Enjoyment and Everything Else

Unapologetic is currently my new favorite book. I like it because the author, Francis Spufford, acknowledges the intellectual tensions (doubts even?) inherent in faith. Instead of solving those tensions with clever mind tricks, he offers an emotional case for faith in Jesus. For the next few posts I’ll be interacting with his book. I want to say up front that the book resonates with me, but I don’t agree with everything Sufford says (how could I? I didn’t write the book). Some of it I’m not sure about, and that’s partly why I want to interact with it. So here goes – Unapologetic Part 1 – Enjoyment and Everything Else

 In my experience, it’s belief that involves the most uncompromising attention to the nature of things of which you are capable. It’s belief which demands that you dispense with illusion after illusion, while contemporary common sense requires continual, fluffy pretending…Take the famous slogan on the atheist bus in London…“There’s probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”…I’m sorry – enjoy your life? Enjoy your life? I’m not making some kind of neo-puritan objection to enjoyment. Enjoyment is lovely. Enjoyment is great. The more enjoyment the better. But enjoyment is one emotion. The only things in the world that are designed to elicit enjoyment and only enjoyment are products, and your life is not a product; … Only sometimes, when you’re being lucky, will you stand in a relationship to what’s happening to you where you’ll gaze at it with warm, approving satisfaction. The rest of the time, you’ll be busy feeling hope, boredom, curiosity, anxiety, irritation, fear, joy, bewilderment, hate, tenderness, despair, relief, exhaustion and the rest…The implication of the bus slogan is that enjoyment would be your natural state if you weren’t being “worried” by us believers and our hellfire preaching. pp.7-8

When I first saw those signs on London busses, I felt a small amount of outrage too. But I was focused on the ‘probably no God’ claim. Spufford, on the other hand, gives ground to the atheist claim, if only to point out the absurdity of it. Ok, maybe you’re right – there probably isn’t a God. Who can prove it, anyway? But what does that leave you with? Life doesn’t magically get better. It’s still pretty bad, actually. Only if we pretend to ignore everything around us can we trick ourselves into believing life is primarily about enjoyment. That is the real act of faith.

And like the atheists and their bus, it’s an act I’ve pulled many times. And I’m not alone on this side of the pond (maybe I should have mentioned up front: Spufford lives in Britain). The entire American project buys into the same nonsense. Our declaration of independence from the British crown says that humans have been given three inalienable rights: Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. At least there’s an acknowledgement that happiness needs to be pursued, that it the default state of things. But please – if life’s goal is to pursue happiness, then I’m a miserable failure at least 75% of the time, and I bet you are too if you’re honest. Because happiness isn’t the point. Enjoyment isn’t the point. They are one of the many emotions that encompass a full and fruitful human life.

Spufford points out that if enjoyment is the point, then we’re all missing the point of life most of the time, God or no God. Emotionally, belief in God doesn’t really impact enjoyment of life in the moment one way or the other. But it does hold out hope. Hope that the atheist slogan crushes and leaves choking in a cloud of exhaust as the bus drives away.  “What the atheist bus says is: there’s no help coming…It amounts to a denial of hope…”

So what do you think? Is the purpose of life to enjoy it? Does God hinder or help that enjoyment? What if there isn’t a God – does that make all the misery in the world disappear? Have you bought into the lie that enjoyment is all there is?

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