Saturday, April 29, 2017

Happiness Is a Negative Goal of Entitlement

Image result for puerile john piippo
Trees in my backyard


I recommend John Townsend's The Entitlement Cure to every troubled person (such as I) who helps other troubled people.

"Entitlement" is "the belief that I am exempt from responsibility and I am owed special treatment. Entitlement is: The man who thinks he is above all the rules. The woman who feels mistreated and needs others to make it up to her.”  (p. 19).

Townsend says there are two negative fruits of entitlement. The first is: An attitude of entitlement will limit your goals. Entitlement thinking misconstrues the goal of life to be "happiness." Like: "I want to be happy, that's all." Entitlement people view the highest good in life as being a happy person. This, writes Townsend, "is one of the worst endgame goals we can have." (66)

Townsend states: 

"People who have happiness as their goal get locked into the pain/ pleasure motivation cycle. They never do what causes them pain, but always do what brings them pleasure. This puts us on the same thinking level as a child, who has difficulty seeing past his or her fear of pain and love of pleasure." (Ib.)

The root of this idea developed in the soil of Jeremy Bentham's utilitarianism (see William Davies, The Happiness Industry). This is secularism's puerile substitute for objective moral values.  

"There is nothing wrong with happiness. But in a healthy life, happiness comes as a by-product of doing what you love, having purpose, and giving back. You don’t give your talents so that you’ll be happy; you give them because you care and you want to make a difference. Then you feel happy. Happiness is a by-product to enjoy, not a dream to seize." (Townsend, pp. 66-67)

The second negative fruit of entitlement is: "it freezes development." God made us to discover and develop a variety of abilities and passions. But "entitlement influences us to stay right where we are. It keeps us from growing, learning, challenging ourselves, or trying new things. It whispers to us, “That sounds really hard and it doesn’t look like it’s worth it.”" (Ib., 67)

This voice will put us to sleep. "We might become couch potatoes, video addicts, chronic partiers, or simply get in a rut and routine that becomes boring and deadening." (Ib.)

When we understand who we are and what we are here for, and then live out of our true identity and God's purposes for us, we will experience joy as a fruit, as a wonderful byproduct of the Spirit in us. 

***
SEE ALSO:


Entitlement People Find Eternal Separation From God Reprehensible


















Friday, April 28, 2017

The Great American Search for Happiness Leads to Unhappiness


My idea is this: 


  • The more secular a culture becomes, the more utilitarianism rules as an ethical framework.
  • The more utilitarianism rules, virtue ethics recedes, and "right" and "wrong" and "good" and "evil" and "ought" and "should" (as ethical terms) disappear from our ethical vocabulary.
  • These words are replaced by "pleasure," "pain," "happiness," and "unhappiness." 
  • So, the rise of "happiness" is predictable on rising secularism (by "secularism" I mean the sort of thing Charles Taylor means in his A Secular Age). 
Lori Gotlieb, in "How to Land Your Kid in Therapy," writes about the American obsession with "happiness," and the American parental goal of raising one's children to be very, very "happy."

Gotlieb says that "Nowadays, it’s not enough to be happy—if you can be even happier. The American Dream and the pursuit of happiness have morphed from a quest for general contentment to the idea that you must be happy at all times and in every way." Ironically, this way of thinking will end up making people very unhappy and in need of a lot of therapy to set them straight."

Gretchen Rubin, author of The Happiness Project, says, in a fit of a silliness, "Happiness doesn't always make you happy." By this I think she means to say something like: "To make 'happiness' one's life pursuit will not end up with you being 'happy.' Or perhaps: "If you mean by 'happiness' the removal of anything that would unsettle or disappoint or trouble you, then the achievement of that will leave you miserable and in need of help." 

Gotlieb confirms: "Modern social science backs her [Rubin] up on this. “Happiness as a byproduct of living your life is a great thing,” Barry Schwartz, a professor of social theory at Swarthmore College, told me. “But happiness as a goal is a recipe for disaster.” It’s precisely this goal, though, that many modern parents focus on obsessively—only to see it backfire. Observing this phenomenon, my colleagues and I began to wonder: Could it be that by protecting our kids from unhappiness as children, we’re depriving them of happiness as adults?"

The answer is: yes. Happiness sought for its own sake will leave you miserable. The only happiness worth happening is happiness as a byproduct. Parents, therefore, must allow unhappiness and misery and even (yikes!) the dreaded "boredom" in the lives of their children. To shelter them from such things is to destine them to an adulthood of psycho- and drug therapy. "Parental overinvestment is contributing to a burgeoning generational narcissism that’s hurting our kids." (See also what M.I.T.'s Sherry Turkle says about the importance of boredom in a child's life, in Reclaiming Conversation.)

Harvard child psychologist Dan Kindlon says, “You have to be exposed to pathogens, or your body won’t know how to respond to an attack. Kids also need exposure to discomfort, failure, and struggle."

Why might parents try to protect their children from all unhappy events and work hard so as to make them eternally happy? One answer is: because it's really about the parents' own happiness, and not their children's. Read the entire Gotlieb article to see the reasoning behind this.

Infants and toddler narcissists are happy because they are the center of the universe. As they grow older this changes; indeed, it becomes a "big problem." So parents - do not "protect" your child from negative feedback.

Theistic philosopher J.P. Moreland has written about this in The Lost Virtue of Happiness. J.P. presented chapter 1 of this text at our HSRM/Green Lake conference a few years ago. You can watch a video of J.P. speaking on this here. A heads-up: J.P. is a brilliant philosopher, but appears clueless when it comes to fashion. If one does not buy into the idea that trendy clothes will make you happy, then J.P. is a free man. The bullets are:

  • American people are addicted to happiness, and they overemphasize its importance in life.
  • If, right now, you are not tremendously happy, that's OK.
  • Yet, in America, if you are not happy, or your children are not happy, it seems like the world is falling apart.
  • Given the American emphasis on happiness, are Americans happy?
  • The answer, says Moreland (drawing on Martin Seligman's research), is that the rate of depression and loss of happiness has increased, in the span of just one generation in America, tenfold. We Americans are not a bunch of happy campers! We have an epidemic of depression and an epidemic of the loss of happiness.
  • Yet the Boomer generation is twice as rich, a lot healthier, more youthful, and a lot safer than our predecessors were 50 years ago. These are the kind of things that have defined the "American Dream." We are now living in this "Dream." We have more discretionary time. We have more money. It takes longer to age. So we feel younger, longer. J.P. says: "There's just one problem with this. All of this has not only not made Americans happier, we're slowly getting worse."
  • Why is this happening? Seligman's answer is this. "The Baby Boom generation forgot how to live for something bigger than they were." Americans have been taught to get up each morning and live for their own selves and try to find meaning in their own lives, rather than live for something other than their own well-being and bigger than they are.
  • From Moses to Solomon, to Plato and Aristotle, to Jesus and Augustine and Aquinas, to the Reformers al the way up to the 1900s, everybody meant the same thing by 'happiness.' But from the 1920s/30s on a new definition of 'happiness' was introduced and lived by. This new definition of 'happiness' is: "a feeling of pleasurable satisfaction." (See here, e.g.)
  • "Happiness' has become a positive feeling. Moreland is not against positive feelings; he'd rather experience them then their opposite. But there are two problems with this definition of happiness: 1) pleasurable feelings are not a big enough thing to build your life around; and 2) the more you try to get of it the less of it you have. "The best way to be happy is largely to forget about it."
  • Now watch this. 1) If 'happiness' is the feeling you have, say, when your team wins; and 2) the goal of life is to be happy, which means to retain that kind of feeling; then 3) your goal this year is make make sure that your job, your spouse, your church, your children, etc., help you that positive feeling named 'happiness.' All the aforenamed things (job, wife) are but means to making you happy. If a man's 4-year-old wife doesn't make him "happy" he may trade her in for a 20-year-old woman that gives him that hap-hap-happy feeling.
  • The ancient definition of 'happiness,' used by Aristotle and contained in the word eudamonia, is: to live a life of wisdom, character, and virtue." Plato thought it would be terrible if all a person did was spend his life worrying about whether he was good-looking, wealthy, and healthy. Solomon tells us that the happy person is the one who lives his life wisely reverencing and fearing God. In the New Testament the happy person is the person who looks like Jesus of Nazareth and lives the way he lives.
  • How do you get that? See Matthew 16:24-26, where Jesus says: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it." Jesus is not here commanding us to do this. He is saying, if you want to get good at life, this is what you have to do.
  • If you want to get good at life, if you want to be "happy," then learn daily to give yourself away for the sake of God and others. J.P. says, "Give yourself away to other people for the Kingdom's sake."
  • If you do that, you end up finding yourself. That's the upside-down logic of Jesus. "Happiness makes a terrible goal. It is the byproduct of another goal, which is giving yourself away to others for the Kingdom's sake."

"Happiness" studies now abound. In "Happiness: Beyond the Data," U of Notre Dame philosopher Gary Gutting writes:
"Happiness studies are booming in the social sciences, and governments are moving toward quantitative measures of a nation’s overall happiness, meant to supplement traditional measures of wealth and productivity."

But, as I said above, Gutting agrees that the pursuit of happiness does not lead to happiness. When the purpose of life becomes the bucket-list pursuit of pleasure, unhappiness and disquietude results. How so? Gutting writes:

"The danger — particularly for a society as rich as ours — is making pleasure the central focus in the pursuit of a happy life. This is done explicitly in some versions of utilitarian ethics, which regard happiness as simply the maximal accumulation of pleasurable experiences. But pleasures themselves often induce a desire for their repetition and intensification, and without moderation from a reflective mind, they can marginalize the work that lies at the core of true happiness.
A pathology of pleasures is often signaled by an obsession with not “missing out” on particularly attractive pleasures and strong disappointment when a highly anticipated experience does not meet expectations. (Examples from the world of food and wine are widely available.) In my view, the best strategy to avoid “hedonic corruption” of happiness is to welcome wholeheartedly the pleasures that come our way but not to make the explicit pursuit of pleasure a dominating part of our life project. The same, of course, applies to the money that is so often the price of pleasure."

Life, real life, is not gained in the pursuit of pleasure. 

Note for church leaders and pastors: Many of your people are happiness-seekers rather than Jesus-followers. Do not make it your objective to keep your people happy. It won't work. 
The Great American Search for Happiness leads to unhappiness. That's what philosopher Eric Hoffer wrote years ago. Hoffer said: “The search for happiness is one of the chief sources of unhappiness.” 

"This obsessive, driven, relentless pursuit is a characteristically American struggle — the exhausting daily application of the Declaration of Independence. But at the same time this elusive MacGuffin is creating a nation of nervous wrecks. Despite being the richest nation on earth, the United States is, according to the World Health Organization, by a wide margin, also the most anxious, with nearly a third of Americans likely to suffer from an anxiety problem in their lifetime. America’s precocious levels of anxiety are not just happening in spite of the great national happiness rat race, but also perhaps, because of it."
- Ruth Whippman, "America the Anxious" (nytimes, September 22, 2012)

Whippman continues:

"The American approach to happiness can spur a debilitating anxiety. The initial sense of promise and hope is seductive, but it soon gives way to a nagging slow-burn feeling of inadequacy. Am I happy? Happy enough? As happy as everyone else? Could I be doing more about it? Even basic contentment feels like failure when pitched against capital-H Happiness. The goal is so elusive and hard to define, it’s impossible to pinpoint when it’s even been achieved — a recipe for neurosis."

This makes sense to me. Our age, writes Elaine Showalter in The Chronicle of Higher Education, is an age of anxiety

In  How Everyone Became Depressed: The Rise and Fall of the Nervous Breakdown, medical historian Edward Shorter says that "It has not escaped many observers that today we are drenched in anxiety." Psychiatrist Jeffrey Kahn states that "commonplace anxiety and depressive disorders" affect at least 20% of Americans. That's 60 million people. In our pursuit of happiness we have become depressingly unhappy. (See Kahn, Angst: Origins of Anxiety and Depression) Woo-hoo, right?

