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July 02, 2007


Does the deep, reasonless joy of being alive die in a world without religion?
Nope. In fact, I'd say if anything, the opposite may be true. For proof, look at small children: they know essentially nothing about religion, but their capacity for joy (and other strong emotions) surpasses that of most educated adults.

Life is. As a matter of fact, it's huge! I don't think the average guy on the street is going to show you his capacity for joy, he's going to keep it to himself. And I don't think any education is required.

Good point, Dave.

Thanks, Sylph. I agree.

I've been wondering for years why childhood is seen, in developed West, as a particularly desirable state. I am much happier as an adult than I was as a child -- my capacity for joy has certainly grown since then, and more particularly since I "got religion." In my case, anyway, there's a clear correlation between "being religious" and experiencing joy.

I don't know how much of that can be attributed simply to having a vocabulary for joy, a legitimate-feeling place for it, having a world-view in which it makes *sense* to experience joy. Surely everyone experiences joy, but I suspect that most people attribute it to its accidental occasions, and try to cultivate it -- if they try at all -- by reproducing its occasions. Which usually doesn't work; joy is not on call that way. Before I was religious I just didn't put myself in joy's way very much -- I didn't meditate, I didn't pray, I didn't practice opening my heart. Of course joy came and found me, sometimes -- it does that no matter what, I think, to everyone, every once in a while -- but not nearly so often as it does now.

I don't remember being joyful very often as a child, myself. I don't trust my memory, though, in these matters. (But likewise, I don't much trust observation of others: how much do we really know, ever, about other people's emotional or spiritual states?)

Dale, thanks so much for your response. I think the "joy" of children is overrated, and not the same emotion as the joy an adult feels, which comes from holding the dark and the light together, and has a good deal to do with a developed sense of gratitude. Children aren't grateful by nature! My early childhood was pretty carefree and "happy" but in an unconscious way. Even when adults experience spontaneous moments of joy, they are always set in an overall context of consciousness, which for me flows from my spiritual life. I think Dorothee Soelle doesn't distinguish between what children feel and what an adult feels, and it's a flaw in her reasoning - but I didn't see that before you made this point!

I like what Dale says about being open. I think this is a key to many good things.

Apologies in advance for any upcoming confusion & obscurity: it's 5.45 AM & I'm surrounded by horribly wide awake kids!

I'm with Dave in the sense that the individual without religion has an option on joy as intrinsic to the simple processes of sentience & sapience. The burdens, the obligations, the protocols involved in belief in some externalised source for our existence are absent. Life becomes, or can become, our gift to ourselves & to each other. Meaning & purpose become, to a degree at least, negotiable & joy is an untrammeled response to the concomitant freedom & self determination. Option is all here, as both Beckett & Camus point out so graphically. Straining against the bonds of belief, we may turn as resolutely towards the dark as to the light.

I'm with Dale in recognising an increased capacity for joy with the advance of age. But mine arises from the gathering sense that without belief I am free.

Mmmmm....Food for my thoughts. I am a 70 year old elder who is learning, laughing, living this last quarter of my life without religious belief, yet with an openess to what the mystery of existence may be. I am also aware of an abiding sadness to this last stage of aging which I share with many friends who hold various forms of belief. So, I am thankful to Dorothy Soelle for talking about joy being derived from gratefulness for the gift of life. And so, sadness may be derived from the knowledge that the gift of life (at least here)is on the horizon. I am very interested in exploring this sadness via a blog or conversations. Judith

Judith, thank you very much for leaving such a thoughtful and honest comment at my blog. I'm aware of the sadness you speak about, even though it's only gradually coming into my consciousness at midlife, due to the many changes that happen now, especially the ones that involve loss, change, and relinquishment of youthful hopes. I hope you will decide to start a blog to explore these ideas; I'm sure it would find a readership.

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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.