This oversight, to the degree that it is merely an oversight, is most fitting. For the Christian worldview cannot provide the necessary preconditions for human happiness. Happiness is not possible to a mind haunted by Christianity’s fear and guilt.
H. L. Mencken (1880-1956) once wrote that Puritanism is “the haunting fear that someone, somewhere, may be happy” (A Mencken Chrestomathy, p. 624). And while this may initially strike us as a humorous adage, there is an important truth underlying it. The Puritans had the art of killing joy down to a science. The Puritans shared with the Calvinists certain distinctive tenets, such as original depravity, limited atonement, predestination, literal authority of the bible, etc. The following prayer expresses in a nutshell the Puritan view of happiness:
Help me never to expect any happiness from the world, but only in Thee. Let me not think that I shall be more happy by living to myself, for I can only be happy if employed for Thee, and if I desire to live in this world only to do and suffer what Thou dost allot me. (from the Puritan prayer O Lord)
Fear and happiness are clearly at odds with each other. When a person is gripped with fear, he is certainly not happy. A person who accepts fear as a normal condition of human life, then, can only estrange himself from the achievement of happiness. For the rational individual, happiness is the norm. For an irrational individual, fear is the norm. Take your pick.
We should not forget that fear and guilt dominate the Christian believer’s psychology. Fear is his worldview’s starting point (cf. Prov. 1:7). The fear which the believer is required to have is not fear of mundane things, like fear of spiders or snakes, fear of traffic accidents, or fear of the loss of a loved one. Rather, the fear which Christianity promotes is what may be called transcendental fear - a fear which “transcends” this world and carries over into the spiritual realm imagined by the believer. Mt. 10:28 has Jesus say to his hearers, “fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” So the believer is in fact commanded to fear, and he is to fear a person - a “he” – who has the ability “to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Such verses make it clear that the concept ‘fear’ intended for the believer to have for his god is not simply some sense of awe or reverence, but rather a most distressing emotion of dread and terror, for what greater peril can the believer imagine than being destroyed in hell?
All of the believer’s mental activity is tortured in unquenchable fear, and no matter what he does, he can never shake it. He will try to suppress it, he will try to ignore it, he will try to downplay its influence over his life and thought, but he can never outrun it. It is too late for him, for he has already accepted the premises of the Christian worldview, and these premises guarantee his fear. Wherever he turns, whether towards belief or towards apostasy, he is confronted with fear, either fear of the god he enshrines in his worship, or fear of the consequences of turning from his god. When interacting with the world, the believer will do what he can to submerge this fear to keep it out of the sight of others; he doesn’t want other people to sense his fear. He becomes afraid of the fact that his worldview holds him captive in a cage of fear. In the beginning it is difficult for him to conceal his fear, since the fear can be overwhelming; but after a while his skill in the tasks of compartmentalizing the beliefs he is required to hold (so that their conflict with reality can be put out of his consciousness), detaching his attitudes from the emotions he experiences (so that he can feel less affected by them), and maintaining a benign persona before the world (so that Christianity can still look attractive) improves. He learns to live with it without acknowledging it; he habituates defensive techniques of psychological evasion.
One fact that no one can outrun is the fact that sustained fear and happiness are incompatible. A happy person can experience fear for brief periods and go back to being happy once that fear is abated or eliminated. And a normal, rational person can do this, for fear is not the norm of his life. For the rational person, happiness is the norm, for he alone can achieve and maintain happiness in life, and in fact it is his moral purpose in life (cf. Leonard Peikoff, Objectivism: The Philosophy of Ayn Rand, pp. 325-349).
