09 March 2017
Christianity is, at heart, a practice of constant indignation
According to Pankaj Mishra, the defining characteristic of our age is anger. For him, the revolutionary movements of the eighteenth century hold the clue to understanding the present: a massive groundswell of ressentiment, “resentment”, by the have-nots against the haves. What now drives societies, he argues, is a simmering rage at the gross inequalities, the exclusions, the arbitrariness of a system that enriches a tiny number beyond precedent, and parades their pleasures and fulfilments before the starving eyes of multitudes.
So far, so bleak. But what of the role Christianity has played in generating this anger? For Christianity is at heart, uniquely among religions, a practice of constant indignation. It fuels a state of continual dissatisfaction with the world as it is. Nietzsche was right to say that Christianity invented ressentiment, a state of revolt against the order of things, though he was wrong to think that this represented a denial of life. The opposite is true. To affirm life is precisely to deny and reject anything that limits, wounds or diminishes the human being.
The human being is a bottomless well of hope and expectation. And the world as it is breaks that aspiration, snuffs out that hope, because at every turn the human being faces loss, injury, and finally death. Christianity, with its ringing affirmation of everything the human heart longs for – and its stubborn expectation that God will answer this longing – looks at the world and says: this is not good enough.
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