Tuesday, December 20, 2011

David Marshall: "The Pursuit of Happiness"

For my write-up today on David Marshall’s Jesus and the Religions of Man, I’ll blog about Chapter 8, “The Pursuit of Happiness”. But I will also bring up things that Marshall has said elsewhere in this book. Unfortunately, I can’t find every reference, so I will be going with my memory a lot, and I apologize for any inaccuracies.

Marshall’s essential argument in this chapter is that believing in Christianity can make people happy. And he contrasts Christianity with Eastern religions, which he does not think can make people truly happy. For Marshall, a key ingredient to happiness is service to others, but Eastern religions have concepts that tend to go against that. They either present all as God or as one, which merges everything into a blur and is different from the Christian obligation to help and to love the other, even those who are different from us. But Eastern religions also have an inward rather than an outward focus, even if practitioners believe that their solitary acts are somehow contributing to the larger stream of life. Marshall also notes a tendency in some Eastern religions to try to kill emotions: to become desire-less in order to avoid disappointment. But Marshall believes that Christianity offers a better way: “Christianity also tells us not to ‘brood’ over results, but to do our best and leave the results in God’s hands” (page 177).

That’s my summary, and Marshall’s actual presentation has more detail and nuance, as he draws from his knowledge and experience of Eastern religions and their practitioners. I can identify with his critiques, on some level. What I like about Buddhism, though, is that it exhorts us to make peace (albeit a cynical peace) with life as it is, with all of its changes and ups and downs, whereas I feel that Christianity pressures me to be happy (“rejoice”) and makes me feel less if I am not happy. Moreover, I wonder if certain Eastern beliefs that Marshall discusses can be taken in a positive direction. The view that all is one or God and the attempt to see our differences as mere illusions can actually be conducive to love, for, in many cases, my dislike of others is based at least partially on differences or divisions between us. Marshall himself, in parts of this book, stresses that we all have certain commonalities, for he says that we’re all in need of forgiveness and we all put our pants on one leg at a time. But, overall, while I believe that Eastern religions offer a lot of wisdom, I find that I need a personal God to ameliorate my loneliness in this world.

I’ve talked before on this blog about how the Bible and Christianity have concepts that may not be conducive to happiness, such as hell. Marshall actually touches on that point in this chapter, for he refers to a lady who felt guilt because she believed that her friends and relatives were in hell. Marshall is clear that she is mis-applying the Christian faith, in that case, and that she should not blame herself. In my opinion, however, whether or not she should blame herself, the doctrine that people go to hell for not believing or behaving in a certain way can still put one’s mind in a tailspin. I know people who are not Christians. Sure, if it turns out that Christianity is true and they end up in hell, that may not be my fault. But it still stinks that God has an economy in which they will go to hell and suffer forever! I hope that universalism is true: that hell is a place of temporary discipline, chastisement, and education rather than a place of eternal torture.

4 comments:

  1. Since it's all a matter of interpretation anyway, believe and accept those concepts that make the most sense to you and offer the most peace. If anyone doesn't like that, tell them to "go to hell"!

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  2. With all my Chinese relatives, the notes on the Eastern religions always bring in a disconnect. I had listened to several lectures on this subject recently from a western professor that reinforced this. The only thing I have ever heard prayed for by Buddhists is health, wealth and good grades. i.e. the prosperity gospel on steroids.

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  3. That's interesting. I think Marshall actually does go into some of that, but I forgot it as I was trying to synethesize what he was saying.

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