Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Boxed Happiness

"The debate between faith and reason is a false one. [...] We need both, of course. Only then can we lead fully rounded lives. And, yes, happier ones, too."
Eric Weiner "A Quest To Seek The Sublime In The Spiritual" Tuesday, 20 December, 2011
Why "of course?" As far as I'm concerned, I need faith like a fish needs a miniature castle with a plastic chest of "sunken treasure." I don't consider myself incompletely rounded or imperfectly happy. And, more to the point, after reading this article, I don't understand why "Questing," in an attempt to sincerely believe something that I currently consider to be mythical, will engender that consideration in me. We hear so much about the fact that "Surveys show religious people are happier than the secular," for one major reason - there are religious, spiritual (or whatever else you want to call them) people, like Mr. Weiner, who presume that it's a direct causal relationship, and as such, it legitimizes their belief structure and inculcates them against charges of delusion or lack of evidence. As his closing shows, there is a belief that a certain amount of happiness is locked up within faith as though it were a strongbox, and that only by making ourselves embrace the divine can we get at it. One would expect that of all people, "a former NPR correspondent" would understand that correlation does not equal causality. Were an ironclad study to find that religious people were an inch taller than the secular, you'd still be considered a fool to even consider the idea that finding faith would make you grow.

Despite the fact that many atheists have a habit of regarding other's faiths as being born of either primitive delusion or outright lies, they generally (but not always) do concede the point when they encounter genuinely happy people - even if they're convinced that such happiness is anchored on shaky ground. But as Mr. Weiner, perhaps unintentionally, points out, the faithful often have no such restriction, feeling free to denigrate the happiness of others as incomplete at best and illusory at worst, thinking that they can know the inner life of another simply through determining if that person has faith. And although it's common for people who seek out certain experiences to claim that "you just haven't lived until you've done [blank]," were they to sincerely claim that they only way to inner completeness and true happiness was the One True Path that they had determined, we'd normally find them insufferable, regardless of their sincerity or the genuineness of their concern.

I'm glad that when Mr. Weiner unlocked faith, he found happiness inside - far be it from me to ever begrudge someone else their joy. And I realize that for some people, finding religion does bring them happiness that they didn't have before. But that does not preclude the rest of us from finding extra happiness elsewhere, or (horrors!) even going our entire lives without needing it. Until someone can demonstrate a causal relationship, "truth is what works," as Weiner tells us that William James put it. And for me, what works is a life where each can seek their own path to a fully rounded, happy life.


rockettubes said...

Precisely what I was thinking about in my last reply, could not have said it better myself.

Aaron said...

Thanks! I appreciate your saying so.