Pessimism, Apathy, and Optimism
There are three people I knew many years ago when I taught in the public schools who represent three different types of persons in the secular world. These three individuals were teachers, colleagues of mine, and they were very different from each other. What they had in common though was their chronological age and their lack of faith in God. They were not religious or spiritual people, and their values were strictly based on the materialism of the dominant culture. None of them had any vision of the future, nor did they have a sense of history. None of them really felt a sense of responsibility or genuine connection to others, except possibly a superficial relationship with their students and with some acquaintances and family. Their daily goals were simply to get through the day, unaware of events happening that were not in their immediate vicinity.
One was a woman who was caustic and bitter. She made fun of everything and everyone, especially anything good and hopeful. Her philosophy was that people were not to be trusted. In fact, life was not to be trusted. From her perspective, her dreams never panned out and every person she had loved betrayed her. Life had doled her a raw deal. In her younger years, I am sure that she had been a beautiful woman, but in her late fifties, her face had taken on her pessimism. Her eyes were cold, and her mouth had a permanent snarl. Every time she opened that mouth to spit out words, I cringed inside, dreading her gloomy judgments on situations and on persons, and I most certainly could not laugh at her sharp, sarcastic dark humor. I often wondered how her fifth-grade students fared with her.
Another teacher was a quiet, timid man whose body, walk, face, and voice showed tiredness. I had to strain to hear the few anemic words he would occasionally speak. His life force was barely noticeable because he had early on given up on life and on people, and now in his fifties, he merely shuffled through his days. I felt pity for this sad, lonely man who lived alone in a dark, cold house and who was barely noticed by his lively high school students (or anyone else for that matter). I often wondered how he continued to live through his dreary days.
The third person was a round, jolly kindergarten teacher who gushed emotionally and continually over the wonderfulness of life. Her enthusiasm seemed to me childish and at times tedious. I could not understand how a person who had lived for at least forty years could be so oblivious to any suffering or evil in life. She would become very uncomfortable if anyone ever brought up issues that dealt with the darker side of life. She was extremely discomfited by me, for I was known in our school district as the activist, the one who spoke out often against things that were not right. This optimist babbled incessantly when around me or any other person who was outspoken and forthright about the imperfections and vicissitudes of life.
I label these three people “the pessimist,” “the apathetic,” and “the optimist.” Two are at extreme ends, and one is nowhere, for he has no opinions or passions. The apathetic is indifferent, spiritless, and almost emotionless. The pessimist and optimist can be lively and opinionated; they can be leaders, movers, and shakers, though whom they lead and what they move and shake may be cause for concern.
According to Merriam Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary, pessimism means, “an inclination to emphasize adverse aspects, conditions, and possibilities or to expect the worst possible outcome.” Pessimism is also “a doctrine that reality is essentially evil, that evil overbalances happiness in life.” Optimism, according to the dictionary is “an inclination to put the most favorable construction upon actions and events or to anticipate the best possible outcome.” Optimism is “a doctrine that this world is the best possible world.”
Obviously, none of these three individuals that I just described are balanced, psychologically healthy, or realistic. I have met many people who fit one of these three types, and even though each has their uniqueness and individuality, they fall into the category of pessimism, apathy, or optimism.
According to The URANTIA Book, pessimism has no place in a truly spiritual person, for pessimism focuses only on the evil and the terrible with no or very little understanding of the good and the terrific. Without a spiritized mind people who rely only on their intellects and merely upon knowledge usually become pessimists or apathetic, for just looking at the facts of the state of the world and its problems without knowing the truth of the presence of the living spiritual forces that reflect the presence of God, can lead to a sense of hopelessness. The URANTIA Book tells us: “The pursuit of mere knowledge, without the attendant interpretation of wisdom and the spiritual insight of religious experience, eventually leads to pessimism and human despair. A little knowledge is truly disconcerting.” [Paper 195, Section 6, Paragraph 3]
Neither does secular, materialistic optimism have a place in a truly spiritual person, for, according to The URANTIA Book, that kind of optimism is “blind and self-deceived.” That kind of optimism does not want to deal with the reality and ramifications of the Lucifer Rebellion. That kind of optimism does not want to deal with the error, sin, or iniquity in people. That kind of optimism does not want to take responsibility for self or for others. You cannot be your brothers’ or sisters’ keeper with that kind of optimism, for when situations and people get to be challenging, messy, or problematic (and they usually do), the false optimists are out of there. When the honeymoon is over, so is the commitment.
Rodan, the Greek philosopher of Jesus’ time, said,
. . . Never hesitate to admit failure. Make no attempt to hide failure under deceptive smiles and beaming optimism. It sounds well always to claim success, but the end results are appalling. Such a technique leads directly to the creation of a world of unreality and to the inevitable crash of ultimate disillusionment.
. . . wisdom comes only from the experiences of adjustment to the results of one’s failures. [People] who prefer optimistic illusions to reality can never become wise. Only those who face facts and adjust them to ideals can achieve wisdom. Wisdom embraces both the fact and the ideal and therefore saves its devotees from both of those barren extremes of philosophy—the [person] whose idealism excludes facts and the materialist who is devoid of spiritual outlook. [Ibid., Paper 160, Section 4, Paragraphs 13-14]
The URANTIA Book tells us that one of Jesus’ apostles was an unrealistic optimist, and one was a pessimist when they first met Jesus. Both of these men, in spite of their imbalances and self-deception, ascended into powerful spiritual leaders who courageously carried Jesus’ teachings to others, regardless of persecution and harassment from the religious and secular authorities. Because these two apostles submitted to the power of Jesus’ love and example, their pessimism and unrealistic optimism was transformed into the wisdom of divine optimism.
