Once we came before God’s presence with a song; now we come before his absence with a sigh. The triumphs of science and technology, the vanquishing of disease and the mastery over nature – these things coincide with a general moroseness, the origin of which, I believe, is religious. Someone who turns his back on God cannot receive his gifts with gratitude, but only with a grudging resentment at their insufficiency. No scientific advance will bestow eternal youth, eternal happiness, eternal love or loveliness. Hence no scientific advance can answer to our underlying religious need. Having put our trust in science we can expect only disappointment. And seeing, in the mirror raised by science, our own aggrieved and sullen faces, we are turned to disaffection with our kind. That is why the singing stops.
The result of this religion of rights is that people feel unendingly hard done by. Every disappointment is met with a lawsuit, in the hope of turning material loss to material gain. And whatever happens to us, we ourselves are never at fault. The triumph of sin thereby comes with our failure to perceive it…That is why the psalmist enjoins us to direct our thoughts outwards, in praise and gratitude. ‘O go your way into his gates with thanksgiving, and into his courts with praise: be thankful unto him, and speak good of his Name.’ Once we have made the decision to turn back to the ways of duty, gratitude will flow naturally into us, and – so the psalmist reminds us – gratitude is the precondition of joy. Only those who give thanks are able to rejoice, for only they are conscious that life, freedom and well-being are not rights but gifts. A gift is a reminder that others care for us. The doctrine of human rights is prompting us to forget that truth. And that is what it is leading to a world without joy. For if the good things of life are mine by right, why should I be grateful for receiving them?
- Gentle Regrets, 234,238