Bringing Heaven Down To Earth

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Monday, November 14, 2005

Ellen Charry on eschatology and happiness

Earlier this month, I heard Princeton's Ellen Charry deliver the Stob Lectures on the topic of "God and the Art of Happiness." She argued that Christianity needs to have a voice in academic discourse about happiness, since the present discourse proceeds with "a lack of appreciation for the spiritual dimension of happiness."

Charry also touched on eschatology; "Happiness," she said, "remains an eschatological hope." In modernity, Christian theologians came to believe that on this earth we could experience "moments of bliss, but they are unsustainable--only in the next life [will they be sustained].

Listen to Charry's lectures at the Stob Lectures page.

I tried to unwrap the eschatology of happiness in a weblog entry on an article in the journal Daedalus entitled "From the happiness of virtue to the virtue of happiness." As I read it now, my entry seems a little muddled, but you can see how the nature of happiness is a central question of theology:

From the Beatitudes ("happy are those who … ") to Augustine, McMahon says, happiness was prescribed as an eternal but future remedy for those who suffered currently. Live virtuously now, have happiness later as a result. Nonetheless, McMahon says the sensuousness of the Christian imagination of happiness—"feeling, intense feeling, was what flowed forth with Christ's blood, transformed in the miracle of the Eucharist from the fruit of intense pain to the sweet nectar of rapture"—stood in stark contrast to the "cool" and "rational" happiness of Aristotle. Although we remember Reformation-era thinkers as a grim lot, it was this visceral sense of happiness that defined the Christianity of their time, McMahon says. "The Renaissance imagination thus ranged freely forward to the joys that would come, and backward to those that had been, [reflecting] greater acceptance of pleasure in the here and now." Even Calvin, who emphasized the misery of the human condition, said: "When the favor of God breathes upon us, there is none of these [sufferings] which may not turn out to our happiness." full entry

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