The Pursuit of Happiness

The New York times recently published an article about how to tell if you are gay, bisexual, transgender, etc. It included the usual hash of self-contradictory talking points, beginning with the assertion that LGBTQ feelings are completely normal, and then proceeding directly to an all-out attack on the idea that there can be any such thing as “normal” in the realm of sex or gender at all. But buried underneath all the recycled propaganda and bald-faced denials of the most basic facts of life (it’s hard to get more basic than the fact that there are differences between men and women), there was one absolute gem of truth:

“The big question is: ‘Am I happy?’,” he said. “Do I feel good? Do I feel at ease?”

That is indeed the “big question” which undergirds the entire LGBTQ movement. More than that, it is the question which undergirds modernity itself. As the Declaration of Independence would have it, we all possess an unalienable right to “Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness,” and that “to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men.”

What a sadly impoverished view of public life this is! As one person has put it, the social contract is “a replacement of noble patriotism with mercenary calculations of self-interest.”

Be that as it may, the fact remains that enshrining the pursuit of happiness as the fundamental goal of life is a really, really bad idea. And even a secular psychologist like Jordan Peterson can understand and articulate why this is so:

But since the modern world is unquestioningly convinced that happiness is indeed the primary purpose of life, it seems unconscionable to them that Christianity should deny certain people (for example, homosexuals) the possibility of sexual happiness, while allowing that same possibility of sexual happiness to other people (namely heterosexuals). It seems to them totally unfair, and obviously a case of completely arbitrary discrimination. Even one prominent Orthodox hierarch has recently put it thus:

Persons of heterosexual orientation have the option of getting married, and so in a positive way they can fulfill their erotic desire with the Church’s blessing through the God-given sacrament of holy matrimony. But homosexuals have no such option… Are we right to impose this heavy burden on the homosexual?

It is tragic to see the arch-pastors of Christ’s flock forgetting the words of Scripture: “His commandments are not grievous.” But it is even more tragic to see arch-pastors tacitly accepting the modern conviction that human beings are fundamentally meant to be happy in this fallen world, rather than teaching that our life in this world is actually intended to prepare us for the life of the world to come — a world far better and more beautiful than this vain and fleeting life could ever possibly be.

The truth is that authentic Christianity is not at all concerned with making Christians happy in this world. Christ was quite clear about what service to Him would entail: “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross daily, and follow me.” To become a Christian is already to have renounced all worldly pleasure or happiness — whether licit or illicit — and to expect nothing other than persecution, torture, and death for the sake of the love of Christ. We die daily in order to live, beginning here and now, the life of the world to come. And in that world, the only world which really matters, we will “neither marry nor be given in marriage.”

It is as Fr. Seraphim Rose once wrote:

Christianity in its fullness is not better, but much ‘worse’ (from their point of view) than [worldly people] might have thought it: more of a scandal and insult to the ‘wisdom’ and instincts of this world, less compromising and more intolerant… where the living Truth is involved.

And as for the accusation of arbitrariness in restricting licit sexual intercourse to heterosexuals: such an accusation rests upon the presupposition that the purpose of sexual intercourse is to produce pleasure. But the true Christian teaching (and indeed, the teaching of the entire order of nature) is that the purpose of sexual intercourse is to produce children.

And while the raising of children is indeed a high calling, nevertheless those of us (including us monastics!) to whom that path is closed have not fundamentally suffered a deprivation. Rather, we have been offered instead an opportunity for something even greater: a life wholly dedicated to the Lord. As St. Paul wrote: “I want you to be without care. He who is unmarried cares for the things of the Lord—how he may please the Lord. But he who is married cares about the things of the world—how he may please his wife.”

The unpleasant truth is that mere worldly happiness far more often than not turns out to be a hindrance on our path to salvation. How easily we become satisfied with trivialities, forsaking the nobility of our high calling in Christ! And how quickly we forget the words of our Savior: “Blessed are ye that weep now… Woe unto you that laugh now.” As St. Isaac the Syrian famously wrote: “This life has been given to you for repentance. Do not waste it in vain pursuits.”

