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Why Happiness Makes a Lousy Case for Faith

A bad argument for the Truth.

by
Andrew Klavan

Bio

August 15, 2013 - 2:00 pm

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Two articles that complimented one another caught my eye last week. One was in the Wall Street Journal‘s Friday “Houses of Worship” column. Ari N. Schulman pointed out (what many, including C.S. Lewis, have known) that arguing in favor of faith because prayer makes you healthier or happier is a fool’s game.

The faithful may be winning at the game of life, but they’re playing by rules that social scientists have written in essentially post-religious terms. While churches define the highest aims of life as salvation or enlightenment, social science research replaces these with health and wealth, well-being and satisfaction.

Once you accept happiness as an argument for faith, you will ultimately lose the argument entirely, because the result can be arrived at without the supposed cause.

This was driven home by the second column, this one in the New York Times by T.M. Luhrmann, the author of When God Talks BackLuhrmann tells the story of Sigfried Gold, a man who cured his tobacco and food addictions with prayer while never believing in God at all. He was essentially tricking his brain into a healthier life without buying into the supernatural.

Well, sure, why shouldn’t he? The joy of faith is not proof of God and God is not required to produce the “joy of faith.” Hell, drugs will do that for you — you don’t even have to bother to pretend pray. There is a God, but not because it makes you happy to think so. (If you ever want to read a mind-crunching but wonderfully reasoned article on why proof-talk about God is always nonsensical, check out this brilliant Reason magazine piece by Mark Goldblatt.)

The larger point, of course, is that bad argument weakens the case for truth. Carrying this over to politics, it explains why leftist venues like the New York Times and NPR avoid highlighting conservative intellectuals like Jonah Goldberg, Victor Davis Hanson and Mark Steyn and instead give the conservative cause over to anyone they can find with a thick backcountry accent and a tendency to bloviation. They know they don’t have to win the argument. They just let some under-smart right-winger get it wrong.

The religion-politics parallel is a good one. As it is with faith, so freedom, too, makes people happy. But happiness is not an argument for freedom. Freedom, like faith, is a good in and of itself because the fact is no other human good makes sense without it.

*****

Image courtesy shuttertock / Aprilphoto

Cross-posted from Klavan on the Culture

Andrew Klavan’s newest novel is Nightmare City.

Comments are closed.

Top Rated Comments   
Good points, Andrew. I think we can differentiate between happiness and joy. If you do a word search on "joy" in the Bible you'll find that it is often associated with worshiping (OT) or it's a byproduct of suffering or persecution (NT). Instead of being dependent on man-centered material needs like possessions or good health, it is a God-centered joy that draws us closer to Him, despite our circumstances. That's why Saeed Abedini, the pastor imprisoned in Iran, could say he was "filled with more joy and peace" after a stint in solitary confinement. It's an act of God's goodness to give us joy in our sin-fallen world.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
All Comments   (43)
All Comments   (43)
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"[Happy] is the man
Who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly,
Nor stands in the path of sinners,
Nor sits in the seat of the scornful;"

http://goo.gl/BTMRUr
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
The Self-Realization Fellowship deals with the science of religion. I started with the book by the same name "The Science of Religion" by Paramahansa Yogananda.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
Isaiah said God ONLY wants us to REASON with Him. It also said He despised false, ritualistic imitations of reason, and that the smell of burnt offerings made Him want to puke. False "Faith" is NOT "Reason." And, what is "Happiness?"! What is "Freedom!"? These are generalized notions, abstracted from their situational contexts; "happiness" is the generalized concept of a lack of specific pains, and so is 'freedom.' i.e: "Freedom" FROM what? "Freedom" TO do what? Are criminals "happy" when they find themselves "Free" to commit more crimes? Of course! So what can these mere symptoms (faith, freedom and happiness) have to do with an objectively real Deity's intentions?! Wake up, Klavan - before you finally manage to sleep-walk off the metaphoric intellectual cliff entirely.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
I get it, don't believe in God because it will make you happy, it won't, believe in God because God is true, don't believe in freedom because freedom will make you happy, it won't, believe in freedom because freedom provides your best chance to be happy.

basically don't worry about being happy, living your life just to be happy is a waste of time and effort, in the end it means nothing and helps no one in and of itself, just focus on doing what is right and you'll be as happy as you are ever going to get.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
G_d is testament to the hope that you will live and not die. If this cannot be realised; what is happiness, what is joy? How is freedom not pointless, and intimations of so-called 'truth' not a mockery or an insullt? Everything flows from this - all reason, all morality, all faith.......
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
No, he didn't say believing in God wouldn't make you happy, he just pointed out that's not a good reason to believe much of anything, really. Lots of things can make people happy, such as drugs, delusions, and direct electronic stimulation of the brain's pleasure centers. Believing something just because its being true would make you happy leaves you open to embracing all kinds of evil.

