Friday, October 17, 2014

Christian Criticism of the American Creed

Our Southern forebears from Randolph of Roanoke to Calhoun to Richard Weaver would be in broad agreement with Father Thaddeus’s assessment of those most fundamental rights claimed by Americans - ‘life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness’.  His sermon begins in this way:

“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,” the Declaration of Independence states, are unalienable rights granted by our Creator, to be protected by the government. Unfortunately the definitions for these terms were never truly agreed upon and, being defined by men, change over time. When does the right to life begin? In the womb or after birth? To what extent are we free? Until we hurt ourselves or others? And happiness, that popular but pitiful word constantly bent to the whim of emotions and impulses.

At the time of the writing of the Declaration, the meaning of the word happiness was greatly debated. Some restricted its meaning to only the acquisition of material possessions. For others it meant absolute freedom. Others insisted that happiness was attained only through the practice of reason and truth.

Today, the meaning of happiness has been reduced to an almost exclusively emotional state. Happiness is predominantly seen as nothing more than a mood. The question, “Am I happy?” can be answered with a quick glance at the emotional thermometer. “No, I’m not happy, but I may be after I get some ice cream.” Today’s dictionaries reflect this reduction: “feeling or showing pleasure” But a closer look reveals that happiness is rooted in contentment and being joyful.

In the ancient Christian tradition, which preserves God’s revelation of truth to man, authentic contentment (“a state of peaceful happiness and satisfaction”) is rooted in accepting things as they are rather than longing for change. “He who has no desires,” says St. Dorotheos of Gaza, “has all he desires.” Trusting in God’s providence, and desiring salvation over everything else, the Christian accepts “all that comes to me throughout the day with peace of soul and with firm conviction that Your will governs all.” When we want what we have, we have everything we want. When we desire what comes to us, we are constantly achieving our goal. And as the angst to be a consumer, lusting with envy after everything we are capable of desiring but do not have, begins to die down, we find our minds and hearts freed up to actually be happy and begin working towards God’s goals for us.

 . . .

Source:  ‘The Pursuit of Happiness’, , posted 7 Oct. 2014, accessed 13 October 2014

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