The Lie of Sadness

This thought springs from my observation of music, but I think that it has broader application to both the broader creative world and culture more generally, so I’ll state it in generic terms.

It seems that sadness, angst, anger and melancholy–in short, negative emotions–are somehow considered to be much more honest (and don’t forget that buzz word authentic) than their more positive counterparts. We gaze with cool eyes over anything that claims happiness or joy, believing that it must be “faking it” and/or trying to sell us something we don’t want.

There is, of course, terrific reason to be suspicious of happiness in a Prozac nation. A constant avoidance of anything negative seems to be the popular culture mandate, producing a justified suspicion of happiness. And yet should not the reaction be just as suspect? Why is constant sadness deemed more “genuine” than perpetual gladness?

In short, we as a culture seem to have an entirely dysfunctional relationship with our emotions. We seem to be only capable of picking either the negative or positive end of the emotional spectrum, while doing all that we can to avoid the other. The experience of the whole range of human emotion is dismissed out of hand.

And while this was supposed to be a critique of culture, I can’t help but be dragged into its implications for the church, where the same types of tendencies play out. You’ve got your gloomy churches and your happy-clappy churches, and far too few occupying that sacred middle ground, where we are unafraid to experience both the highs and lows that this life that God has given us entails.

Anyone who cannot have tears of both joy and sorrow can only be half dead at best.

2 responses to “The Lie of Sadness”

  1. Ryan: I’m actually not sure of how it relates, except that I do use a somewhat Marxian analysis (i.e. a hermeneutics of suspicion) to question the function of the elevation of sadness within our society.

    But I know that that’s not what you’re getting at. You want, I believe, to object to my faith-outlook on the world and to challenge it with Marx’s “opiate of the masses” objection. Definitely one of the better objections to faith out there.

    Religion can, but does not necessarily function in Marx’s sense. Indeed, there is a kind of faith that can have quite the opposite effect from what Marx (rightly) put his finger on. There is a holy dissatisfaction with “the powers that be” that grows out of people like William Wilberforce, Dorothy Day and Martin Luther King Jr. To paraphrase Marx, people like this would say that “the point of religion is to change the world.”

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