Happiness in humanism and Christianity

What is Humanism

There exist various definitions of humanism, Here is one: “…a commitment to the perspective, interests and centrality of human persons; a belief in reason and autonomy as foundational aspects of human existence; a belief that reason, scepticism and the scientific method are the only appropriate instruments for discovering truth and structuring the human community; a belief that the foundations for ethics and society are to be found in autonomy and moral equality (Concise Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy).”

Seventy-five years ago, writes J Gresham Machen, Western civilization, despite inconsistencies, was still predominantly Christian; today it is predominantly pagan. In speaking of ‘paganism,’ we are not using a term of reproach. Ancient Greece was pagan, but it was glorious, and the modern world has not even begun to equal its achievements. What, then, is paganism? The answer is not really difficult. Paganism is that view of life which finds the highest goal of human existence in the healthy and harmonious and joyous development of existing human faculties” (my italics). And that exactly describes humanism.

In humanism “man” is not only the measure of all things, but all things are measured for his pleasure, his enjoyment. For the natural man, joy means enjoyment, lots of it – enjoyment of freedom, enjoyment of job, of family, of friends, of sex, of sport, of holidays, of gadgets – and enjoyment of church! “Enjoyment” here does not merely mean amusements, thrills and diversions (French divertissement “entertainment”) but has to do with such things as the relationship between lifestyles and happiness. (See “Enjoyment of life lengthens life: Findings and consequences’” by R. Veenhoven).

The chief end of Christianity

In Christianity, “salvation is of God and has been accomplished by God, it is for God’s glory and that we must glorify him always” (Monergism.com). In several Protestant catechisms, the first item is this: “Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.” The Christian glorifies God, which results in enjoying Him for ever. This enjoyment is the Christian’s ultimate happiness.

In his sermon on humanism, “Ten Shekels and a shirt,” one of the best sermons of all time,  Paris Reidhead says “the reason for being [human existence] – is ‘Lamb that was slain, receive the reward of your suffering.’ The Bible says that this reward consists of those for whom Christ suffered and shed his blood: “1 Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2  since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him… 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours. (John 17:1b-2, 9).

Well now, says Reidhead in his sermon, the philosophy of the [contemporary] atmosphere is humanism; the chief end of being is the happiness of man. There’s another group of people that have taken umbrage with the liberals, this group are my people, the fundamentalists. They say, “We believe in the inspiration of the Bible! We believe in the deity of Jesus Christ! We believe in hell! We believe in heaven! We believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ!” But remember the atmosphere is that of humanism. And humanism says the chief end of being is the happiness of man. Humanism is like a miasma out of a pit, it just permeates everyplace. Humanism is like an infection, an epidemic, it just goes everywhere.”

It all depends, though, what one means by “happiness.” Here is John Brown: “Life,’ in the language of our Lord, implies happiness. When he calls himself, then, the ‘life-giving bread,’ he intimates that he is the author of true happiness; that he, that he alone, can make men truly and permanently happy” (John Brown, “True happiness and the way to secure it: Conversational discourse to the Jews – John 6:26-65″).

Christian Hedonism – an oxymoron

Either/Or” is the title of a book by ten by the Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard, which describes two contrasting life views, the one based on hedonism, the other on moral responsibility. Hedonism (Greek, “delight”) is a philosophy that holds that pleasure alone is of intrinsic value. One would think the term “Christian hedonism” to be pointedly foolish ( pointedly – Greek oxy; foolishGreek moron). John Piper does not think so, who coined the term “Christian hedonism.” Piper explains:

A ‘Christian Hedonist’ sounds like a contradiction, doesn’t it? If the term makes you squirm, we understand. But don’t throw this paper away just yet. We’re not heretics (really!). Nor have we invented another prosperity-obsessed theology by twisting the Bible to sanctify our greed or lust. We are simply stating an ancient, orthodox, Biblical truth in a fresh way. ‘All men seek happiness,’ says Blaise Pascal. ‘This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war, and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. The will never takes the least step but to this object. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.’ We believe Pascal is right. And, with Pascal, we believe God purposefully designed us to pursue happiness.

Does seeking your own happiness sound self-centered? Aren’t Christians supposed to seek God, not their own pleasure? To answer this question we need to understand a crucial truth about pleasure-seeking (hedonism): we value most what we delight in most. [Original italics]. Pleasure is not God’s competitor, idols are. Pleasure is simply a gauge that measures how valuable someone or something is to us. Pleasure is the measure of our treasure. We know this intuitively. If a friend says to you,’I really enjoy being with you,’ you wouldn’t accuse him of being self-centered. Why? Because your friend’s delight in you is the evidence that you have great value in his heart. In fact, you’d be dishonored if he didn’t experience any pleasure in your friendship. The same is true of God. If God is the source of our greatest delight then God is our most precious treasure; which makes us radically God-centered and not self-centered. And if we treasure God most, we glorify Him most.”

