Monday, June 29, 2009

The Pursuit of Happiness

Michael Jackson died last week.

For most of us this is not new news. In fact, it has been almost four days since his death. Based on the news coverage of his death you might think it just happened. If you didn't know who he was, you might also think based on the amount of coverage that he was some sort of important man who had say won a Nobel Peace Prize, or invented some sort of life-changing contraption, or even a world leader.

However, none of these descriptions are true. Instead, Michael Jackson was a pop star. Granted, he was a very successful and very good pop star. But he was just a pop star nonetheless.

I have watched this media frenzy play out at various times: Britney Spears' breakdown, the divorce of Brad Pitt and Jennifer Aniston, etc. etc. In fact, our society seems to be increasingly mesmerized and outright addicted to following the lives (and deaths) of these men and women. Heck, now people don't have to even be a celebrity for us to be addicted to their lives. There are whole reality shows designed just so that we can be vouyers into other's lives. The more drama the better!

I am sure smarter people than I have their theories on all of this, but I have one too. My theory has to do with the world view that our society has. Our world view is written right into our Declaration of Independence: "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness."

This world view is actually not a new thing. It comes straight from the Greek and Roman civilizations that so many of our laws and philosophies come from. Another word for this is "hedonism."

Hedonism is the philosophy that pleasure or that which has pleasant consequences is intrinsically good and therefore what humans should pursue.

The Greeks were masters at hedonism; conquering people after people, enslaving them and taking their wealth so that they could live a lifestyle of the pursuit of pleasure. They had other people do their work so that they could spend time doing things that brought them pleasure and happiness. Some of the descriptions of their society are eerily similar to the lifestyle that so many of us in America are hot in our own pursuit of.

The problem with a hedonistic society is that eventually it falls apart. People quit serving in the military: it's not that fun. They quit running for office unless there is power and wealth attached to it: politics become corrupt. People quit caring for and helping each other: it might take money and time away from "fun." They become addicted to increasing amounts of pleasure: the simple things that once brought pleasure are soon not enough and people must have more, more, more to satisfy. Things that are inconvenient or get in the way of happiness and pleasure lose their importance. Sound familiar?

With a corrupt government, a weak military and a people who are living only for themselves, the society is bound for collapse. This happens not just because other societies can come in and take over (like the Roman empire did to the Greeks) but also because the society eventually runs out of people to do the actual work and the resources to sustain the lifestyles to which they have become accustomed.

You may be asking yourself what does this have to do with Michael Jackson and Britney Spears?

Both Michael Jackson and Britney Spears have epitomised this notion of hedonism. They were insanely wealthy (at least at one point or another) and lived lifestyles of extravagance and oppulence. They are and were what many of us aspire to be: rich and famous.

We as hedonistic pursuers ourselves, and most of us NOT rich and famous are looking for the next "high" to entertain us, to captivate us. Michael Jackson and Britney Spears captivated our attention in life, and the depth to which they fell captivates us as well. We found pleasure in their lives, and because we are hedonists who are not content with the things that used to entertain, we find increasingly more pleasure in their "fall."

Think about it. Horror movies are getting more horrific. There is increasing amounts of sex on TV to the point that even commercials are titilating. The average child sees 200,000 acts of violence on TV before age 18. It only makes sense that all the rumors, gossip and innuendo surrounding the life of one of the most famous men in the world would feed into our society's need for stimulation. Eventually we'll all get bored, until the next celebrity fall hits the airwaves. I can almost guarantee, though, that whatever it will be will have to be bigger and badder for anyone to notice.

Our attention is no longer captivated by things that really matter: the half a billion babies that have been aborted because they are inconvenient to the mother, the kids forcibly involved in the sex trade in many countries, the kids used as child soldiers, the countries under thumbs of dictators so ruthless that they would rather let their own people starve then accept help, the oppression and abuse of women in muslim countries in the name of God....I could go on and on.

No, we don't want to think about those things because they are not fun, and they don't bring pleasure. They are hard to think about, and even harder to try to do something about.

This is not just a society problem. This is a church problem too. We are just as hedonistic as anyone else in our country. Spin it anyway you want, most of us are pursuing the same goals as everyone else in our country. There is so much evidence for it: our divorce rate, our lack of involvement in any cause that might be on the Lord's heart, our McMansions/health and wealth movement, what we do with our free time, the things we hold as important....none of it looks a lot different than anyone else.

Oh friends, when will we wake up and see? Wake up before it's too late. We should not be affected by a world view we should be the ones AFFECTING it!


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