Thursday, August 12, 2010

Not Happiness We Question -- But Where It Comes From

Joe Carter over at First Things (you simply gotta subscribe and read it and the blogs) reminded me of the great, old H. L Menken quote.  Joe Carter suggests that many assume Christian motivation for its concerns about sexuality, marriage, etc. are from the mistaken belief "that our motives are similar to those falsely ascribed to the Puritans by H.L. Menken: that we have the 'haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy.'”

It is not the prospect of people being happy that haunts Christians and the Church but the source of such happiness.  There is a difference.  Christians do not begrudge folks their happiness but are compelled to speak when that happiness is itself a false happiness -- a contentment that flows from those things which lack the capacity for real contentment.

Drugs seem to make a lot of people happy but this addiction is a false euphoria and an empty happiness which eventually destroys and steals more than it gives.  A pill or shot or toke here and there and it all seems so innocent that only a prude which speak against such harmless experimentation... except that it is like the tip of the iceberg for a heart searching for happiness and contentment in all the wrong places.  What would the Church be if she did not challenge such false notions and point out the dead end of this path?

The same can be said for those who pursue their happiness by their self-indulgence in other desires or tastes.  From food to sexuality, from booze to hoarding, we have desires that are not salutary but destructive.  They cannot bring us what we desire from them but if we would pursue them with abandon and license they may just steal our very lives from us.  So the Church would be a sham if she did not speak up, her values empty and her morality merely an exterior veneer.

Sex which has divorced pleasure from procreation, self-indulgence from commitment, is the path of contemporary culture.  What we are speaking about is not simply teenage fornication or same sex marriage but the unhooking of the values and identity of our culture.  That which distinguishes man from the rest of God's creatures is his ability to renounce his own desires, to say "no" to self in pursuit of a higher good and goal.  This is what Christians must speak to and of which these other things are more symptoms than cause.  We have given in to the tyrannical rule of our wants -- wants and desires that trump every other value that we hold as individual persons and as a culture.

Christianity heralds the radical values of self-denial, cross bearing, service, and the reigning in of my personal freedom for the sake of those around me.  It is the core value of marriage and it is the core value of Jesus' call to discipleship.  It is seem most powerfully in the cross which Jesus does not run to but neither does He run from.  He chooses it, complete with all its cost, because of what His sacrifice will accomplish for us and our salvation.  When Christians speak against the prevailing mores of our culture it is not for condemnation but for cleansing and renewal.  We do not disdain happiness but we must condemn the idea of happiness that seems dominant today -- radical individuals, self-centered definitions of goodness and truth, and a life which glories in the curvatus in se that is sin's scar upon our minds, hearts, bodies, and world.

The world may never have been Christian in the sense of this radical value of the cross dominant or prevailing among its members but a world without the voice of Christian witness to speak the radical value of the cross is a world happily skipping toward complete and utter despair and bent upon its own destruction.  The Christian loves the world too much to sit idly by or in silent submission to such folly.  As Joe Carter put it so well, we are trying, however ineffectually, to stop our civilization from replacing the Cross with a stripper pole.

No comments: