False God #2: Comfort and Personal Happiness

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : June 1, 2006

Yesterday I talked about how we place our desire for an end to suffering above our worship of God. Today, I want to talk briefly about a more common false God in America: the two-headed God known as “comfort and happiness.”

One of the things that we Americans have inherited from our enlightenment fathers and mothers is a strong sense of individualism (I’ll talk about individualism more at a future date). This can be seen in our constitution, which secures teh right of the individual–the good of the many can never limit the good of the one. And each individual is free to pursue their own good as best as they see fit (within certain limits, of course).

This sort of thinking is largely beneficial. However, this easily translates into a subordination of all social constructs or groups to the best interests of the individual. This is what consumerism basically is–the individual becomes not only protected, but sovereign–and is free to exercise his/her will in ways that maximize their own comfort and hapiness. All groups and social constructs become subordinated to individual’s desire for comfort and hapiness.

And it is in this way that the church becomes a vehicle for personal self-care, self-healing, and self-enlightenment. Church helps the individual to connect with God–and for what purpose? To promote comfort and happiness. Therapeutic Theism is the offspring of the marriage between religion and individualism. Modern spirituality may seem more healthy than traditional religion, but at least “religion” understood that we all must submit to something greater than ourselves in order to find meaning. Spirituality is a fluid, personalized thing–personalized like the desktop on our computers or the settings on our cell phones. Spirituality today is the subordination of God to something we believe to be a higher good–our own hapiness. This can be seen in literature like the Prayer of Jabez, the Purpose-Driven Life, and anything (and everything) that flows forth from the mouth of Joel Olsteen.

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2 Responses to “False God #2: Comfort and Personal Happiness”

  1. b-nut on June 1st, 2006 2:25 pm

    I dig where you’re going with this, Mark…I think that you have a prophetic message for our culture in these last two posts. And even though I think I agree with you, let me ‘push back’ on something that you haven’t said–in the true tradition of ‘pushing back.’

    We must be careful that we don’t simply embrace the opposites of your named gods–these would be sacrifice and suffering. While sacrifice and suffering are hardly ‘American Idols’ they can become idols for those who are searching for spiritual meaning and worth. They are not a necessary motif by which to see all of life in the same manner that it is not necessarily bad to be comfortable, happy or reduce personal suffering.

    So the remaining question is what do we focus on? We often judge others on whether or not they are too focused on being happy or too comfortable or even too focused on suffering (like some monastics)…so what remains to focus on that is not in danger of becoming an idol?

  2. mark on June 1st, 2006 2:53 pm

    Totally agree. Doing the opposite isn’t good–especially with the suffering issue. We shouldn’t ignore suffering nor yearn for it.

    I did a series a while back called “discipleship in America” that was similar and I found that talking about the problem AND the solution in the same post was too much. I’m hoping to offer how we can adequately be “communities of resistance” to these false gods in the future.

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