JANUARY 01, 1967 by ROBERT M. THORNTON
Mr. Thornton is a businessman in Covington, Kentucky.
Vermont Royster, editor of The Wall Street Journal, has recently questioned the idea that it is the mark of a good citizen "to worry about world events…. The world’s woes number some that aren’t worth worrying about at all," he opines, and even if some are "worth worrying about, worrying doesn’t get you anywhere." But these are especially terrible times, many will complain, to which Royster replies: "If ours are the worst of times, so were they all," for "wars, riots, upheavals, and worrisome matters of all sorts are not new to the world. What’s new is the constant dinning of them into our brains…. The question is not whether black doubt lies ahead," Royster concludes, "but how men at different times meet their different doubts, whether with courage and ironic laughter or with whimpering."
Some years ago Albert Jay Nock remarked that there is "sound Christian doctrine" in the old saying: "There are two classes of things one should not worry about: the things one can help, and the things one can’t help. If you can help a thing, don’t worry about it; help it. If you can’t help it, don’t worry about it for you do no good, and only wear yourself down below par." A huge deal of nonsense is talked about "the woes of society, the sorrows of the world," said Nock, but "there is no such thing as the woes of society, and the world has no sorrows. Only individuals have woes and sorrows." Some persons "speak of being overcome by the sorrows of the world" and "borrow the world’s troubles in the conviction that they are great altruists, when in fact they are only bilious and would be benefited by some liver-medicine and hard work in the open air."
While not wishing to "encourage hardness of heart," continued Nock, "one must allow something… for a possible light touch of morbidness in one’s sentiment toward human sorrows, both individual and social. It is easy to get a bit too much worked up over distresses lying in one’s purview — distresses, I mean, which with the best will in the world one cannot possibly alleviate, and with which perhaps one cannot even sympathize intelligently, since one has never experienced the like oneself."
Implicit in the demand that we worry about the woes of the world is a rebuke to those who enjoy good fortune while many do not. Joseph Wood Krutch has ably explained why he does not believe that "anyone who finds himself fortunate is morally obliged to ref use to enjoy his good fortune because all are not equally fortunate. It might be argued," he says, "that to refuse to accept happiness if everyone is not equally happy would not be a way of securing, even ultimately, happiness for everybody, but merely a way of making sure that misery becomes universal, since even the lucky will not permit themselves to enjoy their luck. Such perversity may seem a virtue to those who take certain attitudes, but it is perhaps not impertinent to point out that it has not always been so considered; that indeed, to Catholic theology it once was, and for all I know still is, a sin —the sin of melancholy which has been carefully defined as a stubborn refusal to be grateful for the good gifts of God."
The late Dean Inge was another who reminded us that in Christian doctrine melancholy—"a compound of dejection, sloth, and irritability, which makes a man feel that no good is worth doing" — is a moral fault. "St. Paul," writes the Dean, "warns the Corinthians against `the sorrow of the world,’ which `worketh death.’ The sorrow of the world is contrasted with godly sorrow, or repentance for sin." Then Inge quotes Chaucer: "This rotten sin maketh a man heavy, wrathful, and raw. Thence corn-meth somnolence, that is, a sluggy slumbering, which maketh a man heavy and dull in body and soul; negligence or recklessness that recketh of nothing whether he do it well or badly; and idleness, that is at the gate of all harms."
Inge recommends the advice of the Psalmist in our attitude toward things which are not in our power: "Fret not thyself, else shalt thou be moved to do evil…. We are not responsible," he writes, "where we have no power, and we have the divine promise that all things shall work together for good to those who love God."
The Dean tells a good story about a British Ambassador to the Hague who was "tossing about through the night in anxiety about the condition of his country. An old servant, lying in the same room, addressed him: ‘Sir, may Iask you a question?"Certainly,’ replied the ambassador. ‘Sir, did God govern the world well before you came into it?’ `Undoubtedly.’ `And will He rule the world well when you have gone out of it?’ `Undoubtedly.’ `Then, Sir, can you not trust Him to rule the world well while you are in it?’ The tired ambassador turned on his side and fell asleep."
Progress Through Freedom
But still, while man in freedom makes his way,
Some good develops oft from day to day;
Secures advancement in the field of strife
While dipping oars upon the stream of life.
While under ban we only see the dwarf,
As men seem pigmies on the distant wharf.
But give full scope to man’s unshackled soul,
o think and speak and judge without control;
And great development of mind will rise,
And great achievements will the world surprise.
Then will the mind throughout creation soar,
And wonders of the universe explore;
Inventions make, to aid the human race
In things substantial and aesthetic grace.
Religion gains its utmost purity,
When its development is wholly free.
REV. EDWARD CLEVELAND, Bible Sketches (1875)