For instance, it makes a lot of people ecstatically happy to believe that Jews (especially in Israel and the Mossad) are behind all the world's problems and eliminating them will therefore solve all those problems. Were these fools ever to realize how delusional they truly are, they would be extremely depressed, many to the point of suicide. Therefore, if we insist that people should believe in whatever makes them happy, we had better not do anything to relieve these anti-Semites of their happy delusions, such as speaking out against conspiracy theories that blame the Mossad for 9/11, or speaking up for the right of Jews to live and the nation of Israel to exist. See where this kind of fallacy can take you?
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
@moray watson "Can your religion survive if your god does not exist?"

No. There is no point. It is worse than futile:

The Resurrection of the Dead
1 Corinthians 15 12:18

12 But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? 13 If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. 14 AND IF CHRIST HAS NOT BEEN RAISED, OUR PREACHING IS USELESS AND SO IS YOUR FAITH. 15 More than that, we are then found to be false witnesses about God, for we have testified about God that he raised Christ from the dead. But he did not raise him if in fact the dead are not raised. 16 For if the dead are not raised, then Christ has not been raised either. 17 AND IF CHRIST HAS NOT BEEN RAISED, YOUR FAITH IS FUTILE; you are still in your sins. 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. 19 IF ONLY FOR THIS LIFE WE HAVE HOPE IN CHRIST, WE ARE OF ALL PEOPLE MOST TO BE PITIED.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
In 1920 a man named Paramahansa Yogananda came to America to teach the West the art (method) of how to know God. The method is called Kryia Yoga. He was a friend of Gandhi and believed in the teachings of Jesus Christ.
His guru lineage dates back to Babaji, the deathless saint.
What needs to be understood about happiness is that it is a state of mind and is best achieved w/ no outside interference...meditation is key.
If your interested in what Self Realization Fellowship is all about; go to the source don't be fooled by the imposters like the one that leaves out an "a" in Paramahansa Yogananda's name.
Remember "Grasshopper", once you start down this path to Eternal Happiness there is no turning back.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
"He was a friend of Gandhi and believed in the teachings of Jesus Christ."

Did he? All of them? Which ones?

Here are a few of the teachings of Christ; please tell us which ones Yogananda believed:

"Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. "

"I told you that you would die in your sins, for unless you believe that I AM he you will die in your sins.”

"if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched"

"“Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few. "

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ "

These are all the direct words of Jesus. Please tell me which of them this man believed and taught.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
Faith gives purpose to life. Is there any greater happiness? Is there any sadness greater that the belief that your life is of no consequence and that you are unloved?
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
"Faith gives purpose to life."

How? Why? Is faith the only purpose to life or are there others?

I think the greatest sadness you could ever feel was living your life as if there was a god who was going to reward you with heaven, only to come to the end of your life and realize there was nothing beyond: no god, no heaven, no hell. I'd feel incredibly foolish if I lived my whole life that way....

Yes, I'm an atheist. That's mostly because I simply can't get comfortable with taking the existence of god (and all that is implied by god, like heaven and hell) on faith. I want PROOF: clear, direct, uncontrovertible PROOF of the existence of god (any god, not necessarily the Christian one) that will stand up to the closest possible scrutiny by the best scientists in the world. Otherwise, I will continue to feel that someone is trying to fleece me. I'm not talking about a symbol like a burning bush or a "miracle" like the loaves and fishes story that could be explained in other ways. I'm talking about a direct face-to-face with this god, televised on all the channels that are interested, and that god's willingness to have his every claim thoroughly scrutinized by every means known to modern man.

If there really is such a god, I can't think of any good reason why he/she/it would refuse to do so and I can think of many why he/she/it would. After all, just about everyone with religious faith must wonder sometimes if they are just fools being duped in some way: the sort of live, direct contact I'm talking about would help them confirm their faith and draw back those who had lost their faith. Those who could not bring themselves to find that kind of faith, like me, would also finally have justification to do so. I simply can't see a good reason for NOT doing this.

I will not play the game of pretending that the Bible, Talmud, Koran or any of the other great religious tracts are true simply on their own insistence. And that makes me happier to the extent that I don't feel like I'm being conned into something that no one can prove.

