Fundamental Joy

It finally happened. In an interstate flight, the Pixar movie Inside Out was watched and, oddly enough, it was quite the charmer. Even more surprisingly, Inside Out proved to be rather philosophically and theologically astute.
Whether conscious or not, whoever conceptualised the movie has rather deftly brought together elements of Augustinian theology, as well as an appreciation of Terrance Malick’s Tree of Life, in which interior states folded outwards to form landscapes that were inhabited, rather than mere heremetically sealed feelings, giving the sense that one’s psyche is a cosmos very similar – and very connected – to the natural universe in which we live.
Of particular interest, however, was the sequence at the beginning of the movie in which the girl whose emotions are the main protagonists, Riley, is born, and her emotions gradually come into being. Interestingly, it is Joy that makes the first entrance. She smiles in wonder at everything she beholds, and it is her presence that marks Riley’s most fundamental orientation to the world, marked by the construction of largely happy core memories as theme parks. Her absence, while a key driver in the plot, is also portrayed as an abnormal development.
What is interesting about this very short but very fetching sequence is that it gives an optical statement concerning not only the fundamental orientation of the human creature, but also the fundamental structure of creation. In David L. Schindler’s book Ordering Love, the point is made that order in the universe is not only a dry abstract structure, but also a statement about the amount of care and concern shown by the Creator for creatures. Love, Schindler boldly states, is the metaphysical bedrock of the universe.
This bedrock of love then demands a proper response, a response is gleaned in the second creation account in the second chapter of the Book of Genesis. In an interview on his book Acedia & Its Discontents, R.J. Snell made the point that the first words that Adam spoke came out in a cry of delight, an exclamation of joy. This exclamation of joy, however, is not just a delight at the sight of Eve. As John Paul II’s work on the Theology of the Body makes clear, Adam’s first cry is also a statement of the fundamental nature of the human creature. It is joy, not sadness, that forms the fundamental makeup of the human person. It is for this reason that the sight of so much sadness in our world evokes the conviction that something abnormal has taken place.
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