Does the Bible teach this? Yes. Nowhere in the Bible does God condemn people for longing to be happy. People are condemned for forsaking God and seeking their happiness elsewhere (Jeremiah 2:13). This is the essence of sin. The Bible actually commands us to delight in the Lord (Psalm 37:4). Jesus teaches us to love God more than money because our heart is where our treasure is (Matt. 6:21). Paul wants us to believe that gaining Christ is worth the loss of everything else (Phil 3:8) and the author of Hebrews exhorts us to endure suffering, like Jesus, for the joy set before us (Heb. 12: 1-2).” (John Piper, “What is Christian humanism?”).

Is it really either/or?

Contrast Piper with Paris Reihead. In his sermon, “Ten Shekels and a shirt,” he thunders: I DIDN’T SEND YOU OUT THERE FOR THEM!!! I SENT YOU OUT THERE FOR ME! DO I NOT DESERVE THE REWARD OF MY SUFFERING? DON’T I DESERVE THOSE FOR WHOM I DIED?” (Emphasis in transcript).

Is it, though, really an either/or. Isn’t the following possible: “I sent you out there for them, and I sent you out there for me; mainly for me?” If Christ died for me, surely there is something in it for me as well: to be with God eternally. And doesn’t the glorification of God include the glorification of the reward of his suffering – those he died for? It is true that “All things are from him and through him and to him” (Romans 11:36). Isn’t it true that some of those “things” is the joy God feels for what he has done for those he has redeemed – and glorified:

John 17

7 When Jesus had spoken these words, he lifted up his eyes to heaven, and said, “Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed…10 All mine are yours, and yours are mine, and I am glorified in them… 22 The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one.

The Christian’s future enjoyment

Here is Walter Marshall (1628–1680) on the Christians future enjoyment:

The third endowment necessary to enable us for the practice of holiness, without which a persuasion of our reconciliation with God would be of little efficacy to work in us a rational propensity to it, is that we be persuaded of our future enjoyment of the everlasting heavenly happiness. This must precede our holy practice, as a cause disposing and alluring us to it. This assertion has several sorts of adversaries to oppose it. Some account that a persuasion of our own future happiness, before we have persevered in sincere obedience, tends to licentiousness; and that the way to do good works is rather to make them a condition necessary for the procuring of this persuasion. Others condemn all works, that we are allured or stirred up to by the future enjoyment of the heavenly happiness, as legal, mercenary, flowing from self-love, and not from any pure love to God; and they figure out sincere godliness by a man bearing fire in one hand, to burn up heaven, and water in the other to quench hell; intimating that the true service of God must not proceed at all from hope of reward, or fear of punishment, but only from love… sincere obedience cannot rationally subsist, except it is allured, encouraged and supported by this persuasion [of future happiness].”

Let me, therefore, suppose a Sadducee, believing no happiness after this life, and put the question: ‘Can such a one love God with his whole heart, might and soul?’ Will he not be reasonable, rather to lessen and moderate his love towards God, lest he should be overmuch troubled to part with Him by death? We account it most reasonable to sit loose in our affections from things that we must part with. Can such a one be satisfied with the enjoyment of God as his happiness? Will he not rather account that the enjoyment of God and all religious duties are vanities, as well as other things, because in a little time we shall have no more benefit by them than if they had never been? How can such a one be willing to lay down his life for the sake of God when, by his death, he must part with God, as well as with other things? How can he willingly choose afflictions rather than sin, when he shall be more miserable in this life for it, and not at all happy hereafter?”(Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification: Growing in Holiness by Living in Union with Christ,”Free ebook).

We need to be rescued. From what? From our fears, our miseries, our tears. Happiness is the ultimate goal of all – those in Christ and those who are not. The difference between humanism and biblical Christianity is that for the former, ultimate happiness is to be found in this world, while in biblical Christianity it is to be found in the next: they long for a better, that is, an heavenly [country], wherefore God is not ashamed of them, to be called their God, for He did prepare for them a city” (Hebrews 11:16). “Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place” (John 18:36).

Eye has not seen

Therefore, whatever you conceive or see of God, if you think ye know what ye conceive and see, it is not God ye see, but something of God’s less than God; for it is said, “eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, nor hath it entered into the heart of man to conceive, what he hath laid up far them that love him.” (Hugh Binning, “The common principles of the Christian religion, Lecture 7 – “Of the name of God”).

My related posts

Lamb that was slain receive the reward of your suffering

The idol of Humanism, the betrayal of the ages

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s