Because the true goal of a Christian in life is not anything so cheap or shallow as mere happiness. The true goal of a Christian is nothing less than to become a god by grace, to become filled to overflowing with divine love and divine life. The true goal of a Christian is not to suffer less, but to suffer more: to suffer as Christ suffered, to suffer out of love for God and out of love for each and every person in this fallen world. As Archimandrite Vasileios of Iveron once said: “Love is not sentimentality, but sacrifice.”

It is not possible to become a Christian in any other way than by ascending the Cross. It is only while hanging on the Cross that we will discover what it truly means to love and to be loved. And that is the only goal in life which is really worth anything.

Many spirits are abroad in the world, and the credentials they display are splendid gifts of mind, learning, and of talent. Christian, look carefully. Ask for the print of the nails.

-St. Justin the Philosopher


  1. You are a little bit wrong, dear father Habriel. You have written, that sexual intercourse is just for producing children. But it isn’t so. Apostol Paul considered marriage like way of life for christians who couldn’t be abstainful. He looked on it like on cure of fornication. In book “The song of songs” depicted sensualitty love. And this book one of canonic books. And it means that producing of children isn’t main goal of marriage. It’s important, but isn’t main. St. Paul prohibited “desires” (more exactly – willing of something, which go beyond on nessecities of human), but it a littlle bit another on relation to sexual act.
    I could make mistakes because of I’m not native speaker.

    1. Dear Father, Christ is in our midst!

      I ask forgiveness if I gave the impression that the sole purpose of marriage is to produce children. Indeed, marriage is about more than that (though it certainly includes it, as testified to by the commandment to multiply and bear fruit). However, in regards to sexual intercourse itself, while it also has other purposes as you mentioned, according to universal witness of the Holy Fathers it is inextricable from procreation. This is why they unanimously forbade contraception in any form. And the consequence of our society’s dissociation of the two has led us to the idea that sex is basically for making us feel pleasure, which’s what I was trying to deny in this article. It has also led directly to the legitimization of gay marriage, as I argued in another article.

      So I agree with you Father, that sexual intercourse within marriage is a cure for fornication. But this cure inextricably involves also the procreation of children, as nature itself taught us before we took it upon ourselves to do violence to the natural order with our technology. That was my main point, and as I said, I ask forgiveness if rhetorically I went too far in trying to make it. Pray for me.

      1. He is and he will be (usually we answer so, maybe it sounds another in your language)! Thank you for you answer. I agree with you, and I have understood main point of your article. Maybe in your country more important to stay accent on this statement (about inextribility of s. act and producing of children), but in our country sometimes it’s understood unproperly. In my teenage and period of choice between monastic life and marriage I couldn’t find health source of teaching about marriage and thought, that s. act just for producing of children. From my side in my former commentary I wished to underline, that s. act itself not just for procreation. It’s grade of excellence in marriage, but not everybody may bear it. It’s really inextricable, but a one may exist without another in some cases (for example, in infertiles couples). Point of view from my teenage, in that case, forbids them to have legitimate act. Present point of view allows it.
        There is an article about contraception in “The basics of social concept of Russian orthodox church”. Over there a contraception is laid on consience of marrieds in exceptional cases. I can show two examples: disabled children and women after caesarian operation. In first case, parents should pay more attention to such child, in second – It isn’t recomended for women to become pregnant after this operation during 3 years. It’s dangerous for her, because her womb might be teared after unhealed cut.
        It’s so gladly to read words, filled by christian love. Pray for me too, please! Crist is really in our midst!

        1. For exceptional cases such as you mentioned, I will be the first to say such should be handled with pastoral care by a capable spiritual father, not articles on the internet! I believe the Social Concept also directs such cases to the father confessor, if I am not mistaken.

          Such articles as mine are meant to address widespread misunderstandings about basic Christian teachings and attitudes, not to attempt universal answers to difficult questions even the Holy Fathers did not always agree on…

          Thank you for your prayers Father, you are in mine as well!

Leave a Reply