We live in a selfish age when things are turned head-over-heels. There are many confusions - the classic confusions and conundrums of life that never dissipate but for each of which there is an army of ‘experts’ whose backgrounds are supposed to confer some panacea of expertise on them. But expertise is not a solution, and so the old confusions are replaced by the new ones. Here are some of my enduring favorites, which I have observed umpteen times, and continue to do: the confusion of sex with love; money for success; law with justice; fact with truth; school with education; knowledge with intelligence; beauty with purity; selfishness with virtue; marriage with happiness; technology with progress; religion with faith; language with communication; death with annihilation; sadness with sickness; solitude with loneliness; punishment with correction; courtesy with friendship, and so on.
This morass is a product of unbridled consumerism in capitalist democracies a polity that has given us so much, so who am I to criticize it?
Recently, with the release of the Ron Howard movie, The Da Vinci Code, starring Tom Hanks and based on the novel of the same
title by Dan Brown, more of these confusions have been aired. Specifically, Da Vinci Code conspiracists have confused a novel with truth, consequently making a big fuss about almost nothing. Generally, publicity surrounding the film’s release has revealed how little the public - and the American public especially - knows and understands about religion. Americans seem to think that they can believe anything, and that believing one thing does not preclude belief in another. Therefore, we hear Americans making ridiculous assertions in front of the expectation that others mustrespect the speakers for saying them, because they are the speakers’ “beliefs.”
One of the confusions is that “happiness” is the purpose of one’s life and a worthy objective. People want to be happy. Specifically, individuals want to be happy, and the entire cultures of many Western nations pander to this notion. I blame Plato for starting it.
Even among the religious, happiness is pushed on the agenda. Jehovah’s Witnesses might come to your door and begin by asking you the negative question, “Wouldn’t you like to live forever, reunited with loved ones and happy in God’s Kingdom?” They ask it as a negative question on the calculation that you would be too ashamed to say “No.” The affirmation of happiness is so deep that people are cast as oddballs by denying it. But I take the steam right out of Jehovah’s Witnesses at my door at the start of their presentation by denying that I would like to live forever in happiness, reunited with loved ones in God’s Kingdom.
Even here in my Japanese neighborhood is a religious cult calling itself the Institute of Human Happiness. I believe that the emphasis on happiness is an import from the West, but maybe not. Tibet’s Dalai Lama continually writes books on the theme of achieving happiness. It’s silly, really. Focusing on happiness doesn’t show deep thinking. There’s not much to say about it. Happiness is over rated, and the pursuit of it was once better known as rank self-centeredness - not a virtue. But in today’s world, selfishness is confused with virtue.
On Sunday, May 14 (Mother’s Day) I read the article “For the young, happiness outranks the spiritual” by Ruth Glenhill, Religion Correspondent for The Times of London, reprinted here in The Daily Yomiuri English-language newspaper. The article concerned discoveries through surveys of young British priorities, and the disappointing realization that there is no “God shaped hole” in peoples’ lives that the Church of England hoped to fill, or that non-mainstream religious predicted and counted on. Instead, opinion surveys in that country describe a lack of concern for institutional teachings even among parishoners, with an overwhelming Me-first ethic. The gist of the matter was the discovery that among the polled population - both the religious and the areligious - religion was less important than personal happiness. No quibbling about the differences between “religion” versus “faith” or “spirituality.” The substitution of happiness for something more worthwhile - like conscience - really bugs me.
Who is surprised anyway? Who can be surprised?