The Problem with Happiness
In "We Have No ‘Right to Happiness" from God in the Dock, C.S. Lewis noted that when his acquaintance “Clare” spoke of “happiness” she “simply and solely” meant “sexual happiness.” Because, as Lewis noted, “[W]omen like Clare never use the word ‘happiness’ in any other sense.” Additionally, Clare never spoke of the “right” to any other kind of happiness. She was, after all, “rather leftist in her politics, and would have been scandalized if anyone had defended the actions of a ruthless man-eating tycoon on the ground that his happiness consisted in making money and he was pursuing his happiness.”
"We Have No ‘Right to Happiness" was the last published article by Lewis before his death in 1963. Thus, almost certainly “Clare” was a product of the sexual revolution. The piece begins with Clare concluding that “Mr. A” and “Mrs. B,” who each divorced their spouses to marry one another, were justified because “they had a right to happiness.”
Many a trespass prospers these days in the name of someone’s “happiness.” (“Clap along if you feel like happiness is the truth!”) Of course, today there are “Clares” all around us -- millions of times over -- peddling this “right to happiness” philosophy. And just like the early 1960s, this is especially true of things in the sexual realm.
Jay Bookman, liberal columnist for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, recently wrote about conflicting rulings on same-sex marriage. (Finally, a federal judge with some backbone and sense!) A comment under his piece summed up perfectly the rationale for so many Americans when it comes to same-sex marriage: “For the life of me I can't understand WHY anyone would want to keep someone from marrying anyone they choose as long as they are of legal age and can give consent. Many states also allow 1st cousins to marry now. I just don't understand depriving anyone the right to be happy.”
Such juvenile thought has also invaded circles inhabited by those who should know better. As I pointed out last year, Republican Senator Rob Portman from Ohio, who, over the last several years, has been in the conversation as a candidate for the White House, reversed himself and became a supporter of same-sex marriage. (For which he is now rightly paying a political price.)
According to Portman’s own words, his conversion on this grave issue was due to the fact that, in 2011, his son Will announced that he was gay. Thus Senator Portman, not wanting to stand in the way of his son’s opportunity “to pursue happiness and fulfillment,” decided to join the “Happy Gang” on same-sex marriage.
The Happy Gang has corrupted more than marriage. Many have decided to capitulate on a wide range of homosexual-related issues because of the perceived “right to happiness.” Tragically, and in most cases to please the pro-homosexual crowd, just as with the perverse notion of modern-day tolerance, the “right to happiness” philosophy has invaded the church -- even the (supposed) evangelical church.
Just days ago Victoria Osteen -- wife of Joel Osteen, pastor of Lakewood Church, the largest Protestant church in the U.S. -- was videoed boldly declaring, “I just want to encourage every one of us to realize when we obey God, we’re not doing it for God -- I mean, that’s one way to look at it -- we’re doing it for ourselves, because God takes pleasure when we are happy. . . That’s the thing that gives Him the greatest joy. . .”
She continued: “So, I want you to know this morning -- Just do good for your own self. Do good because God wants you to be happy. . . When you come to church, when you worship him, you’re not doing it for God really. You’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?”
In other words, “Take up your happiness and follow Jesus!” Or, “My yoke is easy because I just want to make you happy.” Poor Mrs. Osteen has taken her lumps for this, so I don’t want to pile on. (It wouldn’t be very Christlike anyway.) As Al Mohler deftly put it, “America deserves the Osteens.” Not only that, America, along with much of the rest of the world, craves the Osteen’s brand of Christianity -- or religion -- or whatever you choose to call it.
It makes it so much easier to decide what’s right and wrong when all you have to ask is, “Does it make you happy?” Is there any wonder that we have become a culture virtually bereft of shame? Is there anyone in liberal America who knows sin for what it really is? Has it occurred to the Happy Gang to weigh the “happiness” of the beheading-butchers of ISIS, as they cut off the heads of “infidels,” before we decide to do anything about them?
Don’t get me wrong, like Phil Robertson and the Duck Dynasty crowd, I love some “happy, happy, happy.” However, as Lewis reminds us, when our founding fathers wrote of the right to the “pursuit of happiness,” that “august declaration” was tempered by the notion that our pursuits are limited by means sanctioned according to the eternal Law of Nature. In other words, we are not to seek happiness simply according to our own whims and desires.
Also, though I believe that God enjoys us being happy, that is certainly not His main concern -- even when our pursuits are noble. As my lovely wife wisely put it, He’s much more concerned with our holiness than our happiness. This is accomplished only through the redemptive work of Jesus.
To get us to see this, to see the only path to holiness (“the Way” as Jesus put it), and hopefully choose that path, is God’s main concern. Whether we’re rich or poor, hungry or fed, clothed or naked, sick or well, happy or sad, we should seek this path. Some of us will follow this path though our family will forsake us as a result; for others we follow this path “even unto death,” because we know that, in spite of what we may face in this world, one day there will be no more sadness, and not just happiness, but perfect joy.
Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.