Friday, December 27, 2013

Christian Moderate Optimism for 2014


            An attitude is fundamentally a mental position towards what reality has been, is, and is about to be. It is the inner disposition of the mind as it is shaped by our feelings and thoughts about life and how to respond to life. All the choices, actions and consequences of our lives are shaped by our attitudes. Furthermore, all attitudes towards life are either positive or negative, or in other words, all attitudes are about whether the cup is half full or half empty.

 I am concerned at the beginning of 2014 about our basic Christian attitudes to life and God’s creation. In terms of the cup being half filled or half empty, God has not created us to be “the cup is half empty” people. If we truly understand the meaning of the incarnation at the beginning and the end of the day, we are “the cup is half filled” people. The perception of life as always being half full is what I mean by an “attitude of rational and emotional moderate optimism”

            A Christian attitude of moderate optimism means that we should see the cup of life as always being a little better than just half filled. We should see the cup of life as always being moderately filled in all the events and situations of life.

I found it most interesting to learn that the cancer victims who have the best chance of recovery approach their treatment with a moderate level of optimism. Facing the problems and suffering of life with an attitude of moderate optimism makes a lot of sense. Just because a person is an optimist does not mean that one cannot at the same time have common sense. A false high level of optimism is to have no doubt whatsoever that a cure will happen.

At the other extreme is the negative skeptic who doubts that anything will work. The moderate optimist believes that if they remain positive and make a sincere effort to work with the treatment, then God will take care of them. The point is that a Christian lives as a moderate optimist in all situations. Jesus came so that we might know that God offers a life where He wants us to know happiness and face life always with moderate optimism. The Psalmist teaches, “This is the day that the Lord has made; we will rejoice and be glad in it.” The Psalmist doesn’t say that I will be happy tomorrow if this and this happens. No matter what is going on in our life, we must face life as a moderate optimist.

            I read recently a study from the University of Pennsylvania conducted by neuroscientists who were studying how Americans perceive God. The study gave me reason to ponder rather seriously the perception of God in our society, and I began to realize that there is a need for a discovery of the authentic Jesus of the Gospel. Approximately 34% percent of Americans perceive God as an authoritarian who is a God who prefers to demand and punish. He is a God who also intervenes in this life to punish the wicked and save the believer. This authoritarian God allows a satanic force to move throughout the world and attack the non-believer. Twenty five percent believe in a critical God who makes heavy moral and faith demands on people but does not really engage in supportive loving relationships with people. It is as if the critical God rules from afar by sending us critical and negative emails. Third, 12% believe in God as being a type of distant cosmic force that we cannot know personally, and this God does not intervene directly in our lives. Finally, it is only 23% who believe in a loving, benevolent and non- judgmental God who wishes for us to be happy and live a life of moderate optimism The remaining percentage are hard-core atheists who have no interest in the question of God whatsoever.

             It is no wonder that we have so much division and problems in America. The problems of the nation and individuals living with negative attitudes come from a belief in the authoritarian, critical and distant God. No, in 2014 we must pray for the awareness and understanding of a benevolent God guiding our Episcopal community and our personal lives on a journey of moderate optimism.


  1. There will always be those who see life either half-full, half-empty, or are indecisive and can't make up their mind and there will always be those who wanted a cheeseburger! Our challenge is to portray a positive attitude of abundance vs. the darker side of the Force known as scarcity!

    Well written my friend!

    The Rev. Dr. Steven R. Rottgers+
    Canon to the Ordinary
    Diocese of West Missouri

  2. As the crab has bitten a loved one recently, I did listen to the same rationale that you propose here. Nonnegative attitude is best medicine for those who want best outcomes from their chemotreats. Alas, positive psychology is insufficient, yet necessary to continue to deny reality. For me, reality is facing morbidity, mortality, senility, sanity as it is, not as it appears to be or should be. Facing death and finding hope is possible in the context of grace and love, albeit "facing" is the redemptive action proven sufficient for 2014 and beyond. May we all take another leap of faith as we turn our Julian Calendars and discover what Erik Erikson found to be true, "healthy children will not fear life if their elders have integrity enough not to fear death."

  3. Bill, you absolutely right. The Episcopal Church has more or less effectively taught such an attitude in its general theology and in stewardship as a theology of gratitude and abundance. The attitude of gratitude was the official work of stewardship during the 1980's. As a result, we were at that time, the denomination with the highest per unit giving in North America. It was what I was "paid" to teach as the Director of the Office of Stewardship and Development. Here is a contemporary reference that demonstrates your point exactly: