Life on this side of my decision hasn’t always been easy. It’s been nearly seventeen years since I first trusted Jesus as Lord and Savior. I still struggle to submit my prideful will to what God would call me to do. Christianity is not easy. It doesn’t always “work” for me. There are times when I think it would be easier to do it the old way; easier to cut a corner or take a short cut. There are many times when doing the right thing means doing the most difficult thing possible. There are also times when it seems like non-Christians have it easier, or seem to be “winning”. It’s in times like these that I have to remind myself that I’m not a Christian because it serves my own selfish purposes. I’m not a Christian because it “works” for me. I had a life prior to Christianity that seemed to be working just fine, and my life as a Christian hasn’t always been easy.
I’m a Christian because it is true. I’m a Christian because I want to live in a way that reflects the truth. I’m a Christian because my high regard for the truth leaves me no alternative.
I think this is important. There are people who I know who claim to be Christian, but they are clearly believing that God is a mystical force who arranges everything in their lives in order to make them happy. They are not Christians because it’s true, but because of things like comfort and community. But people ought to become Christians because they think it’s true. Truth doesn’t necessarily make you happy, though. Truth can impose intellectual obligations and moral obligations on you. Seeing God as he really is doesn’t help us to “win” at life, as the culture defines winning.
Winning in Christianity doesn’t mean making lots of money, or being famous, or winning human competitions, or being approved of by lots of people. Winning for a Christian might involve things like building relationships with people and leading them to know that God exists and who Jesus is. That has no cash value, and it’s not going to make you famous. Actually, it will probably cost you money and time, and make you unpopular with a lot of people.
The Bible doesn’t promise that people who become Christians will be happier. Actually, it promises that Christians will suffer for doing the right things. Their autonomy will suffer, as they sacrifice their own interests and happiness in order to make God happy, by serving his interests. Christianity isn’t something you add on to your before-God life in order to achieve your before-God goals. When you become a Christian, you get a new set of goals, based on God’s character and his design for you. And although you might be very successful in the world as part of serving God, there is no guarantee of that. Christianity is not life enhancement.
An editorial by Arthur Brooks appeared today in the leftist New York Times. His topic is the shift from optimism to envy, why it is happening, and whether envy makes us happier than optimism.
Excerpt: (links removed)
The Irish singer Bono once described a difference between America and his native land. “In the United States,” he explained, “you look at the guy that lives in the mansion on the hill, and you think, you know, one day, if I work really hard, I could live in that mansion. In Ireland, people look up at the guy in the mansion on the hill and go, one day, I’m going to get that bastard.”
[…]Unsurprisingly, psychologists have found that envy pushes down life satisfaction and depresses well-being. Envy is positively correlated with depression and neuroticism, and the hostility it breeds may actually make us sick. Recent work suggests that envy can help explain our complicated relationship with social media: it often leads to destructive “social comparison,” which decreases happiness. To understand this, just picture yourself scrolling through your ex’s wedding photos.
My own data analysis confirms a strong link between economic envy and unhappiness. In 2008, Gallup asked a large sample of Americans whether they were “angry that others have more than they deserve.” People who strongly disagreed with that statement — who were not envious, in other words — were almost five times more likely to say they were “very happy” about their lives than people who strongly agreed. Even after I controlled for income, education, age, family status, religion and politics, this pattern persisted.
It’s safe to conclude that a national shift toward envy would be toxic for American culture.
Unfortunately, in the wake of the Great Recession, such a shift may well be underway, given the increasing anxiety about income inequality and rising sympathy for income redistribution. According to data from the General Social Survey, the percentage of Americans who feel strongly that “government ought to reduce the income differences between the rich and the poor” is at its highest since the 1970s. In January, 43 percent of Americans told the Pew Research Center that government should do “a lot” to “reduce the gap between the rich and everyone else.”
Why the shift? The root cause of increasing envy is a belief that opportunity is in decline. According to a 2007 poll on inequality and civic engagement by the Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Syracuse University, just 30 percent of people who believe that everyone has the opportunity to succeed describe income inequality as “a serious problem.” But among people who feel that “only some” Americans have a shot at success, fully 70 percent say inequality is a major concern.
People who believe that hard work brings success do not begrudge others their prosperity. But if the game looks rigged, envy and a desire for redistribution will follow.
This is the direction we’re heading. According to Pew, the percentage of Americans who feel that “most people who want to get ahead” can do so through hard work has dropped by 14 points since about 2000. As recently as 2007, Gallup found that 70 percent were satisfied with their opportunities to get ahead by working hard; only 29 percent were dissatisfied. Today, that gap has shrunk to 54 percent satisfied, and 45 percent dissatisfied. In just a few years, we have gone from seeing our economy as a real meritocracy to viewing it as something closer to a coin flip.
There is a good lesson in this for people who want what is best for the poor. Simply receiving money from others is not going to make poor people happy. What we need to focus on is providing the poorest people with opportunities.
One way to help the poor is by giving poor children a better education. Conservatives support school choice, which takes money away from government and puts it back in the hands of parents, letting them choose the best school for their child. Schools have to produce good outcomes in order to earn the money, just like private businesses have to compete for customers. But Democrats oppose school choice, as when they killed the D.C. voucher program that helped poor black students. Less school choice helps public schools to be insulated from competition, which provides worse outcomes to students, especially poor minority students. If we really cared about poor, minority students, we would put pressure on public schools to compete with private schools. But the Democrats don’t want that, they prefer to give favors to their teacher union allies.
Democrats also want to punish job creators with high taxes and burdensome regulations. Democrats passed Obamacare, which punishes businesses with taxes if they allow part-time workers to work for more than 30 hours a week. Many jobs were lost because of this, and many people are now struggling to pay higher premiums for plans with higher deductibles and co-pays. Obamacare is a nightmare of intrusive regulations, too. Now the Democrats are talking about raising the minimum wage, which is going to put even more pressure on employers to lay off workers, because they can’t afford to pay them more money for the same work. For Democrats, this is all to the good, though. Because if the poor don’t have jobs, or can’t work enough hours, they start to see the economic game as “rigged” and they are more responsive to “envy rhetoric”. They start to look to big government for handouts, rather than trying to prevent the government from taxing and regulating job creators.
What we need to see is that it’s not the Democrats’ objective to help people find jobs. They gain when people become more envious, like in European countries, and start to vote to grow the size and power of government to redistribute wealth. Speeches about income inequality never have the goal of giving people jobs. None of Obama’s policies aim to do that. That’s why he won’t build the Keystone XL pipeline, or boost domestic energy development here at home. Instead, they want to extend unemployment benefits and pass the costs on to the next generation. Their goal is to get you unemployed or on disability or on welfare, so that you will vote for the government to continue to take your neighbor’s money to give it to you. That manufactured envy is what keeps the Democrats in power.
This plan to borrow from young people to buy the votes of old people today works for a while, until the money runs out. But by then, the politicians who put in place the redistribution programs are usually long gone .
Earned success means defining your future as you see fit and achieving that success on the basis of merit and hard work. It allows you to measure your life’s “profit” however you want, be it in money, making beautiful music, or helping people learn English. Earned success is at the root of American exceptionalism.
The link between earned success and life satisfaction is well established by researchers. The University of Chicago’s General Social Survey, for example, reveals that people who say they feel “very successful” or “completely successful” in their work lives are twice as likely to say they are very happy than people who feel “somewhat successful.” It doesn’t matter if they earn more or less income; the differences persist.
The opposite of earned success is “learned helplessness,” a term coined by Martin Seligman, the eminent psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania. It refers to what happens if rewards and punishments are not tied to merit: People simply give up and stop trying to succeed.
During experiments, Mr. Seligman observed that when people realized they were powerless to influence their circumstances, they would become depressed and had difficulty performing even ordinary tasks. In an interview in the New York Times, Mr. Seligman said: “We found that even when good things occurred that weren’t earned, like nickels coming out of slot machines, it did not increase people’s well-being. It produced helplessness. People gave up and became passive.”
Learned helplessness was what my wife and I observed then, and still do today, in social-democratic Spain. The recession, rigid labor markets, and excessive welfare spending have pushed unemployment to 24.4%, with youth joblessness over 50%. Nearly half of adults under 35 live with their parents. Unable to earn their success, Spaniards fight to keep unearned government benefits.
Meanwhile, their collective happiness—already relatively low—has withered. According to the nonprofit World Values Survey, 20% of Spaniards said they were “very happy” about their lives in 1981. This fell to 14% by 2007, even before the economic downturn.
That trajectory should be a cautionary tale to Americans who are watching the U.S. government careen toward a system that is every bit as socially democratic as Spain’s.
Government spending as a percentage of GDP in America is about 36%—roughly the same as in Spain. The Congressional Budget Office tells us it will reach 50% by 2038. The Tax Foundation reports that almost 70% of Americans take more out of the tax system than they pay into it. Meanwhile, politicians foment social division on the basis of income inequality, instead of attempting to improve mobility and opportunity through education reform, pro-growth policies, and an entrepreneur-friendly economy.
These trends do not mean we are doomed to repeat Spain’s unhappy fate. But our system of earned success will not defend itself.
How do we make government promote “earned success” over dependency on welfare?
Investors Business Daily reports on one state that decided to encourage people to get off of welfare, and to get back to work.
The number of childless, able-bodied adult food stamp recipients in a New England state fell by 80% over the course of a few months. This didn’t require magic, just common sense.
From December 2014 to March 2015, the caseload of able-bodied Maine adults with no dependents crashed from 13,332 recipients to 2,678, says the Heritage Foundation. This is a remarkable change and needs to be repeated in government programs across the country.
How Maine achieved this is no mystery. Gov. Paul LePage simply established work requirements for food stamp recipients who have no dependents and are able enough to be employed. They must, write Heritage policy analysts Robert Rector and Rachel Sheffield, “take a job” — just 20 hours a week — “participate in training, or perform community service” for a mere 24 hours a week. Recipients who do none of those are stripped of their food stamp benefits after three months.
This isn’t a radical new idea. Rector and Sheffield cite a successful historical precedent:
“When work requirements were established in the Aid to Families with Dependent Children (AFDC) program in the 1990s, nationwide caseloads dropped by almost as much, albeit over a few years rather than a few months.”
In the Obama era, “the food stamp caseload of adults without dependents who are able-bodied has more than doubled nationally, swelling from nearly 2 million recipients in 2008 to around 5 million today” across the country, Rector and Sheffield report. That’s far too many Americans who can take care of themselves living at the expense of others. The situation cries out for reform.
The Heritage report says that if the Maine policy were repeated nationally, and the caseload dropped “at the same rate it did in Maine (which is very likely), taxpayer savings would be over $8.4 billion per year.”
“Further reforms could bring the savings to $9.7 billion per year: around $100 per year for every individual currently paying federal income tax.”
[…]The success in Maine is but a blip, affecting only a thin slice of the nation’s welfare rolls. Yet it is a model, a prototype for reforming welfare programs in need of change or elimination, which is all of them. Policymakers at all levels should be rushing to adopt it, then adapt it.
Now, do you think that the governor of Maine is a Republican, or a Democrat? Republicans want people to be independent of government, and productive, because that makes them more free. Democrats want people to be unproductive and dependent, because that makes them easier to control.
I’m summarizing the most recent episode of the Unbelievable show.
Atheist philosopher Michael Ruse joins Justin as we spend a second week looking at Andy Bannister’s new book ‘The atheist who didn’t exist’.
Its amusingly titled chapters include ‘The Peculiar Case of the Postmodern Penguin (or: Why Life without God is Meaningless). Michael and Andy debate whether it’s a problem that atheists can’t have meaning with a ‘capital M’.