Academics are particularly unhappy and depressed, argues University of Texas professor Ann Cvetkovich, in Depression: A Public Feeling. She writes:

Academe "breeds particular forms of panic and anxiety leading to what gets called depression—the fear that you have nothing to say, or that you can't say what you want to say, or that you have something to say but it's not important enough or smart enough."

Instead of happiness, opt for blessedness. The Jesus-idea of "happiness" is the promise of "blessedness." 

  • Blessedness is independent of material or social conditions. 
  • Blessedness is not to be pursued for its own sake, since to do so would cause it to suffer the same infelicitous fate as meets all whose life goal is "happiness." 
  • Blessedness is an indirect byproduct of the pursuit of God and the love of others, for their own sake and not for what you can get. One gives one's life away for God and others and thereby gains life. 
This is, precisely, anti-American in its non-consumerism. The result is a blessed life.

(On the American marketing of happiness see William Davies, The Happiness Industry: How the Government and Big Business Sold Us Well-Being.)

Thursday, April 27, 2017

Churches - Nurture Your Strangeness

Image result for john piippo weird
Monroe

Jesus (the Real One) didn't have a coolness factor. Jesus wasn't trying to be hip or dope or whatever the word is at the moment. Jesus didn't come to be relevant.

Jesus was different. Distinct. It is precisely Jesus' difference and distinction that captivates people.

Jesus was weird. He didn't fit in with the prevailing religious and political regime. Jesus was, as Michael McClymond indicates in the title of his book, a "familiar stranger." 

Jesus' strangeness, as it is lifted up, still draws people. Russell Moore, in "Why Your Church Needs to Listen to the Culture," writes that relevant-hip churches are boring young people to death. If we listened to culture we would see this, and give up trying to make Jesus everyone's homeboy. Moore reflects on his own church experience with youth:

"The “unchurched” kids laughed at the Bible studies based on television shows or songs of the moment. They weren’t impressed at all by the video clips provided by my denomination’s publisher, or by the knockoff Christian boy bands crooning about the hotness of sexual purity. What riveted their attention wasn’t what was “relatable” to them, but what wasn’t. They were drawn not to our sameness but to our strangeness." (Emphasis mine.) 

Moore describes one teen who asked him, "Do you really believe this dead guy came back to life?" "Yes," Moore responded, "I do." The kid blinked and then whispered, "Dude, that's crazy." Yes it is. It is crazy. This kid stayed around to listen to more about this.

I don't know if Moore has read Yale theologian Miroslav Volf, but here they sound the same. Moore writes: "Jesus didn't hide the oddity of the culture of the kingdom, and neither should we." 

At Redeemer I once preached a year-and-a-half project through the book of Revelation. Missing from my bucket list was to try to make Revelation normal. If it was normal, no one would be interested. Revelation is bizarre, and it should be, to all who acknowledge that there is a God in heaven and, ipso facto, his ways are not our ways. We are talking about another reality intersecting and interacting with our unredeemed planet. This other, heavenly reality has to look different!

If you are a pastor or church I now free you, in Jesus' name, from coolness, and release you to difference.

Moore writes:

"Let’s listen to what our culture is saying, hearing beneath the veneer of cool the fear of a people who know that Judgment day is coming because it’s written in their hearts (Romans 2:15–16). Let’s listen beneath the cynicism to the longings there, expressed in the culture, longings that can only be fulfilled in the reign of a Nazarene carpenter-king. Let’s deconstruct what they — and we — tell ourselves when it’s nonsense. But let’s not stop there. Let’s run toward, and not away from, the strangeness of an old gospel of a Messiah who was run out of his own hometown, but who, oddly enough, walked out of his own graveyard. For real."



God-Centered Worship Devolved Into Human-Centered Happiness (The Presence-Driven Church)

Image may contain: flower, plant, sky, cloud, tree, outdoor and nature
Spring, in Monroe

New Testament scholar Gordon Fee called it the "presence motif." It runs like a river from Genesis through Revelation. It's in the garden of Eden, the throne and crystal sea of Revelation, the "for his name's sake" of Psalm 23, and the "hallowed be Your name" of the Lord's Prayer. It's why "better is one day in Your courts than a thousand elsewhere." And it's reflected in the diminutiveness of humanity before God in, "what is man that you are mindful of him."

The central figure in Scripture, about whom all things find their meaning, around whom all creation bows before, is God. Not us. It's all about God's presence, with his people.

The history of the Church reveals a battle to retain the presence motif, and often failing. Church becomes a matter of us, not God. We see this in the original garden, in the golden calf, in the Entertainment Church, in the Corinthian's misuse of spiritual gifts, in the overturned tables in the Temple courtyard, in the nature of temptation, and in Jesus's "you cannot serve both God and Money."

The choices are - Who do you belong to? What do you exist for? Will it be a life of seeking self-pleasure and "happiness," or a life seeking the presence of God?

Years ago, in seminary, I took a class on Karl Barth. We had to read portions of his Church Dogmatics (multi-volume, 6,000,000 words). Barth's magnum opus was a protest against the Church of Self. John Jefferson Davis writes:
'Karl Barth's massive theological project in his Church Dogmatics can be seen as one long tremendous protest against the man-centered orientation of liberal Protestant theology from Schleiermacher down to the present: "man, namely his piety ... had become its object of study and its theme. Around this it revolved and seemed to revolve without release . . . here man was made great at the cost of God-the divine God who is something other than man, who sovereignly confronts him, who immovably and unchangeably stands over against him as the Lord, Creator, and Redeemer." (John Jefferson Davis. Worship and the Reality of God: An Evangelical Theology of Real Presence, Kindle Locations 2480-2486).

Barth called for "a new Copernican revolution - a return to "God as primary Subject" in the worship and life of evangelical churches." 

Barth protested against the Church's "turn to the human subject." Were Barth alive today, he would write 6,000,000 more words in protest of churches that exist to please people, rather than to please God. (Seen in expressions such as, "I liked/didn't like the worship"; "This church does/does not meet my needs.")

Wednesday, April 26, 2017

Dinner and Auction to Support Mary Robey Koch





(Written by Mike Ansel)

Scripture says to mourn with those who mourn and to rejoice with those who rejoice. As people, and especially as a group of Christian (Called out ones) people, our hearts are drawn to this sister who has been through more than we can imagine or even phantom!  

Mary Robey Koch entered the hospital with the hope of delivering her first child and the joy this would bring her and her husband.  After delivering her healthy son Cooper Mary contacted Sepsis and was thrown into a fight for her life!  Her extremities were under attack and within two days of delivery her feet and lower calf were amputated.  Muscle and infected dead skin were also removed as the doctors at the University of Michigan raced to save her hands!  Prayer warriors were called upon to stand in the gap for Mary.  It was not to be so as two days after loosing her feet Mary lost her hands! Unimaginable nightmare for this young first time mother, her mom and dad, and her inlaws!

Mary spent seven months in the trauma burn unit at the U. of M. hospital, and has been home for a month now.  Mary has a long road ahead of her with therapy, prosthetics, Dr. appointments, and caring for her now 8 month old son!  Of course Mary has had her "down" moments, but her faith remains strong as she puts her spiritual hands to the plow and moves forward with grace, strength, and dignity!  Mary has had a lot of support from her family and friends, and that's where we come in at Redeemer Fellowship. We believe in the Church as the wider body of those who have been saved and sanctified by the sacrifice of Jesus. Mary is a fellow sojourner on this road leading to the Celestial City. It is our Christian honor to help her along the way!  

Mary and her family have many needs, and one of the most pressing is monetary. We (at Redeemer) are planning a Dinner/Auction in order to raise funds toward those needs. I (we) want to partner with this sister and her family in a show of Christian unity and support. 

Of course we welcome help from all people of good will and compassion toward this cause.

