Friday, May 21, 2010

The Pursuit of Happiness and the Fatal Principle

Our Declaration of Independence says that we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. But should people have a right to pursue their personal idea of happiness by any and every means? Of course not. Our society has all kinds of restrictions and outlaws a number of behaviors such as rape, murder, stealing, etc. The writers of the Declaration on which our country is founded meant that all people have the right to pursue happiness by lawful and moral means. It was written in a time when people were permanently divided and oppressed according to unchangeable class or social status, ruler-mandated religious denominations, and the like. Perhaps it's hard for us complacent, multi-generational Americans to imagine such a time when people did not enjoy such things as social mobility, property ownership, and religious freedom. Evidently, it was a very big deal to conceive of a such a nation as this was meant to be. The Founders wanted a different sort of society where everyone was equally free to pursue virtuous goals and worship God according to the dictates of a moral conscience.

Jan Lewis in The Pursuit of Happiness, explains that in using this phrase America's Founders actually had in mind not the fulfillment of the individual as we hear about today, but the fulfillment of family life as the ultimate wished-for personal happiness. This included the freedom to pass on one's moral/religious convictions to one's children and the opportunity for property ownership (acres for a house, garden, animals, pond, etc.) in order to independently provide for the spiritual and physical needs of a growing family. In those days owning a house was not considered for its own sake as a financial investment as it often is today, but for the sake of long-term conjugal family security. At its core the Declaration was meant to proclaim the human right to pursue the best safeguard against tyranny and the best chance for human happiness possible here on earth: family life.

Increasingly, since the 1920s, the original meaning of the pursuit of happiness has been redefined, even high-jacked, to include unlimited sexuality, the opposite of virtuous family life. We've seen how co-habitation, out-of wedlock pregnancy, divorce, abortion, homosexuality and the like, have become de-stigmatized, then championed, all in the name of individual freedom, fulfillment, or happiness.

Of course licentiousness does not bring happiness, only misery, but we live in a blind and prideful society which values only itself and has abandoned its responsibilities to both past and future generations. Sexuality is now the one impulse that need not be bridled---except perhaps where it is associated with marriage, ecclesiastical discipline, and sex crimes, and even these restrictions are fast fading away. We have rampant infidelity, open marriages, legalized "gay marriage," churches softening and abandoning their doctrines, a growing gay clergy, and new laws and policies, local, state, and federal, reflecting ever-widening boundaries for all manner of sex and sexuality for all ages.

In the 1940s C. S. Lewis, in his essay "We Have No 'Right' to Happiness,'" (God in the Dock) discusses this societal trend, adding, "Our sexual impulses are thus being put in a position of preposterous privilege. The sexual motive is taken to condone all sorts of behaviour which, if it had any other end in view, would be condemned as merciless, treacherous and unjust." He is right. If our society did not embrace irresponsible sexual freedom as happiness, but rather the pursuit of classic family life as happiness, a "gay" man's abandonment of his wife and children, an adulterous woman's convenience abortion, a public school teaching children that homosexuality is normal and having a father who objects arrested, a little boy being encouraged by the adults around him to dress and act as a girl in preparation for hormones and surgeries that will further confuse his mind and mutilate his healthy young body, and many other behaviors, would not be condoned as they now are, but summarily condemned as merciless, treacherous, and unjust.

Now that we have made the sexual impulse a "right," this fatal principle, as Lewis calls it, "must sooner or later seep through our whole lives. We thus advance toward a society in which not only each man but every [unschooled and selfish] impulse in each man claims carte blanche. And then . . . our civilization will have died at heart and will . . . be swept away."

So much has happened which Lewis could hardly have imagined, but he clearly saw the direction the world was headed. It's incredible to us at SoL that even those with resources, influence, and obligation avoid this topic like the plague. Many of our seemingly most moral and conservative leaders no longer take a stand on issues of sexual morality. They, quite irresponsibly, turn a blind eye to the tragic consequences for a society bent on sex, sex, and more sex. As a result, Lewis's prediction is coming true. To its detriment, as our society has settled on pushing and celebrating unlimited sexuality it has had no trouble pushing and celebrating every other preposterous entitlement men arbitrarily claim from society as a right: a "right" to marriage, a "right" to be a parent, a "right" to destroy the unborn, a "right" to own a house, a "right" to have a job, a "right" to free health care, a "right" for foreigners to break America’s laws, and the list goes on. So much for the sense of personal responsibility needed to pursue real happiness.

The fatal principle is at work.

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