terça-feira, 29 de março de 2011

Happiness and the Image of the Paradise


vários amigos ouviram o podcast sobre felicidade no site da Ultimato. Como eu disse, temos uma série inteira sobre o tema, com várias palestras.

Ainda não foi possível escrever algo mais completo em português (nem em inglês!), mas disponibilizo abaixo o ESBOÇO (atenção, não é o argumento completo) da palestra que apresentei na Conferência Internacional de L'Abri, em Rochester (EUA). Tendo em vista que é um esboço, peço a tolerância dos interessados no assunto!

obs: perdoem também a falta de proficiência na língua. Lá o gringo era eu :-D

O link do podcast está abaixo:



Happiness and the Image of the Paradise

Guilherme de Carvalho

L’Abri Brazil

A. Does Happiness Matter?

  1. The Present Culture of Happiness
  2. The Liberal Roots
  3. Happiness and Hyperconsumption System
  4. Happiness Studies Today (critical evaluation)
  5. Is Happiness a Christian Goal?
  6. Desire shepherding against desire technique

The Present Culture of Happiness

Would not be any exaggeration to say that today’s culture is a culture of happiness.

For centuries human beings have struggled for the minimum achievement of survival, rarely enjoying much more then the daily bread, and far from comforts as medicines, social justice, psychological assistance, technology or any of this modern wonders.

Of course the majority of the world population lives below the poverty line, and remains still excluded from those benefits, but for a significant parcel of western society, even when they are below middle class, the supplying of needs and pleasures are beyond anything imagined in pre-modern times.

The fulfillment of so many needs and the augmenting of individual freedom made possible for millions of people, for the first time in history, to search not only for survival, but also for happiness. It changed from a luxury into a duty.

The evidences of that transformation are around us: not only the market sells happiness in the form of new products for consumption, but multiple ways and techniques of well-being and happiness are made accessible through hundreds of books, courses and so on.

There are now national surveys in many countries to check the levels of satisfaction and happiness between the citizens. According to surveys, 90% of the Europeans say they are happy; in 2004 60% of the French declared to be happy in life – yet 70% declared the other co-citizens weren’t happy.

And now we have one of the last achievements of the technological society: the new science of happiness, leaded by names as Robert Emmons, Martin Seligman, and many others, and new paradigms as the positive psychology, focused in the development of positive feelings and attitudes, instead of the pathologies, as in traditional psychology and psychoanalysis.

Happiness is definitively in, and we Christians should say something about.

The Liberal Roots of the Happiness Quest

The current discourse on happiness is something strongly rooted in modernity’s higher aspirations, and particularly in the liberal project of culture.

This is beautifully represented in the movie THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS (2006), starred by Will Smith. In this movie the struggle of a man against frustration and limitations is shown without any blame on society or particular persons. He appears as the self-made man, the guy with persistence and courage to use the opportunities. No one makes anything easy to him, but he is quite happy with his country, even quoting Thomas Jefferson at a certain point as a genius. In the end he finds happiness – because, according to the movie, he becomes a millionaire.

It is relevant the fact that the title wasn’t “In search for success”, or “A loving Father”, but “In Search for Happiness”. It is a direct reference to the American Independency declaration. We should give a check on it:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just Powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

But everybody knows what happened to “happiness” (5 amendment constitution):

No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a Grand Jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the Militia, when in actual service in time of War or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

But this is not just an American Dream. French scholars have pointed out the strong presence of the theme of happiness within the discourse of the French revolutionaries. Saint-Just, comrade of Robespierre in the revolution and in the following terror, declared literally: Happiness is a new idea in Europe.

Therefore the historian Arlete Farge admitted 1789 as the year one of happiness – it was a happiness associated to political freedom, civic virtue, but above all reason [SPONVILLE, 122].

We should not despise this connection between a happiness ideal and the cultural program of liberalism. THE REDISCOVERY OF FREEDOM MADE POSSIBLE THE PURSUIT OF HAPPINESS.

Now, two important transformations were introduced by modernity in the very concept of happiness:

(1) the first one was the new expectations that through science and technology human being would became a master of his destiny reverting the effects of the fall. We find the roots of this redemptive perception of science starting in Francis Bacon’s NOVUM ORGANUM and in his NEW ATLANTIS.

