Thursday, March 31, 2011

The idol of happiness

My dear wife sent me an interesting item  Hear Me Roar! (Musings on Women's History Month) by Mary Kassian on the Desiring God blog. It reviews how the feminist revolution offered to make women happier by giving them greater independence through freeing them from the shackles of marriage and family. Yet, it seems that American women are the most unhappy they have ever been! Kassian then reflects on a Biblical model for womanhood and concludes:

History proves that woman’s happiness is not found in pursuing the current cultural ideal. But that doesn’t mean it’s an elusive goal. My “woman’s history”—and the history of a multitude of sisters who have loved Christ—testifies to the fact that happiness (of the deep, lasting kind) can be found in pursuing the One to whom true womanhood points.  
Although I have some sympathy to this I am uneasy about this emphasis on happiness. It seems to be a utilitarian argument for following Christ: Women's goal should be to be happy. Being a feminist does not bring happiness. Feminism doesn't work. But, what will make women happy is following Christ. So women should give up on feminism and follow Christ. 

This emphasis on happiness probably comes from the United States Declaration of Independence. The second sentence of is:
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.
Christ does offer joy and an abundant life. But he also promises persecution, suffering, sacrifice, and the "way of the Cross".


  1. Just curious, have you read Ellen Charry's "God and the Art of Happiness" or William Cavanaugh's "Being Consumed: Economics and Christian Desire"? Both books have great discussions about biblical/theological visions of happiness that run counter to the modern/enlightenment/american version. I recommend them, both.

  2. John Piper would argue that his emphasis on happiness comes from the Bible from verses such "Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart" (Psalm 37:4) "In your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures for evermore (Psalm 16:11).

    He is also heavily influenced by theologians such as Pascal, C. S. Lewis, and Jonathan Edwards.

    I think he would say that suffering and persecution secure us greater happiness in the long run than their avoidance does. In other words, the way of the cross is the path to ultimate happiness. Even Jesus "endured the cross" because of "the joy set before him" (Hebrews 12:2)

    I think it's helpful to clarify that when he speaks of happiness, he is not referring to mere worldly happiness, but to a deep joy that is ultimately grounded in God himself.

    I really think that he's onto something. I would commend his book "Desiring God" as a excellent introduction to his teaching on this topic.

  3. Thanks for the comments. I was not familiar with the books that Jarrod recommends. They sound good.

    In response to docsimple, I stress that none of my post was critical of Piper or the book "Desiring God". I think they are both great. And my wife thinks they are even better!
    My post was purely a critical response to the way that Mary Kassian's post read.

    Also, my dear wife (who is American) also pointed out that Australians are probably just as obsessed with happiness as Americans. I agree but one difference is that we don't have it encoded in our nations founding documents.

  4. Apologies, Ross, I should have read the blog post more carefully. Be sure to catch John Piper when he visits Brisbane in August.