Posts Tagged biblical tradition
The Enlightenment Myth of “The Pursuit of Happiness”
Posted by Dallas Wolf in First Thoughts on November 8, 2014
“Is the “pursuit of happiness” not, according to the myth created by the founding fathers of the American Republic, an “inalienable right?” That concept has, in fact, entered so deeply into the thought and conscience of generations of North Americans that it is difficult to question it without being suspected of being, if not actually some kind of foreign agent, at least “un-American.” The concept of “the pursuit of happiness” itself is, however, diametrically opposed to Orthodox Christianity’s view of the Christian’s fundamentally sacrificial and intercessory role in the cosmos, to say nothing of Christianity’s most basic tenant: the sacrifice of Christ is absolutely essential within the divine economy of His Incarnation.
“The pursuit of happiness” actually opposes, moreover, man’s intimate relationship with God and that total submission to God the holy fathers of Orthodoxy teach us is basic to the spiritual life. The true lover of Christ, in fact, can never take the concept of the “pursuit of happiness” seriously as something that might ever be incorporated into his own life in Christ.
The “pursuit of happiness” inevitably fosters a totally self-centered view of life, ignoring completely all cosmic sense of man’s place in the universe. It further ignores the inevitable, perennial and very basic dimension of sacrifice demanded of man at every level of his human existence. Whether in pursuing the bonds of love with a future spouse, or in bringing forth and rearing children, or in caring for those one loves, or in maintaining the well-being of one’s own family, sacrifice and suffering are far more basic necessities to human well-being than is the “pursuit of happiness.””
Excerpt from The Heart of Orthodox Mystery, by William Bush
I have been thinking a lot recently about happiness. It does not seem to me a foundational tenet of Christianity but, as discussed above, a construct of Enlightenment thinking. In its place, I think it might be better to use the concept of St. Paul’s “contentment” (αὐτάρκεια; autárkeia), best expressed in Philippians 4:11-13:
“Not that I am referring to being in need; for I have learned to be content [αὐτάρκης; autárkes] with whatever I have. I know what it is to have little, and I know what it is to have plenty. In any and all circumstances I have learned the secret of being well-fed and of going hungry, of having plenty and of being in need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me.”
Perhaps we should be pursuing “contentment”, which is a state achievable regardless of circumstance, instead of “happiness” which is inherently emotional, self-centered, illusory, and transitory.
Reclaiming our Prophetic Voice and Authority
Posted by Dallas Wolf in First Thoughts on July 6, 2013
“In the Biblical tradition, the power on the Right and the power on the Left are symbolized by the kings and the prophets, respectively.” Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM
Fr. Rohr brings up a thought-provoking truth. The Jewish prophets were mainly engaged in acting as agents of God to communicate with his people. This communication came in the forms of prediction of future events, criticism and indictment of native and foreign domination systems, and energizing and encouraging the people to faith and hope. The prophets didn’t just know about God, they knew God in a direct and experiential way. This gave them great authority, passion and confidence. They cared about what God cared about. In the words of theologian Marcus Borg, “the strongest passion of the God of the Bible is the transformation of the humanly-created world into a more just, compassionate, peaceful kind of world.” The prophetic voice echoed that passion.
Because Christianity has been in league with the secular “kings” of this world (discussed yesterday in the post “Christendom: 1,700 years of sleeping with the enemy”), the institutional Christian Church silenced its prophets and lost its prophetic voice and authority early in its history. In fact, so thorough was this purging, the ministries of Apostle and Prophet virtually disappeared from the institutional church (cf., Eph. 4:11). All this in the face of the advice and direction of St. Paul to the individual members of the body of Christ to “strive for the greater gifts”; specifically, “first apostles, second prophets, third teachers”, in that order (cf., 1 Cor 12:27-31). Oh well, “Christendom” did indeed require the institutional church to compromise some core values, didn’t it?
The point is, that when the institutional church suppressed and abandoned its prophetic tradition, the only prophetic voice left on the field was that of secular liberals. The obvious problem with that situation was that these secular prophetic voices often had little or no grounding or authority past the limitations of their own human intellect and passion. That can be a very dangerous thing indeed, as history has amply demonstrated.
The fall of Christendom, starting after WW I in Europe and a little later (post-WW II) in the U.S., marks the breakdown of the unholy alliance between institutional church and State. The universal Church (read: Ekklesia, Body of Christ) now has the opportunity, for the first time in 1,700 years, to reclaim its traditional Prophetic voice and authority. We have the clear advantage over secular prophets in that we know God experientially (some still do, praise God!) and thus can again speak with the authority, passion, and confidence of a loving God who calls us to restore ourselves and the world to union with him.
This is truly an exciting time for the Ekklesia, Body of Christ. Just think, we might even grow some Apostles…