Here is a summary of the discussion between Ruse and Bannister, and my comments below the summary.
Ruse: ultimate questions are serious questions, and some religions are attempting to provide serious answers to those questions
Ruse: there is a psychological element to belief in God but it’s not a complete explanation, but it can apply to non-belief as well
Bannister: there are psychological reasons why people would prefer unbelief (quotes Thomas Nagel and Aldous Huxley)
Bannister: (to Ruse) what do you think would follow next if you got new information that caused you to believe in God?
Ruse: I’d feel scared, I’d think of all the reasons that God would dislike me, rather than any reasons why God would save me
Bannister: according to the Bible, God is not so much interested in mere belief, but in active trust in him
Ruse: without being smug, I just completed 50 years as a college professor of philosophy, and I have a sense of worth from that
Ruse: if God turns up, and says that 50 years of being a professor is not good enough, well, I don’t know God, I’m sorry, I did my best
Brierley: Andy, explain to us this story of how a penguin explained to you how he invented a subjective meaning in life for himself?
Brierley: (reads the story)
Bannister: when it comes to reading a book, the real meaning is the meaning the author intended the book to have
Bannister: readers can inject their own meaning into the book that has nothing to do with it, but the author gives the real meaning
Bannister: meaning in life is like reading a book – you can make up your own meaning, but the author’s meaning is the real meaning
Brierley: (to Ruse) on atheism, is there any objective meaning?
Ruse: “obviously, someone like myself cannot have meaning with a capital M in that sense”
Ruse: the real question is and atheist can find a sense of self-worth, “I find that I’m happier within myself, I can find meaning”
Bannister: what would you say to someone who drinks away the family inheritance and gets the same sense of happiness you have?
Bannister: what would you say to all the people who are unable to get “a sense of self-worth” from their career, because of where they are born, sickness, etc.
Ruse: I have nothing to offer them, some people are born into such awful situations that they are bound to be bad people
Ruse: these unfair accidents of birth, etc., fits with atheism better
Ruse: what we should do is change society so that more people can build a sense of self-worth through achievements
Ruse: that way, they can say to God “I used my talents” so they can create feelings of self-worth and happiness (apart from God)
Bannister: meaning in life cannot be answered without answering questions related to identity, value, which are rooted in the overall worldview
Bannister: on the Christian worldview, you have an infinite worth, your value isn’t determined by circumstances, earnings, friends, etc.
Bannister: your value comes from what Jesus was willing to pay to save you, namely, giving his own life for you
Bannister: when I travel to meet other Christians in other parts of the world, they have a happiness that should not be there if they are getting happiness from wealth, fame, achievements, etc.
Bannister: but when you come to the West, many people who have wealth, fame, achievement, etc. are unhappy
Ruse: well maybe who look after a flock of sheep every day may get a sense of self-worth from that, or from other jobs
Ruse: I do take Christianity very seriously, it is a grown-up proposal to answer grown-up questions – it works if it is true
Ruse: we don’t have to follow Nietzche’s statement that if there is no God, there is no meaning in life – we can find a middle way, we can achieve meaning in life by using our talents to achieve things
Bannister: I disagree with Michael, I don’t think that the meaning you invent for yourself is authentic meaning
Bannister: distracting yourself with amusing things and happiness is not an answer to the problem
Brierley: (to Ruse) are you saying that you have searched for ultimate meaning, and you are settling for subjective meaning?
