 11, the newspapers report an in­crease of people who have experienced depres­sion. Many are moving through life downcast and dispirited, feeling that there are only dire, prospects for the fu­ture.
  An old man with more insight than learning said, "My eyes are getting troublesome, I shall have to go to an optimist." That is the need of many. There is no point in living each day with the spirit of doom and gloom. Certainly it is not the attitude of those in the Christian faith, but unfortunately there are many Christians who do not understand this.

  The Christian religion is more persistent and widespread than the notion that Christianity is chiefly concerned with negatives. Many believe you must give up your pleasures, your happiness and freedom of thought and ac­tion and then you are entering the religious life.

  Many people think of religion as a long list of negatives to be countersigned and gloomily lived by   a series of prohibitions to which they must subscribe.

  The poets, philosophers and painters are partly to blame for this false emphasis. Goethe, the German philosopher wrote: "Christianity is the religion of sorrow." The poet Swinbume, missing the mark as usual, wrote:

  "Thou hast conquered, pale Gali­lean The world has grown gray with thy breath. "
  Artists have not been without fault. How many, if any, pictures have you seen of Jesus smiling?
  But, someone objects, Jesus was a man of sorrows and ac­quainted with grief. He spoke of self denial and he said, "My soul is exceeding sorrowful even unto death." True, but there is no con­flict between Jesus, man of sor­rows, and Jesus, man of joy. Joy and sorrow are not antagonistic. They both spring from the same capacity for deep response, feel­ing and sensitivity.
  It is perfectly clear that the dominating theme of the New Testament is joy. The very word gospel means "good news.

  Charles Templeton suggests that one of the reasons goodness has fallen into such disrepute is the counterfeits that are passed off in its name. You know and I know that some so called "good people" are just plain bores, the kind of people whose religion is feigned and unnatural, the kind you duck when you see them coming.

  You know the type; their lives are like Christmas trees, with the ornaments tied on the outside for show, but dead. There is no real internal beauty. We have all met them, "the noble order of mate removers and neighbor judgers, those self appointed guardians of public morality, those everlasting inspectors of warts and carbun­cles, with noses always in other people's business and with free and unsought advice for all.

  The greatest foe of Christian­ity is not atheism, agnosticism or even communism, as commonly supposed, but men and women who, having entered the religious life, have never had religion en­ter them enough to make them joyful, radiant and attractive peo­ple. They have only enough reli­gion to make them miserable.

  The chief enemy of real good­ness is not badness, but repellant caricatures of goodness.

  Some miss the joys of life not because they never find them, but because they never stop to enjoy them.

  There is no religious duty we so much underrate as the duty of being cheerful.

  A religious person should be a joy bearing agent; by being pleas­ant we sow anonymous benefits upon the world that remain un­known even to ourselves or, when they are disclosed, surprise nobody so much as the benefac­tor. Just as one great tide lifts ev­ery boat in the bay   the small boats and the great ships   so does, one radiant life bring buoy­ancy and lift to the whole of soci­ety.

  The true joy and serenity that all can come to know and share does not reveal itself as a rau­cous, backslapping, glad handing artificial goodwill, but a pleasant­ness that makes us fit to live with. A well known prayer is en­couragement to that end:

God give me sympathy and sense And help me keep my courage high
God give me calm and confidence And Please, a twinkle in my eye.