Sunday, January 11, 2009

A Right to Happiness?

“After all,” said Clare, “they had a right to happiness.”
At first this phrase is appealing. Each person or most likely American reads this and immediately interjects the word “pursuit” for “right.” They assume this statement is the very declaration found in our beloved Bill of Rights. However, the question asked here is not whether people can pursue happiness, but rather do people deserve happiness. Pursuit is a result of rights. You take possession and ownership of what you feel you deserve, those things given to you by some invisible and transcendent law.
Clare’s statement is invalid by the way of two accounts for me, the first being that man is totally depraved. He does not deserve any happiness whatsoever. His sin weighs down on him; man is not able to pay the price for his fallen nature. There is no means by which man could save himself and achieve some eternal happiness. Sure, we all desire and fantasize about some perfect fairy tale where everything turns out right, all the characters are happy. The problem is that this ideal is not reality; it is not reality without Christ. Everyone knows that there is something wrong with this world; we may just call it by different names.
The second reason I find Clare’s state to be invalid concerns the nature of happiness. Happiness is such an abstract term. The definition is ever changing and extremely relative. One person’s happiness may be another’s pain. Jim is happy eating ice cream and waffle cones. Ralph is diabetic and does not enjoy eating ice cream and waffle cones; rather he prefers scrambled eggs and salmon patties, Jim’s least favorite foods. How can you claim a right to something that is so relative, so abstract? Normally when you think of a right you view something that is concrete. I think of a title or deed to some house or land. You are able to touch the thing, to see it, to take possession and ownership of the thing you have a right to. The courts would be flooded if we made rights to houses and land relative. Arguments and disputes would be nonstop. There must be some law or authority which can peel away the relativity of happiness. There must be some concrete definition.
Lewis addresses the issue of sexual happiness within his culture. For some reason it has been given the exclusive right to not be judged by a standard and rational law. We hold sexual happiness as the sole exception to vows and promises, loyalty and fidelity. Perhaps the reason for this small diversion from normality is the passion of sex. We are either caught up in the moment or simply place ourselves in the position of the victim. If we do not take one opportunity offered to us right now, we will never be truly happy. “If we miss this chance, we shall have lived in vain.” We sink ourselves into the fathomless pit of self pity, wallowing in our indecision and lust.
Lewis points out that the problem of providing an exception for sexual happiness is that there is no limit and the detrimental effect on our culture. Woman become victims and merely objects to pursue for sexual pressure. Eventually, this exception will cause us to keep providing exceptions and excuses for any decision or action we may take with the grounds of happiness. Where can the line be drawn? Who is to say one’s happiness is valued or worth more than another’s? The inconsistency just won’t stop.

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