“Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” — so reads the Constitution of the United States. An odd addition to a political document — as though the government of a nation can somehow assure a person’s happiness. But truly, this strange focus became part of the Revolution taking place on the shores of the New World over two centuries ago.
Originally, the framers of the Constitution had used another phrase: “Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Property”, but “property” had been discarded in deference for “happiness”. Still, has happiness ever been the province of government?
No. But what has been the province of government has been ruining the happiness of its citizens! Throughout every century, governments have ruled in ways that have made life itself — mere survival — dreary, weary and even devastating. A glimpse of a typical response of common people to their government is seen in the wonderfully painful “slice of life” movie, Fiddler on the Roof, displaying the instability of life under the Russian Tzars. Early in the movie, villagers challenge their spiritual leader, the rabbi, with a fantastic question. They ask, “Is there a blessing for the Tzar?” The rabbi hesitates, slowly nods and recites, “The Lord bless the Tzar, and keep him… far, far away...”
Through the times and cultures of human history, government has more often than not kept the people from peace rather than keep the people at peace. The framers of the American Constitution were guaranteeing — not that everyone would be happy — but that the government they were newly fashioning would not govern the people so as to remove the possibility of happiness.
Today, the American populace has taken hold on this “right” to happiness with a vengeance. Oddly, though, it seems to have changed like a man changes into a wolf under the twilight of a full moon. It has transmuted from a search for “happiness” into laying hold instead on fantasy. Fantasy, in anyone’s dictionary, has to do with imagination, but it becomes insidious when people mistake it for reality. As P. T. Barnum never said, “There’s a sucker born every minute,” and the greatest problem with buying into someone’s fantasy is when that fantasy replaces reality in a person’s mind.
Fantasy has always been Big Business. With the advent of the Internet, it’s even bigger than ever. The number one moneymaker online the last few years has been pornography. Which is, if nothing else, fantasy. But then when we combine what money is made in Hollywood — another major vendor for fantasy — and add to that the printed pages of romance, adventure, science fiction and fantasy books and comics, the total financial expenditure on chasing fantasy racks up unbelievably high numbers in our society. That’s not even to touch on the personal “fantasies” of drug use (“It helps me handle life”) and alcoholism (“I never meant to run over that child”) which destroy so many lives and communities.
But — lest you think too highly of yourself if you’re one of the few who spends little or nothing on fantasy — what about your politicians? Do you vote to put one person into office or another one out? Do you ever listen to the public speeches about “vote for me and I’ll put a chicken in every pot” or “when you vote for me, you vote for change”? Isn’t it clear that professional politicians will say anything that comes to their minds that they think will gain your vote and that of your neighbor — whether it’s based in reality or is just another form of popular fantasy? And (BTW) when you chalk up what fantasy in government costs us in comparison with porn, Hollywood and fantasy literature all combined into one — government takes the cake (if not the whole, damn bakery.)
Yet, in reflecting on a modern society such as ours that has transformed the pursuit of pleasure into the commerce of fantasy — in literature, media and politics — can this same society keep fantasy out of the pews? (Or even out of the temples or synagogues?) Back in the sixties and prior to the greatest civil-rights victories, one popular book re-examining the place that traditional Christianity held in America asked how was it possible that the most segregated hour in America was from 11 AM to 12 noon every Sunday morning? In those days, the majority of Americans still called America “God’s country” and yet fought a wholesale battle against bringing justice into the streets. Evangelical churches tended to stand as bastions of conservative culture, resisting Change in society even when that which they defended consisted of that which God hated. One critic asked the question as to how it was possible for Christians — people who claimed to love God and called Him “Father” — to sit every Sunday morning, surrounded by stained-glass representations of the Power and Love of God bringing salvation and deliverance into the lives of men and women throughout the ages, and practice feeling nothing.
Churches have often cultivated fantasy for their members on many levels. Up until two generations ago, people voted into public office wooed their supporters by attending churches of their choice on Sunday mornings. Even today, many businessmen still woo their communities by sitting in pews or on church boards. Yet the politicians who have appeared in churches and the businessmen who have sat in pews on Sunday, have during the ensuing week been caught countless times in financial frauds and sexual infidelities until it’s become such trite and cliche social humor that not even SNL wastes time presenting parodies against them.
One would think that if there were any place in which fantasy is disallowed, it would be the church. But people inevitably enter into socially-shared fantasies, and if they are “church-goers”, there will be “church fantasies”. Is there no hope for more objective levels of reality? Is there no remedy for fantasy within the Church?
There is one hope — only one. This hope in fact strikes most deeply into the nature and the heart of what “church” is supposed to be. Whereas “church” is so often ritual, formulistic behavior, vigorously held doctrines and creeds — all these fall far short of what the Bible shows Church, in fact, to be.
And the true nature of what is “Church” also renders fantasy powerless. It undermines fantasy for at the heart of the Church lies truth — and the Truth is a Person and that is getting to its true nature. The “Church” is not an organization — political or social — made by man, controlled by man and serving human purposes. The “Church” is (you might say) an animal, a creature, so to speak. It isn’t a “social structure” but an organism. It’s a living organism unique in existence since its parts are composed of God and humanity. Its “head” is the Person of Jesus Christ and the unity of its parts, its joints and ligaments holding it as one, are spiritual and not material. It’s rather “Cheshire” you might say — being visible and yet not quite at the same time. Not that we occasionally see nothing but its grin, but that we never see it in its totality. We only see it in its members — those men and women, jointed and knitted together in the Love and the Power of God; people whose lives effectively touch those people in need all about them, bringing the blessings of God into their lives — the blessings of God and none of the curses of man.
This spiritually jointed Organism, which lives everywhere throughout this earth, lives in Truth (which is Love) and in which no fantasy can exist. Strangely enough, those who are in this spiritual Body are lacking fantasy but not lacking joy. The happiness which they “pursue” doesn’t come through fantasy at the expense of reality but it instead comes through reality at the expense of depravity. Thus, a person who is truly living in and lived in by God finds joy not by pretending righteousness but by practicing love. Such a person doesn’t speak to the needs of people around them with lovely words such as “Be warmed! Be filled! Begone!” but with acts of love — giving to the poor, aid; to the hungry, food; to the naked, clothing.
Pursuing God in one’s life and in one’s nation doesn’t require that people swear off the pursuit of happiness — but they certainly must forswear the pursuit of fantasy, especially when doing so in the Name of God.
Emil & Shell Swift
Powered by ScribeFire.