Which is the proper attitude towards life and the universe we live in – optimism or pessimism?
For the pessimist, the world is ultimately ruled by Sod’s or Murphy’s Law, the principle that anything that can go wrong will go wrong. It’s a close cousin of the law of entropy. Things fall apart, things fall down, they break, they die, they come to nothing. In the long term, we’re all dead and entropy wins.
From this perspective all we can do is make the best of this bleak reality, grabbing what transitory enjoyment we can and joking in the face of death, like Eric Idle singing ‘Always look on the Bright side of life’ at the end of Life of Brian – a kind of ironic joke-optimism in the face of the unstoppable forces of chaos pulling us to our destruction. Life is a tragedy but at least we can laugh at its absurdity.
But for the optimist of course, all will be well and everything will work out in the end, despite any and all current evidence to the contrary. And perhaps this isn’t always as pie-eyed daft as it sounds. Life does so often prevail, staging miraculous comebacks in the face of impossible odds, bursting through the cracks in the concrete where there seemed no hope of anything growing. The mysterious, vibrant, subversive forces of life, light and love keep on re-appearing when chaos and death seemed to have had the last word.
Yet the laws of physics seem undeniable, inescapable – we will all come to naught in the end; ultimately entropy wins in the physical universe. No amount of optimism can stave that off in the end… can it?
On Good Friday the pessimists have certainly triumphed. I told you it would come to no good, going about trying to make the world a better place… Look where it gets you, trying to be good and help people… best leave well alone and let the world go to hell in a handcart like it’s going to anyway… Good Friday seems to vindicate pessimism, to show that in the end, darkness and chaos win.
But then comes Easter.
For me, Easter is God throwing in his lot with the hopeless optimists against the rational pessimists. It is the first tiny seed planted of a new order of things, barely visible as yet, but which will one day burst through the cracks in the ugly concrete of this present reality, bringing in life and light and love everlasting and unstoppable and undefeatable.
And this is faith for me – believing in the ultimate victory of life over death, love over hate, good over evil, light over dark, hope over despair, beauty over chaos, and believing it despite everything in this messed-up, self-destructing physical world that tells to the contrary.
I’ll admit that I’m a natural pessimist. When I look at the world and at my own life, it’s pretty hard to believe in Easter. It’s easy enough to believe in Good Friday, in the apparently hopeless and pointless death of all that is good and kind and lovely, the ruin of all the promises of hope and change and a better future. Easter by contrast just seems far too long a shot, the beautiful but impossible pipedream of the hopeless optimists.
Except of course that it isn’t really the optimists who are hopeless…