As soon as I read the title of this essay, I was excited to read its contents. Happiness can be one of the most abusive terms in America. I can honestly say that from my experience, I might conclude that people in America think they are entitled to happiness. Entitlement is so pervasive, especially where I grew up-- "I deserve a car, I deserve to go to this school, I deserve an A." This entitlement idea starts from the cradle-- many parents go to extensive lengths to make sure their child gets whatever he or she wants, because they "deserve" it.
Lewis brings up a discussion over a man leaving his wife for another woman. Lewis' acquaintance then spoke these words, "They had a right to happiness." He then analyzed Clare's statement, "She meant that he had not only a legal but a moral right to act as if he did." Thus, her statement reflects belief in a Natural Law. Yet, as Lewis rightly points out, happiness is not promised using any and every means. For instance, if a man was not happy with his wife, most people (I hope) would say that nevertheless, he has no right to kill her. Then the issue is, "What methods of pursuing happiness are either morally permissible by the Law of Nature or should be declared legally permissible by the legislature of a particular nation?" I agree with Lewis' assertion that people do not have the unlimited right to happiness. Also, Clare's use of happiness really is 'sexual happiness' in this sense, but she would never condone alcoholic behavior or violence due to happiness. Although Lewis discusses the "open-minded" people who want to have sex treated "as we treat all our other impulses," Lewis later discovered "that they meant exactly the opposite. They meant that sex was to be treated as no other impulse in our nature has ever been treated by civilized people." As for other impulses, Lewis said that "absolute obedience to your instinct for self-preservation is what we call cowardice." He then gave this interesting example, "It is like having a morality in which stealing fruit is considered wrong-- unless you steal nectarines."
I find this idea very interesting, having grown up in a world full of divorce, adultery, and homosexuality. Our society is departing farther and farther from morality concerning sexuality. I have to admit that at times (too much) I read tabloids, and "til death do us part" lasts about two years in Hollywood. Almost always the reason for divorce is because one of the partners found someone "better," only to get divorced again a few years later. Then, in Christian circles, the debate over homosexuality has gotten intense, even within Christian denominations. Do two same-sex people have the right to live together or even marry because that is what makes them "happy?" Where does it stop? As Lewis says, "It seems to me impossible that the matter should stay there. The fatal principle, once allowed in that department, must sooner or later seep through our whole lives."
The issue I have is, "Where is the line drawn?" I know different attitudes Christians have about staying in marriages. One woman I know was horribly miserable in a bad, abusive relationship for 20 years but she refused to leave him because she was a Christian and stuck to her marriage vows. Then another woman is completely miserable in her marriage but will stay in it because "eternity is a lot longer than just these few years on Earth." Whereas certain Christians might applaud these "courageous" women, I might raise an eyebrow. Wouldn't God also want us to get out of bad situations if possible? If a woman is being abused, should she stay true to her wedding vows? Where is the line? Are some Christians choosing misery when God in fact wants them to be happy? I agree with Lewis, but at the same time, I can see the other extreme, that people can almost deny themselves pleasures in an obscured asceticism when God wants them to enjoy His creation by being liberated from certain trials.
Despite this caution, I find Lewis' point to be important today, especially with his particular concern toward the tendency to desire 'sexual happiness.' At UM, where I went before Calvin, the culture is very postmodern, i.e. "Whatever works for you is fine by me." There is almost no sense of morality, and pleasure can be a god. I know so many people who go from drink to drink, party to party, sexual encounter to sexual encounter, believing that they are entitled to happiness, to pleasure, and most of all, they want it now. This destructive thought pattern is so common in society.