I truly wish that god would make the sort of appearance I'm talking about. I don't know if there is a god and I am still prepared to be persuaded that there is but I want solid PROOF, not what our religions offer, which is basically "trust me". That just doesn't work for me.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
God anticipated your question; does He exist? Then he told you where to find the evidence to build a proof. However, it is not as simple as being an eyewitness to a crime. It is more like being a juror. You must use rigorous deductive reasoning.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
"I want PROOF" Again, typical nonsensical atheist comment.
The problem is YOU. You won't accept the proof. In your mind there is nothing that can prove God to you.
If You want proof, humble yourself, pray, and ask God.
The scriptures tell you how to find proof.
You just don't want to put forth the effort.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
God doesn't offer proof. There are many reasons and evidence that shows God to exist, but all of them can be explained in other ways that don't necessarily require a God. If he does exist, he could easily force us all to believe in him and be good and all the rest. How boring would that be? I can make this computer I'm typing on tell me "You're great" continuously for months on end—what does that prove? But to have that girl I've liked for so very long tell me "You're great" and the whole world becomes wonderful. So I would say that demanding proof from God is like expecting a future wife to say "I love you." the first second you meet. If you want proof, you have a dilemma, because God doesn't feel the same way.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
You seem to be making a circular argument: "Pray to god and he will prove that he exists." That presupposes that I already believe in him, at which point he doesn't need to prove himself.

What am I missing?
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
Your missing that you don't have to believe in him to pray to him.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
You do, however, have to be sincere.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
If you have a wife does she want you to show her evidence your love for her before she shows you affection, or will she show you affection even if you are a selfish, womanizing drunk who never talks to her?

35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
"I think the greatest sadness you could ever feel was living your life as if there was a god who was going to reward you with heaven, only to come to the end of your life and realize there was nothing beyond: no god, no heaven, no hell. I'd feel incredibly foolish if I lived my whole life that way...."
No offense, but that comment was typical atheist nonsense. You would not know there was no God. If you die and there is nothing, you can't possibly know, because you are dead and part of nothing. If there is a God you'll realize your life as an atheist was the waste of time.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
You're probably right. I'm expecting a quick and final fade to black when the end comes for me. But, probably as a result of TV shows and movies that showed dying characters having death-bed epiphanies, I suppose I've always imagined that there would be a fleeting but accurate understanding that there was or wasn't a god in my last moments. I certainly hope there is: like a great movie, I want to see and understand a great ending to the movie of my life. Was I an idiot for not believing in god all this time? Or was I right all along?

I'm also hoping that if there is a god, he forgives me and accepts that I am just not as willing to take ambiguous proofs of his existence as some people are but that I mean no harm or disrespect. Then again, if I meet the Old Testament God (or Allah), I expect I'll be sent to torment eternal to keep me busy while I kick myself for my foolishness. What a PETTY god that would be, if he punished me for all eternity for not finding the existing clues sufficiently persuasive....
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
[I suppose I've always imagined that there would be a fleeting but accurate understanding that there was or wasn't a god in my last moments. I certainly hope there is:]

You better certainly hope there is not with your mindset. Christ clearly said that it better you have never been born than if you are to reject the Holy Spirit. Don't want to rain on your hope, but simply clarify.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
So, you expect to buy the lottery ticket during the drawing?
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
Heaven and Hell is the same place. What you see is based on your spiritual alignment and G_d will give you what you ask for whether you wanted it or not. In my experience, atheists tend to be better 'Christians' than a lot of certain others. At least they take scripture more or less at face value.......

You'd probably come in at the level of righteous pagan, unlettered in the Word, but basically decent because informed by the culture and traditions of Christian faith. Everybody is more or less at the same level so you have a fighting chance.....'>.........
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
You're being given a billion and one chances to believe every day you draw breath and every day you refuse the gift that is being offered you and then you call Him petty?

This is up to you. It's always been up to you. When you refuse this gift you are making your choice - Not God.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
There was nothing ambiguous about the thing Christ did while on earth. Because you refuse to except them, does not make them ambiguous.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
You SHOULDN'T just take the word of people on the existence of God. You're absolutely right about that. When I was a missionary, I used to tell people, "Look, I'm human. I'm imperfect. I'm prone to misunderstand things, and I certainly don't know everything. The best way to learn about God is to study and learn, and put religious principles into practice. Don't take my word about God; build YOUR OWN relationship with God."

Knowing the limitations of people, history, print, etc. and being honest about your questions and doubts is actually a very good place to start.