The time is fast approaching when we will collectively bring forth a sacrifice of praise as we fellowship around a meal and auction/fundraiser in support of Mary at Redeemer Fellowship Church in Monroe.  

The date is May 13th. with auction viewing at 4:00 p.m. and dinner at 5:00 p.m. Live auction to start after dinner.  Silent auction bidding will start upon your arrival.  Two separate dinners will be served.  The wild game dinner is $15.00 dollars for adults 13 and up and $8.00 dollars for those 12 and under.  4 and under free!  The alternative dinner will be a simple hot dog, sloppy Joe, potato chips, dessert, and drink dinner for $6.00 for adults and $4.00 for children 12 and under.

In order to have a smooth operation it would be so helpful if we can have a "head" count as to who will be attending so the proper amount of food can be prepared. Auction items are still being accepted, as well as desserts, or a special "wild game" dish you would like to prepare!  
Monetary donations are also greatly appreciated. Call Mike Ansel at 734-241-3329 home or 734-770-4660 for information.  Lets make this day before Mothers Day a time of rejoicing for Mary and her supporters!

Email Mike Ansel at - mikewansel@yahoo.com

Email John Piippo at  - johnpiippo@msn.com

Depleted Leaders Over-rely on Outside Sources


Oak tree in my backyard
In the 1980s, when I was in the end stages of writing my doctoral dissertation at Northwestern University, I was at a point of burnout. Whatever creativity and energy I had were gone. I couldn't see the forest for the trees.

One day, as I was walking across campus, one of my professors saw me and asked, "How is the paper going?" 

"Not well," I responded. "I can't see clearly any more. I don't know what to do next."

"You need to take two weeks off and get away from it."

That was his counsel to me. I took it. During the two week hiatus the creative juices began to flow again.

I have never forgotten this. It applies to our spiritual lives as well.  

Years ago God called me to take several hours each week alone with him, praying and listening and discerning. When I do this I become less dependent on outside sources to inspire me because of what God is doing inside me. Other voices are at times helpful, but rarely do they assist me in the unique day-to-day challenges of ministry in my church family, times which demand creativity and discernment.

Burnout-busyness is the enemy of this. The busier a pastor gets the more they rely on outside sources to do the job of discerning for them because they lack the needed inner resources. Ruth Haley Barton writes:

"When we are depleted, we become overly reliant on voices outside of ourselves to tell us what is going on. We react to symptoms rather than seeking to understand and respond to underlying causes. We rely on other people’s ministry models and outside consultants because we are too tired to listen in our setting and craft something that is uniquely suited to meet the needs that are there. When we are rested, however, we bring steady, alert attention that is characterized by true discernment about what is truly needed in our situation, and the energy and creativity to carry it out."
- - Barton, Strengthening the Soul of Your Leadership: Seeking God in the Crucible of Ministry, p. 121)

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Dr. Seuss's Cartesian, Sartrean Birthday Philosophy




































One of my favorite birthday books is Dr. Seuss’s epic Happy Birthday to You. For many years I read it to my sons on their birthdays. This has stopped, since they are now in their thirties.

Happy Birthday to You (hereafter HBtY) is the story of the Birthday Bird (hereafter BB) from the land of Katroo (hereafter Katroo), who arrives one night at the bedside of a boy on the eve of the boy’s birthday. The BB sweeps the kid up and takes him to Katroo for the hugest sugar-carb-filled birthday ever seen.

Seuss writes, on the BB:

“Katroo is the only place Birthday Birds grow.

This bird has a brain. He's the most beautifully brained

With the brainiest bird-brain that's ever been trained.

He was trained by the most splendid Club in this nation,

The Katroo Happy Birthday Asso-see-eye-ation.”

Even though Seuss does some loopy question-begging here, we see that the BB is smart. How smart? The BB has the “brainiest bird-brain that’s ever been trained.” 

The word “brainiest” is a superlative, indicating incomparability. The BB has (thinking on Anselmian lines) “a brain a greater than which cannot be conceived.” If it is the “brainiest” bird brain, indicating a brain a greater than which cannot be conceived, then the BB has omniscience. The BB seems to be, like God, an omniscient being.

