The pain of spiritual liberty

3024663674_21f73c1864A friend, the brilliant Dr. Brian Moore, commented over at Eclectic Orthodoxy:

“There is not enough attention to the philosophical and theological importance of unhappiness.”

I’ve been inclining to similar thoughts for months. As a believer in God’s undiminishing beatitude, how am I to articulate a theology of ‘unhappiness’ as ever being a proper participation in God’s life? I have an idea of where an answer might lie, but I was curious, so I asked Brian to elaborate. He did, and his response is one of the best things I’ve read in a while.

Charles Williams had a favorite dictum, “This is Thou, Neither is this Thou.” Unhappiness is the whole person which is desire…trapped in anguish, incomplete, finite; in heightened states, a kind of terror before the suffocating limitations of the finite, resistance to the closure of ideology, the vulgarization of nature into banal truisms and cheap cleverness utilized to create desire for false goods or inordinate desire for lesser ones. Unhappiness can be a protest and refusal against the society of Nietzsche’s “last men.” It is the freedom of the soul that prefers the pain of spiritual liberty to the slothful contentment of a “success” that is merely a form of cowardice, resignation to the prescribed limits of a “trousered ape,” the wisdom of a mere “shrewd animal.” In some ways unhappiness can be akin to holy poverty, a marginalization engendered by a search for integrity and the holy. Unhappiness is an enduring awareness of transcendence as intrinsically necessary for human life.

Though it is not a simple moral equation. Unhappiness can also be whining and solipsistic protest against the real, the despairing egotism that wants to retreat into a lonely independence because lost in ingratitude, refusing the gift of being, unable to grow into the courteous receptivity that allows a gift to be given. Theologically, unhappiness can be both of Christ or anti-Christ, just as happiness may be either profound, mysterious, dynamically open with child-like wonder or it can be a shallow, emotive condition indifferent to virtue, a kind of blissful living death, what Glaucon called a “city of pigs” in the Republic, but also the “fevered city” he prefers, though the latter is equally sick as Socrates understands.”