“Schadenfreude” is an untranslatable German word for the curious, common and lamentable attitude of people who are not only happy with their own good fortune but happy with others’ misfortune. “Sick” might be a more appropriate epithet.
I have the pretension that among the one or two failings which I am prepared to admit, this is not one of them. All around me I see people, especially the young, smoking their heads off. I am sometimes tempted to tell them about my own twenty-five year addiction to cigarettes and its effect on my arteries. But I never do. I remember well my three serious attempts to give up smoking. Those vivid photographs of diseased lungs (reproduced today, at least in Australia, on the packets of cigarettes themselves) never really convinced me, but I tried anyhow to abstain. Three times – to no avail. The fourth time was a success, perhaps for an unlikely reason. I was at the point of changing jobs, leaving one company for another. I decided to “give it a go”, as we say Down Under, to start working in a new environment where no one knew I was a two-pack-a-day man. I just never smoked any more. It took me ages to get over the urge, but each day I felt that’s one more day without nicotine. I refused colleagues’ offers of cigarettes, and no one ever guessed what it was costing me.
Years later, another twenty-five in fact, I realized that I had been drinking alcohol for half a century. Beer, at the beginning, before graduating to wine and the inevitable, delicious, inebriating Scotch. I even played the connoisseur, expert in the better blends and the most expensive Single Malts. Then one day I went cold turkey. I would never admit to “dependence” or “alcoholism”, but I did enjoy a drink, or, more exactly, several drinks, twice a day – every day. Why did I give it up ? Hard to say, but it had to be a combination of physical fear (those embarrassing falls …) and the realization that I could become a burden to my children and a disappointment (!) to my grandchildren. It’s been four years now. Only four years ? You’re not impressed. I am. But only because I know what it took and what it takes, and that any time before midnight I could be back on the grog.
Victories, yes. Self-satisfaction, yes, but tempered by the fragility of my resolution. Schadenfreude ? No, definitely not. I regret and pity the grip both addictions have on friends. I also know how ineffective it is to preach the good word, to evoke – what arrogance ! – my own example. I know there’s not much I can do except hope they find for themselves the motivation and the courage to liberate themselves as I did.
Religious credulity and dependence on the crutches it provides are a bondage from which I freed myself thirty-five years ago. Often I feel just as ineffective in inviting others to share my liberation, as I do with former addictions to nicotine and alcohol. But just as health authorities and government agencies continue their efforts to dissuade the young from falling into either trap and the addicted to escape from theirs, I feel I cannot remain indifferent to or silent about blind faith and the blind folly which is religion. My book and this blog will leave many believers, including those on the brink, unconvinced. I do not hold myself up as a model, but far from thinking myself a cut above the hooked, will do all I can to help them discover the motivation I was lucky enough to find. Holier than thou ? You’ve got to be kidding !