12-6-12 Is God Happy?






     Leszek Kolakowski

     1927 – 2009





In this era of Freudian introspection, we delve into our shallow selves desperately seeking someone to blame for our unhappiness. Walking a mile in someone else’s shoes is too dusty a ramble. We can barely bring ourselves to contemplate the lack of satisfaction in a loved one’s life so mired are we in petty discontent.

Not so the late Polish philosopher Leszek Kolakowski who breaks through the circumscribed I, to ask a surprising question. “Is God happy?”

Mr. Kolakowski begins with us. He asserts that being human requires the ability to feel compassion, to participate in the pain and joy of others. How can we feel the perfect serenity of happiness, “aware of the wretchedness of earthly existence, of the dreadful things that happen in the world, its diabolical sides, its evil and pain and suffering . . .?” We cannot, he says, only very young children, protected from pain can experience the illusion of happiness. “We can, of course, experience transient pleasure, moments of wonderment and great enchantment, even ecstatic feeling of unity with God and the universe; we can know love and joy. But happiness as an immutable condition is not accessible to us . . .”

Then, he tackles the tougher question: Is God happy? “If He is not indifferent, but subject to emotion like us, He must live in a constant state of sorrow when He witnesses human suffering. He did not cause it or want it, but He is helpless in the face of all the misery, the horrors and atrocities that nature brings down on people or people inflict on each other.

“If, on the other hand, He is perfectly immutable, He cannot be perturbed by our misery; He must therefore be indifferent. But if He is indifferent, how can He be a loving father? And if He is not immutable, then He takes part in our suffering, and feels sorrow.  In either case, God is not happy in any sense we can understand.”

Mr. Kolakowski as philosopher opens the world to us in the same way science reveals new universes for us to enter, savoring or sorrowing.

His essays, “Is God Happy?“, translated by his daughter Agnieska Kolakowska, will be published this coming February by Basic Books. The remarks quoted above are from the December 20, 2012 New York Review of Books.


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