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CHRISTOPHER TAYLOR'S BOOKS

Tuesday, May 03, 2016

THE HAPPINESS DILEMMA

"If you choose not to believe you still have made a choice"
-Rush, "Free Will"

In the novel The Quiet Light, Louis deWohl writes a fictional exchange between a knight named Piers and Thomas Aquinas.  The setting is a terrible period of European history in which Emperor Frederick II is rampaging across the land destroying Christians and generally being a monster.  Piers is very downcast and his faith has been sorely tried.  He complains to Thomas:
  
"Wherever you look, you see tears and despair and bloodshed.  I felt that my own life was senseless.  And I may as well admit it: I no am no longer certain that God exists."
"I needn't exist," said Thomas calmly.  "You needn't exist.  But God must exist or nothing else could.  You can scarcely doubt your own existence... its a violation of the law of contradiction, for if you do not exist, who is it that holds the doubt?  So you do exist, but not in your own right.  You have received existence: from your parents and ancestors, from the air you breath, the food you take in.A river has its existence and so have mountains and everything, not only on earth but everywhere in the universe.  But if the universe is a system of receivers, there must be a giver.  And if the giver has received existence, he, is not the giver at all.  Therefore the ultimate giver must have existence in His own right.  He must be existence and this Giver we call God.  Can you contradict that?"
"I cannot contradict it," said Piers.  "But it does not satisfy me.  Nor will it satisfy anyone who suffers."
"Your question, then, is not whether God exists, but why there is suffering.  But what is suffering?  What is its cause and consequences?  It is caused when parts that belong together are separated and prevented from joining each other.  And its consequence is pain.  A sword cut severs tissues that belong together and thus suffering is caused and leads to pain.  Or two people who love each other are separated and prevented from joining each other: suffering is caused and thereby pain."
[Piers] said: "But why must it happen?  Why must that which belongs together be separated in life?  You explained to me what causes suffering and that pain is its consequence. You did not explain why God permitted the cause."
"All human suffering," said Thomas, "goes back to the archetypal suffering... the separation of man from God.
"We are told  about the Fall of man in Genesis.  The Greeks and other peoples remembered it: they called the time in paradise the 'golden age.'  Do you remember the words of the serpent, 'Eat... and you shall be as God--'? We ate... and by that act of rebellion cut ourselves off from God.  We broke the link between the natural and the supernatural.  That was the separation."
"And were driven out of paradise.  And had to die and suffer.  That was God's answer."
"No, friend.  That was the inevitable consequence of our own act.  But God did give an answer and his answer was Christ.
"Our Lord took upon Himself the total pain of that separation.  The union between God and man is the Cross.  Supernatural life was restored to man," said Thomas, "And thus God is like the precious soil into which the seed, man, is sown.  And the seed branches out into three roots by which it clings to the soil, the roots of faith and hope and charity.  And all three are acts of the will -- the will to accept the truth as revealed by God -- the will to trust the promises of Christ -- and the will to see in God the supreme good..."
"I think I understand that," said Piers, "its like... like an oath of allegiance to the love of God."
Once more he saw that irresistible smile that seemed to confer an honorable accompliceship.
"You see now," said Thomas, "suffering means sharing with Christ.  If you love Him... how can you renounce suffering?  No lover will renounce the pain of his love."
"True," said Piers hoarsely.  "True."
"Man loves many things," said Thomas. "Wealth... or power... or a woman. But if you had to name what all men desire, whatever forms their desire may take... what would you say?"
"Happiness," said Piers after a short hesitation.
"Yes.  Happiness.  But what is happiness?"
"I... I don't know.  I know what it is for me..."
"There is then something you desire more than anything else."
"Yes.  But I shall never have it."
"And if you had it, you would be happy?"
"Yes, of course.  But..."
"But if you had it and so had to fear that it might be taken away from you again -- would you still be happy?"
"N-no, I suppose not.  Not entirely."
"Therefore... shall we agree that happiness is the possession of the desired good.. whatever it is... without any fear of losing it?"
"Yes... I think so."
"But in this life on earth we have not only the fear but the certainty that we shall lose it.  For one day we must die.  Therefore true happiness... lasting, everlasting happiness cannot be our lot on earth.  nor could it be otherwise.  For everlasting happiness is only another name for God."
Thomas' eyes shone.  "Do you see it now?  The urge for everlasting happiness is still in man, in all men.  But since the fall it has been misdirected and like fools we see our happiness in this or that -- in the accumulation of gold or of power or in the union with another creature, when in reality it is in God alone. The love of God is the true quest of man.  'Love and do what thou wilt,' said St Augustine.  And our Lord said 'Seek ye therefore first the kingdom of God and His justice, and all these things shall be added unto you.'"
Thus, the endless hunger of progressivism.  Because if you believe you can achieve happiness through your actions and laws and imposition of enough power, then you will soon find it is insufficient.  So you try for something more, something new, again and again, without end.
It is too easy in this life to presume that with enough will and power and money and the right ideas we can fix it all and have paradise here on earth.  It is too easy for us to have the arrogance to think that we alone have cracked the secret to life and happiness in all of history, if only people would do what we say.
But while happiness is a fine thing, it is ought not be our goal, but rather the appreciated blessing that we sometimes see in seeking our proper goal of being true.  True to God, true to right, true to truth.  It is seeking happiness first that drives almost all misery in the world, because when we achieve what we believe will make us happy, we find that we are not as happy as we thought, do not remain so, and cannot achieve that happiness again in the same way.  So we seek every greater joys and thrills and excitement, spiraling into madness, or despair.
Only by looking outside of ourselves can we find what we seek, and too often we only look within, or in that mirror, assuming that if only we try harder, or things were more fair, or people were less mean to us, or this or that condition was fulfilled which is preventing our goals, we'd be finally happy.
Thomas Jefferson was wrong.  The pursuit of happiness is not a right, primary or not. It is a constant condition of man which cannot be prevented.  And it cannot be achieved through system or efforts.

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