Sunday, December 08, 2013

Proof That Things Won't Make You Happy

With some of my new Ugandan friends
I have a proof that things won't make you happy, satisfied, content.

1. If material things ensure happiness, satisfaction, and contentment, then Americans should be the happiest, most satisfied, most contented persons who have ever lived.
2. Americans are not the happiest, most satisfied, most contented persons who have ever lived.
3. Therefore, material things do not ensure happiness, satisfaction, and contentment.

Premise 1 is true. It's a hypothetical, conditional statement. Underlying it is the assumption that Americans have more material possessions than any people group that has ever existed. There may be other people groups that have as much as we have, but no one has more. America is the consumer culture par excellence. The consumption of material goods is our life blood. If Americans became happy, satisfied, and content, our economy would crumble, since it is based on our perpetual unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and discontent.

This affects our spirituality. This is the evil machine that runs the hellish "prosperity gospel," whose "good news" is that God wants to give you more material things. And that material things are signs of God's favor and one's great personal righteousness.

I think Premise 2 is true. For the following reasons.
  • From my tiny American vantage point I see a spiritually sick people. I just got off the phone with a friend who is a psychologist and Jesus-follower. We were talking about marriages. He said, "My opinion is that most marriages, even Christian ones, are sick marriages." I look around and I see a fatherless generation. I see drug addiction, especially prescription drug addiction. America is the land of prescription drugs. There are some doctors in my community that dispense these things like candy. Increasingly, Americans need their drugs to make it through another day, because their unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and discontent is overwhelming.
  • Three years ago I was speaking and teaching in Kenya. Most Kenyans are poor, millions living on less than one dollar a day. Many of the Kenyan and Ugandan pastors I had the privilege of teaching are poor. One of them, e.g., rides his bicycle to his small church. He prays one day get a motorcycle so his wife can join him in church. He did not complain about these things to me. Actually, his attitude was one of ongoing praise to God for the blessings he does have. My time in Kenya was a full bath in the waters of praise and joy as I worshiped with these real Jesus-followers who have little materially, but much spiritually. I know that the "spiritual" cannot be separated from the "material." It's just that in America the spiritual has been reduced to the material, and that is a false gospel that breeds more unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and discontent.
When I was eight years old, as Christmas was approaching, I saw a commercial on tv. A new toy prepared just for Christmas was unveiled, and I wanted it. It was a bowling alley, with a mechanical man that held a ball and, upon pulling and releasing a lever, rolled the ball down the alley to knock down the plastic bowling pins. One then inserted the pins into an automatic pinsetter, turned a crank, and the pins lowered onto the alley and remained there upon the pinsetter's release. Unbelievable! The following conditional statement formed in my young philosophical mind:

1a. If I could have that toy for Christmas, then I would forever be happy, satisfied, and content.

As that Christmas day approached presents began appearing under the tree. My parents would wrap their gifts to us and place them where we could see them, a few days before the Big Day. I had made my desire known to them in the form of Premise 1a. But I did not see a package that could contain the bowling alley, since on tv it was massive. There was a package addressed to me that was about three feet long, eight inches square, and very light, too light to be the alley. I felt disappointed. Perhaps my parents could not afford such a great gift.

When the Day came, I opened the small, light package. It was the bowling alley! I set it up on the living room carpet, but the alley had to be perfectly level, since the feather-light tiny pins would not stand on the uneven carpet. I tried the dining room table. Then the hardwood floor in my bedroom. When the pins finally did stand one could not even breathe, since their uprightness was so fragile and precarious. And when I placed the ultralight plastic bowling ball in the mechanical bowler's hand, pulled the arm back and released, the ball wanted to go everywhere but towards the pins. This toy so increased my unhappiness, dissatisfaction, and discontent that two days after Christmas I traded it for my friend John's plastic pinball machine.

I conclude: Premise 1a is false. As is the following, more generalized conditional:

P 1b: If I get more material things, then I will be forever happy, satisfied, and content.

Therefore: things won't make you happy.