Man’s Science and Power coincide, once as, being the cause ignored, is frustrated the effect. Because nature is not defeated, except when becomes obedient. (III aphorism).

This changing, accompanied by a strong rejection of speculative philosophy, implied a transformation of the old eudemonistics, in completely new terms – in PROMETEIC TERMS.

The idea of a paradise of new Jerusalem coming from heaven is substituted by a NEW ATLANTIS built by human power-science – the modern equivalent of Babel with its tower.

(2) The second important changing was closely observed by the French philosopher Andre Comte Sponville, also a student of happiness.

Sponville sees in Socrates a indentification of happiness with the pursuing and encounter with the GOOD in itself. Classical greek thinking thought virtue and happiness as things internally connected. For that reason he didn’t believe the evil could be happy.

Yet, Kant introduced a second philosophical revolution in the west, and in this respect he promoted a central shift: the collapse of the beliefs in ultimate good. Modernity is even characterized by this collapse. Therefore, has become impossible since Kant to sustain a necessary connection between VIRTUE and HAPPINESS. According him there are evil persons that are happy, and good ones that are sad (p. 20, 34, 42).

In that connection, Sponville tries to give an account of happiness including Kant-modern view. And he proposes that we give up to think of reality as having meaning or sense.

There is a place, and only one, where Marselha doesn’t make sense: it is in Marselha. When we are there, you cannot get there anymore. The sense is always in another place, and we are always here. Only the other has meaning, and only the same has reality. 51

From this he concludes “Happiness only is the meaning of life for the unhappy ones”. Experience of happiness isn’t at all an experience of meaning, but an experience of the present, of reality, of the actually available truth. Happiness becomes totally HEDONISTIC.

This separation of meaning and enjoyment parallels the break between pleasure and good.

Now was exactly this separation what made possible to pursue happiness throughout technical control and increasing of pleasure and well-being without any necessary reaching of virtue, moral good, and so forth.

Since than, the search for happiness becomes a search for pragmatic and sensorial well being, lacking expectations of heavenly paradises and non temporal delights

Edenic Paradise versus Babelic Atlantis

As many scholars have pointed out, modernity secularized the biblical expectation of paradise, but finally denaturized this hope creating another image: the one of a society organized on the basis of technical control of reality and egoism.

The new idea isn’t so much of to pursue happiness, but to reach it through scientific power and in the form of pleasing moments.

Despite the strength of the progress ideology – a secularized version of Christian eschatology – the resilient tendency of modernity is to eliminate progressively those religious elements. So says Sponville, arguing that HOPE brings unhappiness, and that a lucid atheist must give up hope (that is a passion, not a virtue) and enter the despaired happiness, the joy without hope.

What is interesting is to perceive that the idea of the paradise wasn’t so much secularized as was substitute by a babelic expectation.

Modernity is about freedom, but also about happiness. Happiness is what human being looks for when leaves in search for freedom. He wants be happy, and that is the reason why he turns against any constraint or limitation to his freedom.

But modern happiness is prometeic and hedonic.

Happiness in the Hyperconsumption Society

The story of modernity is the story of the implementation of a functional narcissistic cultural system. This is very important: narcissism prevents sound human relationships and virtue, so that to find a functional system for narcissism isn’t a little thing.

Narcissistic anxiety is what emerged in the west when the Renaissance man decided to find happiness without God and lost his human identity and coherence.

The cultivation and augmenting of individual freedom was the way taken by modern man to find happiness, but this loss of coherence blocks true happiness.

The more efficient way found by modernity to create and distribute happiness was the combination of the political state of rights and the consumption capitalism. Some thinkers have called it the HYPERCONSUMPTION SOCIETY.

Hyperconsumption society has a simple basis: atomizes humanity and feeds narcissism, creating the homo consumans. He is the BATTERY of the system. The discourse on freedom is used to justify and reinforce that condition and keep consumerism working. The promise is that staying in the system people will be happy.

The French philosopher Gilles Lipovetsky wrote recently (2006) a relevant book entitled Paradoxical Happiness: an essay on the hyperconsumption society. He agrees that:

Happiness is the central value, the great ideal celebrated without truce by consumption civilization. P. 348

He is quite open about the strength of this system:

The search for happiness throughout mercantilized goods and services is just in the beginning of its historical adventure. Health, leisure, games, transport, culture, communications, information, protection of nature – the integrality of the needs is what has been annexed by the logic of goods, installing the phase III of capitalism in the whole country. It is necessary to surrender in front the evidence; the hyperconsumption society imposes itself as our only horizon, and nothing will stop the expansion of paid consumption towards everyone of our activities, the omnimercantilization of the world. If there are different economical or social policies, there isn’t by now any alternative solution to hyperconsumption society.