The BB’s brain is “beautiful.” Like Nobel Laureate John Nash, the BB has “a beautiful mind.” Here one does not mean the brain’s physicality, but its sheer cognitive mental powers. But if the BB’s brain was “trained,” does that not imply that the brain-trainers of the Katroo Happy Birthday Asso-see-eye-ation have brainier brains than the brainiest brain of the BB? An omniscient brain would not require training. So on this point Seuss is logically incoherent.

"Dr." Seuss made his living on logical incoherencies. But that fact should not cause one to dismiss what comes next. To do so would be to miss some of the best philosophizing in all of Western culture.

“He [the BB] knows your address, and he heads for your bed.

You hear a soft swoosh in the brightening sky.

You are not all awake. But you open one eye.

Then over the housetops and trees of Katroo,

You see that bird coming! To you. Just to you!

That Bird pops right in! You are up on your feet!”

This is troublesome. A total stranger who:

1) Knows your address? How did the BB know your address? Because an omniscient being knows all things that can possibly be known, which would include your address.

2) The BB “pops right in.”

3) The BB “heads for your bed.”

This is disconcerting. The boy does not know the BB. He does not know the BB is omniscient. Even if he did know that the BB is omniscient, this does not imply that the BB is omnibenevolent. As far as the boy knows, the BB may be malevolent. Here is an omniscient and possibly malevolent Bird popping into your room, and heading for your bed. This is the stuff of nightmares. 

The BB says to the boy, “Get dressed!” This is an abduction. He sweeps the boy away, and on to Katroo! 

Five minutes later, you're having a snack

On you way out of town on a Smorgasbord's back.

"Today," laughs the Bird, "eat whatever you want.

Today no one tells you you cawnt or you shawnt.

And, today, you don't have to be tidy or neat.

If you wish, you may eat with both hands and both feet.

So get in there and munch. Have a big munch-er-oo!

Today is your birthday! Today you are you!

My concerns and thoughts include:

• The use of ‘cawnt’ and ‘shawnt’ are typical Seuss-isms as he desperately keeps the rhyme going.

• The assumption is: on your birthday, no one has the right to tell you what you can or cannot do. I like this, since today is my birthday.

• All food groups and food non-groups are fair game on your birthday. I like this, since today is my birthday.

• Forget all sanitary rules. I don't like this.

• Even eat with hands and both feet. The thought of eating with both feet disturbs me. Especially since, at my age, I can barely touch my feet.

• On your birthday you can eat like a pig with its snout everlastingly nuzzling in the trough of all calories.

Now Seuss engages in some big-time philosophizing. He writes: 

“Today is your birthday. Today you are you!”

You are you. ‘A’ is ‘A.’ This is the logic of identity. It’s tautological thinking, redundant stuff, Kantian analytic predicating. Leibnizian "identity of indiscernibles." When the subject is the self and the predicate is also the self we have a powerful, existential statement of personal identity. We are now heading in two converging directions; viz., Cartesianism and Kierkegaard’s idea of truth as subjectivity. Let us proceed.

“If we didn't have birthdays, you wouldn't be you.

If you'd never been born, well then what would you do?

If you'd never been born, well then what would you be?

You might be a fish! Or a toad in a tree!

You might be a doorknob! Or three baked potatoes!

You might be a bag full of hard green tomatoes.

Or worse than all that… Why, you might be a WASN'T!

A Wasn't has no fun at all. No, he doesn't.

A Wasn't just isn't. He just isn't present.

But you… You ARE YOU! And, now isn't that pleasant!”

Seuss sets before us a philosophical smorgasbord. There are so many choices here that one wonders where to begin!

1. “If you’d never been born, then what would you do?” The answer is, ‘you’ wouldn’t ‘do’ anything, since ‘you’ would not be. "You" would not even be a "nonexistent thing," as if nonexistence could be predicated of nothing. ("Nonexistent thing" is a contradiction.)