Ayn Rand notes that
Happiness is not the satisfaction of whatever irrational wishes you might blindly attempt to indulge. Happiness is a state of non-contradictory joy—a joy without penalty or guilt, a joy that does not clash with any of your values and does not work for your own destruction, not the joy of escaping from your mind, but of using your mind’s fullest power, not the joy of faking reality, but of achieving values that are real, not the joy of a drunkard, but of a producer. Happiness is possible only to a rational man, the man who desires nothing but rational goals, seeks nothing but rational values and finds his joy in nothing but rational actions. ( “Galt’s Speech,” For the New Intellectual, p. 132)
The maintenance of life and the pursuit of happiness are not two separate issues. To hold one’s own life as one’s ultimate value, and one’s own happiness as one’s highest purpose are two aspects of the same achievement. Existentially, the activity of pursuing rational goals is the activity of maintaining one’s life; psychologically, its result, reward and concomitant is an emotional state of happiness. It is by experiencing happiness that one lives one’s life, in any hour, year or the whole of it. And when one experiences the kind of pure happiness that is an end in itself—the kind that makes one think: “This is worth living for”—what one is greeting and affirming in emotional terms is the metaphysical fact that life is an end in itself. (Ayn Rand, “The Objectivist Ethics,” The Virtue of Selfishness, p. 29)
A worldview which condemns selfishness consequently condemns happiness as a value to be enjoyed by its adherents. A worldview which essentially says “don’t be selfish,” is a worldview which prohibits the seeking of gain for oneself as a result of moral action. On such a worldview, one should be focused on the needs of “others,” for their welfare, their requirements, their desires, which are to hold primacy over one’s own interests. Where does that leave the individual? Well, the individual who believes that he is rightfully expected to renounce selfishness, has adopted a worldview which essentially tells him that he should not care for such things. He certainly should not care for himself, for that would be selfish!
Moreover, for a person to perform some action on the hope or expectation that he will benefit from it, is to put oneself at the center of one’s own life, and where does that leave “others”? Where does that leave “God”? Philosophically, a believer who seeks to gain from his own labor has already strayed from the reservation, even if he doesn’t recognize it as such. That's good, but he needs to come to realize why it's good. And if he's confessionally invested in protecting a god-belief, he will not come to understand fully why it's good.
The apostle Paul saw selfishness and goodness as inherently incompatible and contradictory to one another: “my selfish desires won’t let me do anything that is good. Even when I want to do right, I cannot” (Rom. 7:18). He saw selfishness as the gateway to iniquity: “my selfish desires make me serve the law of sin” (Rom. 7:25). Embracing Jesus as “Lord” in one’s imagination was Paul’s sure formula for abstaining from the evils of selfishness: “Let the Lord Jesus Christ be as near to you as the clothes you wear. Then you won’t try to satisfy your selfish desires” (Rom. 13:14); “If you are guided by the Spirit, you won’t obey your selfish desires”(Gal. 5:16). He taught that “love isn’t selfish” (I Cor. 13:5). On such a view, the concept 'love' cannot denote an individual's devotion to what he values, for "what he values" is by its very nature selfish. Values are those things which an individual seeks to gain and/or keep. They are things that he wants for himself.
The website “Believers.org makes Christianity’s unqualified condemnation of selfishness explicit:
The only thing necessary to change heaven into hell -- if God were to allow it -- is selfishness. Selfishness is mankind's fundamental defect. Selfish means: self-centered, self-serving, self-important. At the root of every problem is selfishness. JAMES 3:16 TEV 16 Where there is jealousy and selfishness, there is also disorder and every kind of evil. Every selfish person is potentially your enemy. Giving is the opposite of acting selfishly. Divine love is the opposite of selfishness. No other "religion" teaches to put others first, to love your enemies. Christianity is the only one that teaches you can be totally changed and become a person with a new nature. We are products of a corrupt culture that teaches selfishness. All sin is selfish. No one ever sins for someone else -- we do it for selfish reasons. We must die to selfishness -- or self-destruct. However, we are unable to do it by ourselves. We must allow Jesus Christ to change us inwardly. You can't change the fruit without changing the root. That is why you must be born again! Only by receiving Jesus Christ, and letting Him change you, can you be a truly unselfish person.