The hard part is that the evidence that God gives us of his existence is (in the eyes of many) largely subjective. Faith is an important tool for learning about God, and having to rely on faith for some of our growth helps us to trust Him and to become more like Him, but in the end there IS evidence. It's just very hard to quantify that evidence. Heck, it's hard to even define it. And some of the difficulty lies in a maxim we could borrow from some martial arts: "When the student is ready, the teacher will appear."
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
Thank you for your remarks in your first two paragraphs. I appreciate you attitude.

I have to take issue with your third paragraph though. You seem to be saying that it will become clear that god exists if we believe in him. That seems very much like circular reasoning to me. It seems to me that the right way to go into the question is to say "I don't know if there's a god or not but if you give me your best argument and I find it persuasive, I will try to admit it and live by the consequences."

Maybe I'm setting an unreasonably high standard here but I don't think so. If god exists, it should be possible to find incontrovertible proof. And I'd like that god to "come to me" to make the proof. I see no reason why a god couldn't or shouldn't prove its existence to me and other skeptics quite easily with a direct audience of the kind I've described. Yet god, if god exists, contents him/her/itself with inspiring holy books of various kinds and letting humans argue for his/her/its existence. Or relying on us to prove to ourselves that he/she/it exists. Why? Why not just out and prove it conclusively? Now, I suppose a Christian would argue that Jesus did exactly that 2000 years ago. I don't find that very satisfactory. Our only evidence of that is religious tracts written by Christians that already believed. And these religious tracts were full of metaphors and symbols that had to be interpreted and could be explained in different ways in many cases that wouldn't require the existence of god. Add to that all the retranslations of those books that invariably altered some of the meaning: we aren't even reading the original words, we're reading translations of translations of translations. This just isn't satisfactory to me.

I once worked with a guy who was a Muslim. He said he didn't grow up religious but one day, in biology class, they were dissecting an eye and he was so wonderstruck by the complexity of the eye that he felt it couldn't have been coincidence or some mechanical process like evolution that had created this marvel. At that point, he apparently became religious, and, because his parents were Muslim, he started following the Koran rather than Christianity, Buddhism or whatever. Well, I guess that is one way to "find God" but I am far from satisfied that he had really heard the full arguments for other answers as to why the eye is the way it is. I suspect he didn't give the Evolution argument sufficient consideration, for example.

I don't want to start believing in a god just because I'm too lazy to consider other possibilities.

If there really is a god, why doesn't he "come out" clearly and unmistakably and let us all off the hook of wondering if he really exists and proving conclusiively that he does?
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
Ah, but there is a good reason He doesn't reveal himself quite so convincingly. Same reason a man of utmost means, manners, et al would keep those attributes somewhat hidden from a prospective bride; trying to insure her sincerity in him rather than what he brings, materially, to a relationship.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
The last paragraph is just utter nonsense. If you can be just as happy without freedom, then you have no need for freedom. If no other human good "makes sense" (whatever that means in this context) without freedom, then it stands to reason that you won't be as happy without freedom, which is the ultimate reason why freedom is good.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
Can your religion survive if your god does not exist?
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
Depends on what you mean. If you're talking about the systemic worship of a god, you can see plenty of religions that manage to survive without their gods; after all, for the gods of some religions to be real, all other gods would have to be fake, yet the religions of these fake gods continue to survive. If you're talking about the truth and substance of a religion surviving, then no, of course it can't survive without its defining deity; the persistent delusions of its adherents notwithstanding.

This question reminds me of the blatantly phony "Christian" Robert Funk, who claimed his new theology (which was already defunct the day he started promoting it) was totally going to revitalize Christianity. All we had to do, he explained, was give up our belief in creation, miracles, the Virgin Birth, and the Resurrection (among other things); because the best way to revitalize anyone or anything is by ripping out the heart and soul, obviously.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
Yes.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
I'm curious why you ask.

Also: "Two articles that complimented" s/b "complEmented."

I point this out because the difference is considerable and "complement" is an underappreciated word that needs more exposure, less burial under misuses of "compliment."
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
What does it mean to "pray" if you don't believe in God, or at least in SOMETHING beyond everyday experience? When you repair a broken motor or any other mechanism to make it function properly, do you call that "tricking" it into a healthy work style? Any educated person knows that you can't conclusively prove any religious view with any verbal argument (although you can certainly disprove a few), but if your belief, in addition to not being contradicted by anything you know, brings benefits and satisfactions to your life, then that's all the more reason to believe.
35 weeks ago
35 weeks ago Link To Comment
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