From the Fall, 1994 issue of Touchstone
religious liberty Is <title>Life, Liberty, & the Pursuit of God by Thomas S. Buchanan

Life, Liberty, & the Pursuit of God

Behold, not the philosophers, but only people who like to argue, state that all are happy who live according to their will. This, of course, is not true, for to wish what is not fitting is the worst of wretchedness. But it is not so deplorable to fail of attaining what we desire as it is to wish to attain what is not proper. For greater evil is brought about through one’s wicked will than happiness through fortune.
—From Cicero’s

Ever since Thomas Jefferson’s immortal words, Americans have held a special place for the “pursuit of happiness.” In recent times we have seen this pursuit of become a right to happiness in most any form, and a right from anything that gets in the way. For example, we want to have the right to free speech when it applies to our talk (be it ridden with obscenities, blasphemy, or treason) and the right not to hear speech that is critical of our vices (or, as they are often called, our “orientations”). We also want to have the right to kill ourselves or our unborn children if our happiness is in jeopardy.

Our happiness is the primary determinant of our lifestyles. Observe how many of our non-working hours are built around forms of entertainment. And even work, for some, is a pursuit of self-gratification when it is done at the expense of one’s family.

Unfortunately, the church today reflects these values as well. I am reminded of a commentary written by a famous television preacher a few years ago on Matthew 5:1–12 entitled The Be Happy Attitudes. This focus on happiness is, I fear, missing the point of the Christian life. True, we are called to rejoice always, but we also are told to take up our crosses. The happiness of the Christian cannot come through the fulfillment of every desire. Perhaps this is why Cicero’s Hortensius is so often quoted by St. Augustine in his book De Beata Vita (The Happy Life).

In his last published work C. S. Lewis wrote of this problem. It appeared shortly after his death in an essay in The Saturday Evening Post entitled “We have no ‘Right to Happiness’”:

Though the “right to happiness” is chiefly claimed for the sexual impulse, it seems to me impossible that the matter should stay there. The fatal impulse, once allowed in that department, must sooner or later seep through our whole lives. We thus advance toward a state of society in which not only each man but every impulse in each man claims carte blanche. And then, though our technological skill may help us survive a little longer, our civilization will have died at heart, and will—one dare not even add “unfortunately”—be swept away.

As Christians, we give up the right to happiness and in its place we gain true joy. We have joy because we love God and obey him. True happiness will come to us because of this joy, not because we have two-car garages. Jesus promised each of us an abundant life, not a good sexual partner. Happiness only will be ours when we desire and follow after God—but if we demand it on our own terms, I fear Lewis’s prophecy will come true.

“As Christians, we give up the right to happiness and in its place we gain true joy. We have joy because we love God and obey him.”

Thomas S. Buchanan is a member of the Orthodox Church and lives in Chester County, Pennsylvania, with his wife and three children. He is a senior editor of Touchstone.

more on religious liberty from the online archives

27.3—May/June 2014

Religious Freedom & Why It Matters

Working in the Spirit of John Leland by Robert P. George

24.6—Nov/Dec 2011

Statutes of Liberty

on the Tyranny of Modern Freedom versus the Freedom of Jesus by Gillis J. Harp

24.6—Nov/Dec 2011

Liberty, Conscience & Autonomy

How the Culture War of the Roaring Twenties Set the Stage for Today’s Catholic & Evangelical Alliance by Barry Hankins

Not a subscriber? Subscribe to Touchstone today for full online access. Over 30 years of content!

subscription options

Online Subscription

Get a one-year full-access subscription to the Touchstone online archives for only $19.95. NEW: Download PDF of issues! That's only $1.66 per month!

Purchase Print &
Online Subscription

Get six issues (one year) of Touchstone PLUS full online access for only $39.95. NEW: Download PDF of issues! That's only $3.34 per month!

Transactions will be processed on the secure server of The Fellowship of St. James website, the publisher of Touchstone.

OR get a subscription to Touchstone to read on your Kindle for only $1.99 per month! (This option is KINDLE ONLY and does not include either print or online.)

Your subscription goes a long way to ensure that Touchstone is able to continue its mission of publishing quality Christian articles and commentary.

more from the online archives

30.6—Nov/Dec 2017

The Messiah's Beauty

on Benedict XVI on the Fairest of the Sons of Men by Michael Martin De Sapio

27.2—March/April 2014

Poetry Above Compulsion

Higher Education Should Advance the Glorious Liberty of the Sons of God by Anthony Esolen

24.3—May/June 2011

God's English

The Making & Endurance of the King James Bible, 1611-2011 by Barton Swaim

Touchstone is published by

All content The Fellowship of St. James — 2018. All rights reserved.
Returns, refunds, and privacy policy.