Wednesday, May 15, 2013

The Pursuit of Happiness

In 2006, Columbia Pictures released the movie, “The Pursuit of Happyness.” (The title was misspelled in reference to a scene in the movie) This wonderful film was based upon the true story of Chris Gardner, who rose from near homelessness to become a successful businessman through an amazing and admirable example of persistent will and determination. The defining quote of the movie was during a scene where Gardner was speaking inspirationally to his young son, “If you want somethin', go get it. Period.” He was trying to impress upon his son the importance of not letting others stop him from realizing his dreams. In hindsight, the name of this film and the nature of this quote unintentionally point to a devastating intersection in which we find our culture today.

The name of the film was ultimately inspired by a document central to the founding of the United States of America. The Declaration of Independence was penned by Thomas Jefferson and adopted on July 4, 1776, marking the nation’s birthday. The guiding quote of this document is the sentence that opens the second paragraph, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.”

I referred earlier to a “devastating intersection” in our culture regarding these quotes. By that I am referring to how we have foolishly exchanged a true moral framework for an empty counterfeit. There is no question that America was generally founded upon a Judeo-Christian moral framework. The quote from the Declaration of Independence even cites as “self-evident” “truths” that these particular Rights were “endowed” by our “creator.” We know from reasonable study of American history, that our Founding Fathers and Drafters were guided by the Bible, the Biblical God, and the moral framework to which these relate. In fact it was to God that they were referring in that sentence. However, in the past 60 years or so, as a nation, we have rapidly exchanged this Judeo-Christian moral framework for a moral framework based upon…happiness. Even American author and social commentator, Sarah Vowell, admitted, “While I gave up God a long time ago, I never shook the habit of wanting to believe in something. So I replaced my creed of everlasting life with ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.’” Like Vowell, America has replaced what is well understood morally, with a new conviction that holds that we should all be free to do whatever makes us happy. In fact, this pursuit itself has become the new moral ideal. And, therefore, anything claimed to even remotely stand in the way of one’s personal pursuit of happiness is deemed immoral. This is absolutely devastating in every way as it replaces a true moral framework focused on the greater good of all with one focused strictly on self.

Finding happiness is not a right. Rather, the freedom to pursue happiness is a right. Happiness is not a state of being to which we are entitled. Rather, happiness is something that you have to pursue on your own. No government or law can grant anyone happiness. And, regardless of our moral framework, happiness will still elude most people. The flaw in this new happiness-based morality is also clearly displayed when a “group” in society claims some “thing” makes them happy. Then, when normal laws prohibit that "thing", the "group" claims that they can never be happy. But, if that is true, then they must be totally unhappy solely because they can't have that "thing". Does that really make sense? Are they truly prohibited from pursuing happiness? This is absolutely absurd, especially since many people claim happiness through wildly illegal things. If adult incest makes consenting adults happy should it be made legal? How about polygamy? How about prostitution? How about gambling? How about access to crystal meth? How about personally owning a nuclear warhead? If subjective individual happiness is the new moral line that is drawn, then there is no line. That is because personal happiness is not a universal moral absolute. Therefore, there is no moral framework. And, I submit to you, where there is no moral framework, ironically happiness will be the last thing found, if ever.

Ecclesiastes 2:26 says, “To the person who pleases Him, God gives wisdom, knowledge and happiness.” The Christian knows (not just believes, but knows) that true happiness (both temporal and eternal) can only be found in God. All other pursuits directed at any other theoretical sources will ultimately fail. It is good to support another person’s right to pursue happiness within the confines of reasonably established morality. But, it is foolish for a Christian to adopt a position that assumes happiness can be sought and found outside of true morality and God. It is one thing to politically advocate for pure freedom as a goal. It is wholly another to adopt a false morality in our arguments. Christians should never align in any way with a false morality.

Further, pure freedom is actually not freedom at all. Pure freedom immediately results in senseless anarchy. Therefore, true freedom, not pure freedom, should always be the goal. And, in order to experience true freedom, proper moral constraint must be recognized. For example, our Constitution recognizes our right to freedom of speech. However, you don’t have the Constitutional freedom to walk into a crowded theater and falsely scream “Fire!” when there is no fire (pure freedom). As another example, imagine if we followed, without moral constraint, Gardner’s quote from the movie, “If you want somethin', go get it. Period.” True freedom can only be expressed and experienced within proper moral constraint, as Gardner admirably demonstrated throughout his life. The question is which moral framework should serve as that constraint? True morality is the only guide rail to properly limit freedom, thereby making the pursuit of happiness possible.

Comedic actress, Carrie Snow, once said, “The pursuit of happiness is a most ridiculous phrase: if you pursue happiness you'll never find it.” And, motivational speaker, Denis Waitley, added, “It is not in the pursuit of happiness that we find fulfillment, it is in the happiness of pursuit.” With God added, I actually agree. This begs the question of whether a morally blind person can truly know how to find lasting happiness? The answer is no. Christians hold the truth regarding the only way to find real and lasting happiness. In our public discourse, we should not oppose this truth. Instead, we should proclaim it. Christians should honor God's morality at every opportunity and without dilution or deviation. This honor should be evident in our words, how we live, what we advocate and how we vote. And, we should never be aligned with those who would nationally exchange the purest and truest form of morality with such a devastating and void counterfeit as human happiness.