Optimism 6000

For the occasion of this blog’s six-thousandth post, I thought I’d offer some scattered thoughts on the virtue (as I see it) of optimism. I will confess that I find optimism a difficult thing to master. I aspire to it. But my family upbringing is a powerful counterweight against it. Alcoholism, insecurity, violence, child abuse, sex and parenting outside of marriage have all been part of my family of origin, especially in the first half of the last century. My parents were intimately familiar with the Great Depression and a few world wars. So it’s hard to overcome some of that considerable baggage.

It seems that a certain gifted German theologian had no such problem, at least before 1968. I just finished John Wilkins’ review of the Ratzinger report from Vatican II. Maybe it wasn’t all the student unrest for the professor, but an uneasiness with the unbridled optimism of Gaudium et Spes which we reviewed extensively on this site four years ago. Other Germans, including Karl Rahner, also had misgivings.

Are we optimistic because we’re in good health, because we have a spring in our step on this fine June day, or because we’ve got the world on a string? Or are we infected with a religious optimism, one in which we know God’s squarely in charge, and that eventually good will triumph over evil?

When I was in college, I was a confirmed pessimist. Four years of Catholic high school in the 70’s will do that for you, not to mention a vague adolescent sense of being a leper to peers and adults alike. Then I dated a young woman who was an avowed optimist. While I didn’t share her fandom of John Denver, I did come to appreciate her approach to faith and life. So I outgrew my pessimism, and I managed to keep at it even after we broke up.

So when I see pessimism like that of Pope Benedict, I can’t help liken it to the days of my own immaturity. I recall the liberals of my college days having a similarly dour outlook on life. Even before Reagan, they seemed convinced nothing good was ever going to come out of a society increasingly dominated by militarism, apathy, and the profit motive.

As for the realm of faith, I can’t help but wonder if the German pessimism isn’t a variety of narcissism. We focus on ourselves. And since we’re depraved, sinful creatures, let’s focus on our own mortal culpability. To an extreme. Sometimes this even outshines the centrality of Christ. Because heaven knows, if we had to focus on God all the time, we couldn’t very well speak of everything that’s wrong with the world.

Of late I detect a sort of tiredness in some old corners of the blogosphere. Good and big and small and petty Catholic blogs of all sorts are fading off. Here, 6,000 posts is kind of a strain that keeps me going. I mean: I’ve gotten this far; I can’t very well bail to Facebook and let Our Corporate Masters track my likes and dislikes so easily, can I? On this site, they seem to run away when they see “OCF” or “Ad Gentes” or a similarly titled post. The blogosphere has no serious attention span. The controversial always gets hit, and I have no desire to be the Howard Stern of St Blog’s.

I also have no interest in tweeting to the world what I’m doing minute by minute. I have other things to do, and really: it’s none of anyone’s darn business. And while blogging is a limited medium of questionable repute, it still makes room for writing. And if nothing else, I’m keeping up the discipline of daily writing by communicating to you few readers.

Thanks for stopping by daily and occasionally. And in an optimistic vein: keep the faith!

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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5 Responses to Optimism 6000

  1. Liam says:

    Well, thank you for all these years, and your your perseverance through, may I say, hope, which is something more than optimism.

  2. Since I’m near the end of George Weigel’s “GOD’S CHOICE,” Todd, I’d sure like you to elaborate specifically on what you call the Holy Father’s “pessimism.” I also have traveled Germany (my German skills are good) and have a number of native Germans in my choral groups at church. What exactly is German pessimism? They seem pretty happy to me.

  3. Todd says:

    I was alluding to Wilkins’ comments on French optimism driving Gaudium et Spes, and the doubts coming from the German camp: Rahner and even Kung.

    I noticed a turn away from optimism by the 4th instruction (1970) on the implementation of SC. I’m getting ready for a trip tonight; otherwise I’d get into a bit more detail. Let me try to piece together something more substantive on pessimism and post it next week.

  4. Sherry Weddell says:

    Congratulations on post #6000, Todd. I’m still working toward number 3000.

  5. Tim says:

    I am so pleased to have found this web site quite by accident. It is refreshing and stimulating. Keep up the great work!

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