Recently, Rod Dreher over at the American Conservative posted a fabulous article entitled Sex after Christianity, where he argues that Americans have largely rejected any moral authority other than themselves. Notions of a god have become passe and competing moral authorities, such as when my ideas conflict with yours, are not considered by our post-modern culture to actually contradict. You can be your authority and I can be mine.
Dreher’s article was still tumbling around in my mind last night as I watched Donald Trump’s The Celebrity Apprentice on television. One of the celebrities still on the show is comedian and magician Penn Jillette, who according to his own admission is “beyond atheism.” Atheists, he claims, don’t believe in God. He, on the other hand, believes there is no God. Instead, Jillette holds to Ayn Rand’s objectivism “with his own happiness as the moral purpose of his life, with productive achievement as his noblest activity, and reason as his only absolute (from Atlas Shrugged).” While we can certainly debate how many Americans actually care about the latter two parts of this definition, it is pretty obvious from observation and Dreher’s article that most Americans do base their moral decisions on themselves and their own happiness.
The vast majority of the laws made in this country are to protect one’s happiness. That also seems to be the greatest argument being made in the homosexual debate. What right, so the argument goes, does the government have to stop my free choice of consensual homosexual behavior if it makes me happy? The government does have responsibility to protect non-consensual behavior (as that would violate someone else’s happiness), but since morality is based on individual happiness, everything else is morally okay as long as one does not violate someone else’s happiness.
In many ways, this seems very close to existentialism. In fact, Rynd considered that name rather than objectivism, but the name was already taken. In existentialism, the highest good is not happiness but authenticity to self. Elements of this can be seen in the homosexuality debate as well as proponents argue that this is who they are. Current thought and feeling towards morality seems to be that any theistic or transcendent worldview is antiquated. Yet, instead of falling into nihilistic depression, American culture has jumped past nihilism into a twisted self-actualizing form of existentialism based upon one’s own happiness.
But there in lies the open door for discussion. American’s are not truly basing their morality upon what makes them happy but upon what THEY THINK makes them happy NOW. For instance, smoking in public places is all but banned in most parts of this country because of the health concerns. Yes, smoking makes you happy now as the nicotine slowly poisons your brain, which leads to great unhappiness later. Thus, the work of so many against cigarettes, including the US Surgeon General. The same is true of so many behaviors that would be Biblically classified as immoral. They do offer a fleeting, immediate gratification of some desire, which gives an immediate sense of happiness. But the end result is anything but. Instead, our lives are torn apart by our immoral decisions and we discover too late that it was a false happiness which we gave in too.
The truth is that many people, including homosexuals, are trapped in the happiness lie which offers nothing but a sham. They think they have found happiness, but it will not last. True joy is found in following God and His guide for living. And because all Americans are looking for true joy, Christians have the opportunity to show that happiness does not come from listening to ourselves and our own moral determinations but from following an absolute morality which is interwoven with the created natural order of our world. And, as we share with those around us that we were created as humans for true joy, we can also point out that sixty years of supposed hedonist pleasure in this lifetime pales in comparison with an eternity of unhappiness.
Those who would follow objectivism or existentialism do not realize that they were made for far more than fleeting pleasure. Instead, a lifetime of true soul-fulfilling joy can be theirs. As many other posts on HT have argued, Christians should do things better, and I would add, they should also do it with more joy, a joy that can be contagious and shared with those around who are truly searching for unending happiness. Let us not leave our neighbors to their unhappy fate but instead be the guides to true joy.