Ruse: my subjective meaning is not second class to objective meaning, “I feel a real deep sense of achievement, of meaning, of self-worth, of having used my talents properly, and I don’t feel in any sense a sense of regret” (what matters to him is how he feels)
Bannister: notice how Michael keeps bringing in value judgments. e.g. – “use my talents well”, that implies that there is a right way and a wrong to use your talents, which assumes an objective scale of right and wrong, which makes no sense in atheism
Bannister: an atheist can sit in a sun room and enjoy the feelings of happiness generated by the light and heat of the Sun, without asking whether there is a Sun out there
Bannister: ultimately, at the end of the day, my concern is not whether something makes me happy or makes me feel fulfilled
Bannister: ultimately, at the end of the day, I think there is only one real reason to wrestle with these questions of meaning, and that is to find truth
Ruse: sometimes we reach a point where we cannot get to true answers to some questions, sometimes we look for truth, but then give up and confess “I cannot find it” and then move on from there
Is it possible to dispense with God’s advice on your decision-making and achieve something that affects a lot of people, or makes people like you, or makes you famous, etc., and then have that please God? “Look, God, I did something I liked that affected a lot of people, and made them feel happy as they were on their way to Hell because they rejected you”. Will rap musicians answer God by pointing to 50 years of leading people away from chastity with godless music? A lot of people went to see the “NWA” movie that celebrated musicians who have an anti-Christian view of women and violence. Can NWA present their “artistic work” to God and claim that God should be pleased with their successful efforts to get rich and famous? Having feelings of achievement doesn’t mean anything to God.
So what is the standard? How you imitate Jesus – self-control, self-denial and self-sacrifice to honor God – that is the standard. If I had to choose between giving up two hours of my life to summarize this discussion for my readers, and all the fame and fortune that people who make godless TV shows, movies and music have, I would choose to make this debate summary. My goal in life is not to have fun, thrills, travel and feel happy in this world. I have a Boss. Doing without fun, thrills, travel and happy feelings in order to put points on the board for my Boss is objectively meaningful. It’s may not seem like much compared to what James Bond does in million-dollar movies, but at least I am wearing the right uniform, and playing for the right team.
I was telling Dina recently, isn’t it remarkable how rarely in our culture that people actually talk about the big questions? If you look out at the culture, everything seems to be about feeling good, having fun, being liked by others. Not much about ultimate questions, and certainly not a truth-based assessment of the alternatives. .
The happiest parents are—drumroll, please—parents with four or more kids.
Parents of large families were found to have the most life satisfaction, according to a study by Australia’s Edith Cowan University. Dr. Bronwyn Harman, of the psychology and social science school at the university, spent five years studying what types of families are most content.
“[The parents] usually say they always wanted a large family, it was planned that way, and it was a lifestyle they’d chosen,” Harman told The Sydney Morning Herald.
During her five-year study, Harman interviewed hundreds of parents from different family makeups. Her findings are based on resilience, social support, self-esteem, and life satisfaction.
Her research points out that parental happiness relates to how much effort has been put into growing the family.
“What is important for kids are things like consistency, boundaries and [to] know that they are loved, no matter what,” Harman tells ABC Australia.
Prior to the study, Harman thought parents with more children would be less happy.
Though larger families may have more chaos and expenses than a smaller family, Harman’s research shows that these issues are balanced by the amount of joy received from having more children.
Her findings show that children who grow up in large families learn independence at a young age and always have someone to play with.
Now, happiness of the parents may not be the main goal of a relationship, but it definitely helps the spouses to apply themselves to the real main goal of serving God. You can’t get miserable people to achieve anything for God, and you have to be serious about what people need in order to feel happy, so that they will be able to engage.
So, I’ve always planned for have four children in my decisions about education, career, etc. I often get a lot of flak from a few single women who wanted to delay marriage, and/or not have so many children. I am glad to see this study, because it’s a confirmation of the idea that more children makes for a happier family. I’m not trying to rush into marriage and four children for no reason, but because this is what makes people happiest in the long run. It makes for a better environment for achieving other things for God.
I think people tend to worry a lot about having kids, and that’s because having kids is expensive. But that can easily be planned out if you earn and save to prepare. My plan was to raise the kids in the country and have a capable homeschooling mom teach them and build their resumes up. Having lots of kids is not a problem if you take care of the money requirement, and don’t let them be spoiled all the time. Sometimes, they will just have to be patient and do things on their own and not be the center of attention. That’s probably good for them in any case.