Godtalk: Enjoyment without guilt


True Joy on a man's face photo from http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Richard_Joy_Thomas.jpg

Many people suffer from a kind of guilt. They don’t seem able to enjoy healthy pleasure without feeling guilty about feeling good, almost apologetic about their good luck.

Instead they tend, unconsciously, to associate depth and religion with what’s grey and sad. In the name of  religion they are stoic rather than joyous in acceptance of pleasure. Many suffer from an incapacity  to take in life’s more simple pleasures in genuine delight. They always seem to be nursing some guilt feelings about pleasure.

And so they have certain unspoken religious axioms by which they live – ‘If it hurts more, it’s better for you’  ‘Beauty is a pagan luxury.’  ‘The Gospel calls us to an austerity of body and spirit. A truly deep person does not thoroughly enjoy a pleasure, especially a bodily one.’  ‘Reticence and anxiety in the face of deep pleasure is healthy spiritually.’  ‘Jesus’ challenge was much more about renunciation than about drinking in deeply the life that God offers us.’

This psychological and religious inhibition exists in all cultures and is not a particularly Christian problem. Too many people blame guilt feelings on their religious training when, in fact, their roots lie far beyond and outside of religion.

This isn’t a ‘Christian neurosis’; it’s a human one. In all cultures and in all religions, many sensitive adults suffer from a certain chronic depression, namely, they find it hard to simply delight in life without at the same time feeling the shadows around that momentary delight.

And so, like the people at table with Jesus on that night when a woman broke an expensive jar of ointment on his feet, cried on his feet, and dried his feet with her hair, pleasure does not sit comfortably with them. Rather, in the face of  pleasure, they shift about uncomfortably and give reasons why it shouldn’t be happening.

But we should not try to rationalise this neurotic reticence in the name of Jesus, Christianity, religion, or depth of soul. We should not confuse Hamlet with Jesus. 

Peter Knott SJ