But this suggests an even deeper problem for defenders of Christianity. If one were to articulate reasons for why one should not be selfish, how would he avoid any selfish implications in the motivations he offers for abstaining from selfishness? Is it not implicit in Christianity’s condemnation of selfishness that it is ultimately in one’s own best interests not to be selfish? For example, if it is reasoned that being selfish leads to sin and thus bars an individual from entering heaven after death, is this reasoning not appealing to the believer’s own selfishness since the consequences of being barred from heaven are being held up as a threat to his eternal security in the afterlife? How are such moral contradictions avoided in Christian teaching? So far as I can tell, they are not avoided; they’re just ignored under the vain hope that no one points them out.
The author makes a most puzzling statement: “We must die to selfishness – or self-destruct.” On the contrary, it seems that “dying” to selfishness is self-destruction. By “dying” to selfishness, the author could only mean giving up one’s concern for himself and his own values, including his well-being. But if one gives up his concern for himself, his values, his well-being, what possible objection could have against self-destruction? Why would he want to avoid self-destruction? Why would he want any alternative to it? Clearly those who condemn selfishness (and not only Christians do this) haven’t thought things through very carefully. It’s just another instance of saying “it’s in your best interest to renounce all of your interests”!
Why should one “love” his enemies? Is it in his own best interest to love his enemies? If so, then the reason given for promoting such action is in conflict with the condemnation itself. Should one love his enemies because it is not in his best interest to do so? If so, why would anyone thinks this might be sufficient to recommend such behavior? But the implications which such teachings have with regard to moral values should not be missed or downplayed here. Enemies represent a threat to one’s values. And the teaching that one has a duty to “love” his enemies, is a teaching which tells us that we have a duty to put our enemies above our values. What rational purpose would such an action have? Blank out.
With all its condemnation of selfishness, the Christian worldview brings home its point that the believer is not to consider himself worthy of anything that is good and wonderful in life, including happiness. The believer is explicitly urged to count himself unworthy of goodness as such, and worthy only of eternal punishment. Isaiah 64:6, often quoted by evangelists pushing Christian propaganda, offers a most negative assessment of man when it states:
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
The believer is to think of himself as a pathetic, wretched creature whose creator would be just in discarding for all eternity. It is only because his creator has, for whatever whim, chosen to withhold justice from being meted out, that he will not be discarded. There’s nothing he can do to earn goodness; goodness, for the Christian, cannot be earned.
The Christian is to model his life after Jesus, who did not come to earth to enjoy his life and find happiness in himself. Rather, Jesus came specifically to die by means of execution. His death-driven life was motivated by fulfilling someone else’s will, not his own. Matthew 26:39 has him pray, “not as I will, but as thou wilt.” In the Orwellian universe of the Christian mindset, life is a veil of sorrows and death is emancipation. As the apostle Paul wrote: “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).
In fact, one can read the entire New Testament and find only a small handful of passing mentions of happiness, most of them coupling happiness with suffering, hardship or persecution (see here), and never characterized as a goal one should seek or expect to achieve in “this life.”
Happiness is not possible in a mind held captive in a state of internal conflict. And as we have seen here and elsewhere, there are many internal conflicts choking the Christian worldview. A person who has accepted unearned guilt can never know true happiness; at best (and as we can expect), he can claim to have happiness falsely so-called. But it cannot be genuine for it is not something his worldview permits him to earn. A person who accepts the premise that he is inherently guilty from the very inception of his being, who has inherited guilt from a moral criminal who lived long ago and who stained the entire human race, has already forfeited his ability to earn happiness in life. Fear will only compound this problem. A person racked with fear is not a happy person. A person whose psychology is dominated by fear can neither achieve nor maintain happiness. A person whose worldview is founded on fear, will never have happiness.
The conclusion to this inquiry is inescapable: happiness is not available to the person who takes Christianity seriously as his worldview. If a person wants to be happy in life, he will need to reject Christianity, for it can only guarantee a life of misery.
I’m glad these aren’t my problems.
by Dawson Bethrick