Gilles Lipovetsky,

A Felicidade Paradoxal: Ensaio sobre a Sociedade de Hiperconsumo.

2006, p. 127.

The system is strong, but extracts its strength from the individuals, jailing them in the narcissist condition, as if it was freedom:

The relaxing of the collective controls, the hedonistic norms, the choose of top quality, the liberal education, the whole thing contributed to compose an individual detached of common ends and which, reduced only to his own strength, shows himself unable to resist both to external solicitations and internal impulses. Therefore, we’re witnessing a whole set of unstructured behaviors, of pathological and compulsive consumption. As the principle of full power over the direction of its own life gets wider, the manifestations of dependency and subjective impotence develop in a growing rhythm. What is represented in the contemporary stage of consumption is so much released Narcissus as it is chained Narcissus.

Gilles Lipovetsky,

A Felicidade Paradoxal: Ensaio sobre a Sociedade de Hiperconsumo.

2006, p. 127.

Lipovetsky also uncovers the contradiction in the system: despite the development of technology, political liberties, health services and access to goods raising the quality of life, the effect hasn’t been happiness and satisfaction. Why?

Since the individual disengage from communitarian coercions, his irresistible search for happiness cannot help to make its existence problematic and unsatisfactory: this is the destiny of the socially independent individual who, without collective and religious support, faces alone and unsupported the trials of life.

Gilles Lipovetsky,

A Felicidade Paradoxal: Ensaio sobre a Sociedade de Hiperconsumo.

2006, p. 338.

Finally: Do we have any way out of this trap? According to Lipovetsky:

When happiness became less identified to the satisfaction of the maximal number of necessities and to the limitless renewing of objects and leisures, the hyperconsumerism cycle will be closed […] p. 368

The truth is that only interests and passions of another kind might raise barriers up against the hyperconsumerist wave […] What could take persons to give up search for happiness exclusively in mercantile goods if not different desires and centers if interest: work, creation, public engagement? The demand for the future is the invention of new ways of education and work that allow individuals to find identity and satisfaction in other places rather then in the fleeting paradises of consumption.

Gilles Lipovetsky,

A Felicidade Paradoxal: Ensaio sobre a Sociedade de Hiperconsumo.

2006, p. 366-7.

Desire technique versus Desire shepherding

I found Lipovetsky’s insight exceedingly valuable as an interpretation of what is going on in contemporary search for happiness, but I want to focus a piece of this last quotation:

According him only the discovery of new interests and passions can break the hyperconsumerist cage. And that demands the invention and construction of new centers of desire. These new places would supplant THE FLEETING PARADISES OF CONSUMPTION.

I believe this last expression is not casual. Modernity paradises are really elusive and fleeting, but are paradises in some way. They appeal to the human affections.

The right answer to that state of affairs is the recovery of the Biblical Image of the Paradise, but not merely as a theological concept. The paradises of consumption are aspects of the modern techniques of desire – the apparatus designed to cultivate, manage and enhance human desires for the maximum profit.

By a recovery of the biblical image of paradise we mean a Christian answer to the modern desire techniques, in terms of authentic and incarnated happiness.

As Kuyper once said only a complete life system would be able to face the modern life system, we should be aware that worldview changing is not enough: against desire manipulation techniques, we must offer the shepherding of human desire.

B. The Image of the Paradise

  1. The Image of the Paradise

1.1. Familial communion

1.2. Creative dominion

1.3. Spirituality

  1. Curse and Unhappiness

2.1. Ingratitude

2.2. Out of Eden

2.3. Babel Dream: the pagan answer

  1. Paradise Imagination in the Hebrew Bible

3.1. Ten Commandments

3.2. Wisdom Literature

3.3. Prophecy

  1. New Testament: Paradise Already/Not Yet

  1. Revelation: Paradise Recovered

There is a world of things we could take for the discussion here, as the historical development of the Paradise expectations in the west, of the details of the biblical doctrine about.

Instead I’ll be very selective going straightly to three biblical texts that I find very illuminating.

The first is Gn chapters 1-2, the second, Ps 138 and finally, the book of Eclesiastes.

The Original Paradise: Gn 1-2

If I’m not wrong, every one here probably is acquainted to this biblical passage, so that I’ll just call your attention to some details here.

Firstly, the first thing said about human being is about his identity. He is said to be created in the Image of God; and he receives commandments and also blessings, in what characterizes a covenantal relationship with God.

He is told to not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, what represents in my understanding, the possibility to make himself without reference to God, independently – that was the snake temptation, they would be like God, and so forth.

Secondly, human being was commanded to rule the earth, dominating over every creature.

The nature of this ruling is shown in the second chapter, where God plants a garden and puts man to cultivate and take care of it. Human task was to understand creation, to explore the potentials hidden within it by God, and take care lovingly of nature.

This is what was conventioned to call the CULTURAL MANDATE. As God is shown creating 6 days and resting in the 7, Man is supposed to work 6 days in the garden God planted expressing in it his likeness to God, and resting in the 7 as a remind of the relativity of his own creativity.

Thirdly, we have family: God tells himself that would not be good for man to stay alone, and creates the woman. Both together, ish plus ishah – comprises ADAM, the human. This love relationship is made sacred and raised to be the creational context for the growing of human race and the formation of new individuals and families.

Isn’t that a paradise? It is something very simple and prosaic. Meaningful and creative work, in harmony with nature; life in family under the aegis of fidelity; and identity totally based in the communion with God, for ever.

Yet this paradise is now lost; and the doors of Eden are guarded by fire swords. Does it have any meaning for us now?

A Creational Structure

Of course we were expelled from the Paradise as a perfectly blessed condition, but that doesn’t mean the life structures God created for humanity were dissolved.

Actually, as theologians have pointed out, God’s course over creation implied suffering and death, but without any revocation neither of the original commandments nor of the original blessings.

Thereby I want to call your attention to our next biblical passage:

Here we are gifted with a synthetical presentation of what means to live under God’s covenantal patterns. The blessed man is the one that fears the Lord, works in a non-alienating context and enjoy familiar relationship with his wife and children with Joy (wine) and value (olive).

This blessed guy is, again, who fears the Lord, and receives his grace from Zion – a clear covenantal reference.

That is exactly the kind of picture is offered in Eclesiastes, through a sort of existential inversion. The king explains in the beginning of his book his own path trying to extract happiness inhabiting in time and repetition, and he discovers that mere repetition of pleasure experiences brings boredom and can’t produce true happiness. He tries to take the reader’s attention pointing seven times, in the book, that there is nothing better to man than enjoy the fruits of his own work, and enjoy his wife, within a real relationship to God. It is essentially the same structure we find in Ps 128 – actually, it is the structure of the Wisdom Movement on the issue of temporal happiness.

C. A Christian Way to Happiness

1. Images of the Paradise

2. Babelic and Ierosolimic Solutions

3. Cultivating the Objective conditions of Happiness

4. The “Subjective” side

What should we have in mind now?

In the first place: I would invite you to come with me to the New Jerusalem (Revelation last chapters), in our imagination. What do we see here: a CITY with a GARDEN. The very core of the New City is the accomplishment of the early creational expectations. I think that gives us a powerful tool to understand what is happening and how should we live.

First of all: Babel substitutes the garden planted by God by a Tower of man’s pride, designed to give man independency and control. That corresponds to modernity’s project of happiness through arbitrary freedom, prometeic technology and hedonic pleasure.

Instead, God’s project is the City – with all its complexity and richness – existing around and protecting the Garden, the core of tasks and experiences that alone can give human being happiness, if experienced sacramentaly.

Against modernity, the Christian experience of happiness is the enjoyment of the essential conditions of sactisfaction within time – the enjoyment of those very prosaic and temporal pleasures, moment by moment. BUT

With the enduring awareness that these things are translucid; are mediations and sacramental presentations of God’s love toward us, which we experience through these things.

The city is there, with all its wealth, but having its proper center in the garden realities. And that implies the non-prometeic (because the garden is the gift, not the tower) and the non-hedonic (because reality has meaning, the gift points to the donor).

Against the wisdom of the modern, the Christian message must to point out real happiness trough the recovering of the biblical image of the paradise, and trough a religious and political praxis of creational gratitude and sacramental conscience.

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