Pangloss was always one of my favourite literary characters, his capacity to find the silver lining in every cloud was in inverse proportion to my own capacity to find a cloud to encompass every trace of silver.
“Well, my dear Pangloss,” said Candide to him, “when You were hanged, dissected, whipped, and tugging at the oar, did you continue to think that everything in this world happens for the best?”
“I have always abided by my first opinion,” answered Pangloss; “for, after all, I am a philosopher, and it would not become me to retract my sentiments . . .
. . . There is a concatenation of all events in the best of possible worlds; for, in short, had you not been kicked out of a fine castle for the love of Miss Cunegund; had you not been put into the Inquisition; had you not travelled over America on foot; had you not run the Baron through the body; and had you not lost all your sheep, which you brought from the good country of El Dorado, you would not have been here to eat preserved citrons and pistachio nuts.”
“Excellently observed,” answered Candide; “but let us cultivate our garden.
Voltaire’s Candide is as old as Arthur Guinness’s stout, both of them appearing in 1759. Candide is an hilarious read; absurd, fantastic, surreal, it is about the triumph of optimism. No matter what fate befalls Pangloss, he will not forsake his belief that all will turn out for the best. In Rosencrantz and Guildernstern are Dead, Tom Stoppard’s character the Player suggests an alternative view of drama, and of life in general, “Generally speaking, things have gone about as far as they can possibly go when things have got about as bad as they reasonably get”. Things can only get better in the view of Pangloss; things can only get worse according to the Player.
Perhaps Christian faith has to acknowledge both perspectives. There must be an appreciation of the reality of the world, but there must be an even greater appreciation of the reality of the resurrection, that most radical of hopes. Saint Paul is the first to acknowledge the darkness of the world, but asserts, “we know that all things work together for good to them that love God”.
Faith seems an optimism as absurd as that of Pangloss, but it gives a view of the world where things are not so gloomy. It is Christian belief that no matter what happens, things will – unexpectedly – turn out all right in the end.