Letters to the Editor,
The Daily Yomiuri,
Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo 100-8055
It seems to be a universal expectation in the Asian mindset that religious belief and practice lead one, or ought to lead one to a condition of happiness. The religious group that calls itself the “Institute of Human Happiness” is not a marginal example, but a mainstream example of a name that was chosen to mate with the public expectation of religion. In the Western mindset this is a creeping expectation, not universal but slowly gaining ground. So it was reported on May 31stthat 37% of Japanese “said religion was important for living a happy life,” (“72% irreligious; 56% believe in supernatural”). The figure seems rather low to me, because my experience is that more people than that commonly express the same or similar views on the matter.
The pursuit of happiness, or the expectation of achieving happiness are mostly covers for rank selfishness, leading to happiness being grossly over-rated in the modern world. Happiness instead had better derive from a life of faith, which is not the same thing as a religious life, and true happiness looks quite different than the glossy, publicity-generated image of happiness in popular culture. Those who go around perkily harking the happiness of their brand of religion deserve suspicion. So I suggest there are only very tenuous connections between happiness and religious practice.
I think the facts show that the intrusion of God into our lives is a decidedly unsettling affair, because the divine agenda, the divine expectations of humanity, and the divine demands upon us are so alien to our usual selfish, mundane concerns. Saints grew into their lives of faith kicking and resisting, and never devoid of doubts and angst. God is great, but He really disturbs us from our mundane slumber, and the usual relationship humans have with God is a relationship of constant struggle.