Monday, December 12, 2011

The Happiness Fiasco

1. Skeletons

When [insert Idol here] happens, I will be happy.

As long as [insert Idol here] happens/fails to happen/continues to happen, I will be happy.

2. Some Possible Flesh

When I graduate, I will be happy.

When I get my bachelor's/masters/PhD, I will be happy.

When I get married, I will be happy.

If I can date [name], I will be happy.

As long as I marry [name], I will be happy.

If I always have friends around, I will be happy.

If I am always friends with [name(s)], I will be happy.

As long as I have a job that pays at a certain level, I will be happy.

When I am making enough to afford a certain level of luxury, I will be happy.

As long as I have a roof over my head and enough food to eat, I will be happy.

3. The Walking Dead

This is the kind of crap our culture foists on us. We are led, raised, and preached into the belief that there are certain things we must attain in order to attain happiness. This is preached at us by our books, our movies, our other entertainment, our pastors (even the good ones, sometimes), our presidents, our leaders, our role models. It is unavoidable. The pursuit of happy-ness is the medium in which our culture grows, and therefore it is inevitably the message of that culture.

4. The Problem Is

The problem is:

It's not true. None of it is true. If I cannot be happy with the sum total of all the gifts I have been given, then the sum total of all the gifts I have been given plus this one thing that I really really want is not going to give me happiness. Or, if it does, then it will be happiness founded on the most shifting of shifting sands.

5. The Religious Part

Up to now, what I've been saying is pretty ecumenical, I think. That is, it can be agreed with or disputed without getting into the thorny subject of religion. The rest of the parts are religious. So if that flips your lid, go away. OR, better yet, stick around and see how another side thinks.

Once I asked my brother if it ever seemed to him that if we could think the right thought, glean the right insight, we could see the bones of the world. Not really responding to that, he said the right insight is this:

Christus resurgens ex morituis iam non moritur mors illi ultra non dominabitur.

Jesus Christ is risen from the dead and dies no more; death shall have no more dominion over Him.

Everything else, from the clothes on our backs on up, is gravy.

6. The Valley

This kind of fiasco happens in a Christian setting, too, and sometimes it is all the more nefarious by being clothed in Christian language, as if not only is this the only way to attain happiness, it is the only way to attain salvation, or at least the only proper way to respond to salvation.

One that I see a lot due to my time of life is, “Once you are married you will attain happiness and be living a proper Christian life.” I have never had this preached at me; I have only had it assumed at me. Which, actually, is worse.

Others include:

Once you have joined a good Bible study, you will attain happiness and be living a proper Christian life.

Once you regularly tithe ten percent, you will be living a proper Christian life and attain happiness.

Once your church/youth group/Bible study swells in numbers, you have attained a sure sign of God's favor, and of course happiness. (An inexcusable personal aside: nothing will make me run from a church so quickly as when it is clear that its members and leaders are happy to see me not because I am a person, but because I am a number.)

Once you devote as many of your waking hours as you possibly can to things that are labeled “charities,” you will attain happiness and be walking correctly with Christ.

...all of the actions implied are perfectly honorable, and all are symptoms of a healthy faith. However, none of them, that is none of them, are requisite; none of them are required for salvation. The statements as they are written above are lies.

Look at “The Problem is.” I would be willing to bet every Christian knows someone, if only second or third hand, who has left the faith because something happened to them that they were somehow convinced a loving God would not let them go through. Often they lost the only person in the world who could make them happy. Is our faith as shallow as that?

7. Shall These Bones Live?

Our faith is ancient. We have roots that transcend this time, this culture, and the prejudices and blindness that come from any pervasive medium, any culture.

And what do we do with those roots? Our tendency is to ignore them, or to be embarrassed by them, apologize for them, and try to mold them to fit in with the message of our culture. Why? Every culture has its prejudices; every attempt at freedom is oppressive.

Our faith is an escape route. Embrace the ancient. The more it seems to offend our cultural sensibilities—whether that involves secular culture or church culture—the more likely it is giving us something that we need.

If Christ did not rise, I am of all men most miserable. You know the rest.

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