2. You might be “a toad in a tree.” But this cannot be true, since if ‘you’ had never been born, then ‘you’ would not have been born as a toad in a tree. Had you been born as a toad in a tree you would have been born, and thus be a "you," but you would not know it. We have toads croaking in our backyard as I write. Perhaps some of them are in trees. Not one of them is thinking, “Wow – I was born as a toad in a tree!”

3. You could never have been born as a doorknob. No current physical theory allows for that kind of thing to happen. Doorknobs cannot procreate.

4. But… you might be a “Wasn’t.” That is, if you had never been born, even as a toad in a tree (but not as a doorknob) you would not exist at all and would be, ipso facto, a ‘Wasn’t.’ 

Pause here for a moment. I now compare Jean Paul Sartre’s Being and Nothingness with Seussian philosophy.

In the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy essay on “Sartre’s Existentialism” we read:

“Sartre’s ontology is explained in his philosophical masterpiece, Being and Nothingness, where he defines two types of reality which lie beyond our conscious experience: the being of the object of consciousness and that of consciousness itself. The object of consciousness exists as “in-itself,” that is, in an independent and non-relational way. However, consciousness is always consciousness “of something,” so it is defined in relation to something else, and it is not possible to grasp it within a conscious experience: it exists as “for-itself.” An essential feature of consciousness is its negative power, by which we can experience “nothingness.” This power is also at work within the self, where it creates an intrinsic lack of self-identity. So the unity of the self is understood as a task for the for-itself rather than as a given.”

The connections between Sartre and Seuss should be obvious. But just in case they are not:

1. Seuss’s “You are you” (or later, his “I am I”) is “independent and non-relational.” Here, the Seussian self is not defined in relation to something else. It exists “for itself.” This is precisely the kind of birthday Seuss is advocating; viz., a birthday that is only about the self and for the self. I like this because today is my birthday.

2. A ‘Wasn’t’ has an “intrinsic lack of self-identity.” That is, a ‘Wasn’t’ essentially, or ontologically, lacks self-identity.

The philosophical excitement builds as Seuss writes:

“Shout loud at the top of your voice, "I AM I!

ME!

I am I!

And I may not know why

But I know that I like it.

Three cheers! I AM I!"”

Sartre’s definition of existentialism is: existence precedes essence. One first of all, primordially, exists. “I am .” Or: ‘A’ is ‘A.’ The predicate is self-identical with the subject. One’s existence is, drawing from Kant, “analytic” rather than “synthetic.”

Seuss continues:

“Sing loud, "I am lucky!" Sing loud, "I am I!"

If you'd never been born, then you might be an ISN'T!

An Isn't has no fun at all. No he disn't.

He never has birthdays, and that isn't pleasant.

You have to be born, or you don't get a present.”

Here a celebration breaks forth as the Cartesian certainty is clarified. I exist! Seuss’s Cartesian certainty is as follows:

1. I have a birthday.

2. Therefore I am.

You have to exist to have a birthday. Neither Seuss nor Descartes nor Sartre are making an evidentialist argument for personal existence. One’s own existence is simply a given, a datum, much like a Plantingian “properly basic belief.” (Note: you have to exist in order to utter the proposition "I have a birthday." Claim-making requires actual existence.)

Which brings us to my favoritest line in the entire book:

 “You have to be born, or you don’t get a present.” 

Taking this line, and using a reductio, I reason:

1. I got presents today.

2. Therefore I was born.

3. Therefore I exist. (From 1 & 2)

The rest of Seuss’s book is a giant celebration of ego-centered, non-relational, personal, gluttonous existence. At the book’s end I am exhausted and touched, as Seuss writes:

“I am what I am! That's a great thing to be!

If I say so myself, HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO ME!"

Now, by Horseback and bird-back and Hiffer-back, too,

Come your friends! All your friends! From all over Katroo!

And the Birthday Pal-alace heats up with hot friends

And your party goes on!

On and on

Till it ends.

When it ends,

You're much happier,

Richer and fatter.

And the Bird flies you home

On a very soft platter.

So that's

What the Birthday Bird

Does in Katroo.

And I wish

I could do

All these great things for you!”