The Optimism of Jesus
In Paper 100 of The URANTIA Book we learn:
Jesus was consistently cheerful, notwithstanding he sometimes drank deeply of the cup of human sorrow. He fearlessly faced the realities of existence, yet was he filled with enthusiasm for the [spiritual truths of revelation]. However, he controlled his enthusiasm; it never controlled him. He was unreservedly dedicated to “the Father’s business.” This divine enthusiasm led his unspiritual brethren to think he was beside himself, but the onlooking universe appraised him as the model of sanity and the pattern of supreme mortal devotion to the high standards of spiritual living. In addition, his controlled enthusiasm was contagious; his associates were constrained to share his divine optimism. [Section 7, Paragraph 12]
Jesus was an unusually cheerful person, but he was not a blind and unreasoning optimist. His constant word of exhortation was, “Be of good cheer.” He could maintain this confident attitude because of his unswerving trust in God and his unshakable confidence in [humans]. He was always touchingly considerate of all [people] because he loved them and believed in them. Still he was always true to his convictions and magnificently firm in his devotion to the doing of his Father’s will. [Section 7, Paragraph 9]
Divine Optimism in Spite of the State of the World
Some people wonder how we of Divine Administration can be of good cheer knowing how messed up our world is, and it seems to be deteriorating very quickly. How can we be optimists when the earth changes certainly are a reality? How can we be optimists when devastation and destruction of life—human and non-human—are happening at an accelerated rate all over the planet? Because we embrace divine optimism, the divine optimism of Jesus, not the childish blind optimism of the woman I referred to earlier. We are aware that there are many problems in the world. We are aware that there needs to be some tremendous shifts and changes in order for this world to survive. But we have optimism.
The URANTIA Book tells us: “Secular, social and political optimism is an illusion. Without God, neither freedom and liberty, nor property and wealth will lead to peace.” [Paper 195, Section 8, Paragraph 12] Regardless of what the propagandists in politics and advertising tell us, no matter how much money, property, friends, or democracy we have, we as individuals and as nations will not have inner or outer peace without God, without being in divine pattern.
The Fifth Epochal Revelation of The URANTIA Book states,
Jesus gives peace to his fellow doers of the will of God but not on the order of the joys and satisfactions of this material world. . . .
. . . The peace which [Christ] Michael gives his children on earth is that very peace which filled his own soul when he himself lived the mortal life in the flesh and on this very world. The peace of Jesus is the joy and satisfaction of a God-knowing individual who has achieved the triumph of learning fully how to do the will of God while living the mortal life in the flesh. The peace of Jesus’ mind was founded on an absolute human faith in the actuality of the divine Father’s wise and sympathetic overcare. Jesus had trouble on earth, he has even been falsely called the “man of sorrows,” but in and through all of these experiences he enjoyed the comfort of that confidence which ever empowered him to proceed with his life purpose in the full assurance that he was achieving the Father’s will. [Paper 181, Section 1, Paragraphs 7-8]
We who study the Continuing Fifth Epochal Revelation (found in The Cosmic Family volumes) are given a vision of this world being resurrected after the adjudication into a culture of light and life rather than a society of darkness and death. Even though there is error and evil in individuals and in the world, there is also beauty and goodness, the beauty and goodness of the divine in those same individuals and in this same world.
Because of the understanding of God’s loving overcare of this world, which we get from the study of The URANTIA Book, and a vision of a resurrected people and a resurrected world, revealed in The Cosmic Family volumes, we can be led by Jesus today (as two thousand years ago he led people) to feel “at home in the world”. In Paper 196 of The URANTIA Book, Jesus taught
. . . that the world was not fundamentally evil. He did not long to escape from his earthly life; . . . He attained an idealistic religious life in the very midst of a realistic world. Jesus did not share Paul’s pessimistic view of humankind. The Master looked upon men [and women] as the sons [and daughters] of God and foresaw a magnificent and eternal future for those who chose survival. [Section 2, Paragraph 9]
I especially appreciate this message given in The URANTIA Book:
Many things, which happen in the course of a human life, are hard to understand, difficult to reconcile with the idea that this is a universe in which truth prevails and in which righteousness triumphs. It so often appears that slander, lies, dishonesty, and unrighteousness—sin—prevail. Does faith, after all, triumph over evil, sin, and iniquity? It does. In addition, the life and death of Jesus are the eternal proof that the truth of goodness and the faith of the spirit-led creature will always be vindicated. . . The religions of pessimistic despair seek to obtain release from the burdens of life; they crave extinction in endless slumber and rest. These are the religions of primitive fear and dread. The religion of Jesus is a new gospel of faith to be proclaimed to struggling humanity. This new religion is founded on faith, hope, and love. [Paper 194, Section 3, Paragraph 2]
During these challenging times of worldwide tribulation, may we daily note the many signs in the natural world of renewal, rebirth, and resurrection. Healing and growth is each of our destinies if we accept it. Healing and reconstruction of our world into light and life is the future, and each of us can be a part of this future if we choose to be.
-Niánn Emerson Chase