The Horror of the “Uplifting”

Sometimes people just want something, they tell me, uplifting. Oddly enough, a fine piece such as this:

Is this a life? Nay, death you may it call

That feels each pain and knows no joy at all.

does not qualify.


In my experience, when people say they want something uplifting they often mean that they want to experience something bright, something rosy, something about the good in mankind or a story with a happy ending.  Something, in fact, like this:


Yet these kinds of things are not uplifting, for the uplifting can never be divorced from reality. If we are truly to be edified, to be strengthened, to be encouraged, which I suppose are elements of being uplifted, this cannot be done through lies. But reality is often grim, often horrible, often dark. To deny that aspect, to ignore that element is not to be uplifted –it is to be blinkered. Now I am not one of those absurd ‘realists’ who think that horror is all there is. It seems to me that this is quite as unrealistic as the Hallmark channel. The truth does not lie in between these extremes; the truth transcends them both.


Let me also be clear that I do not think very highly of glorying in the sordid. One does not, one should not, relish the Marquis de Sade. This however, is not the problem I am griping about right now.


What I am objecting to is the identification of the uplifting with the sappy; the error of thinking that we are somehow built up or improved by gloop; the notion that sentimentality is an adequate foundation for joy or encouragement. You see, escapism is never ultimately enough. We can only escape for so long. Inexorably, through some means or another, the viciousness of evil will confront us. And then we will find that cheap solutions cannot help. Having stared evil in the face you cannot continue to glibly ignore it. Evil is so startlingly, graphically real that there comes a point where the sap of the “uplifting” is inadequate as a screen against it. But if sap is all that one has, then the foundations crumble and the supposed gain that we have acquired from our exposure to the “uplifting” is found to be a refuge of lies, a god that cannot save, a house built upon the sand whose fall is great. The truly uplifting is that which can stand against evil, and claim to be more fundamental, more powerful. It is, in short, the grace of God –and the grace of God never denies the existence or the heinousness of evil: it rather overcomes it.


Sap, the “uplifting” and all their sugar-coated crew are a species of unmortared wall which will collapse under the weight of the oppressor, for mere denial does not change the bitter facts. But something which can face those bitter facts and offer, not a denial, not an ignoring, but an answer, a victory, a transformation, this only can stand. It does not delight in evil, or rejoice in iniquity; but it does not deny its existence.

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