We Have No “Right to Happiness”…C.S. Lewis

happiness quote

“After all,” said Clare, “they had a right to happiness.” We were discussing something that once happened in our own neighborhood. Mr. A., had deserted Mrs. A. and got his divorce in order to marry Mrs. B., who had likewise got her divorce in order to marry Mr. A. And there was certainly no doubt that Mr. A. and Mrs. B were very much in love with one another. If they continued to be in love, and if nothing went wrong with their health or their income, they might reasonably expect to be very happy. It was equally clear that they were not happy with their old partners.

C.S. Lewis

The quote by Thoreau actually sums up the great Christian paradox of which Jesus so often spoke:  “If any man would save his life he must lose it.” And then again He says that when we stop chasing the object and begin chasing the object-Giver, we find it.  “Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.”

These are some general thoughts to a fantastic essay I read by C.S. Lewis on the tragic, societal blunder of thinking we deserve happiness at any cost, specifically in marriage.  Please read his excerpts below–it’s not really as long as it looks.   It’s so full of “right-thinking”!  How often do we we shuffle along behind the accepted thought of our day, giving little regard to its consequences, never stopping to check our position for accuracy and truth?  I had a couple of slapping-forehead-moments myself.

“But I deserve to be happy” is the most common reason given for leaving a spouse, even if it’s never verbalized.   It’s almost a universally accepted proclamation….one that brings destruction to individuals and ultimately to a whole civilization.  (Morality is not an individual matter; society comprises individuals.)

“I went away thinking about the concept of a “right to happiness.”

At first this sounds to me as odd as a right to good luck. For I believe–whatever one school of moralists may say—that we depend for a very great deal of our happiness or misery on circumstances outside all human control. A right to happiness doesn’t, for me, make much more sense than a right to be six feet tall, or to have a millionaire for your father, or to get good weather whenever you want to have a picnic….

The real situation is skillfully concealed by saying that the question of Mr. A.’s “right” to desert his wife is one of “sexual morality.” Robbing an orchard is not an offense against some special morality called “fruit morality.” It is an offense against honesty. Mr. A.’s action is an offense against good faith (to solemn promises), against gratitude (toward one to whom he was deeply indebted) and against common humanity. (Emphasis mine.)

Our sexual impulses are thus being put in a position of preposterous privilege. The sexual motive is taken to condone all sorts of behavior which, if it had any other end in view, would be condemned as merciless, treacherous and unjust….

When I was a youngster, all the progressive people were saying, “Why all this prudery? Let us treat sex just as we treat all our other impulses.” I was simple-minded enough to believe they meant what they said. I have since 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. All the others, we admit, have to be bridled. Absolute obedience to your instinct for self-preservation is what we call cowardice; to your acquisitive impulse, avarice. Even sleep must be resisted if you’re a sentry. But every unkindness and breach of faith seems to be condoned provided that the object aimed at is “four bare legs in a bed.”

It is like having a morality in which stealing fruit is considered wrong—unless you steal nectarines.

And if you protest against this view you are usually met with chatter about the legitimacy and beauty and sanctity of “sex” and accused of harboring some Puritan prejudice against it as something disreputable or shameful….. If I object to boys who steal my nectarines, must I be supposed to disapprove of nectarines in general? Or even of boys in general? It might, you know, be stealing that I disapproved of.

If we establish a “right to (sexual) happiness” which supersedes all the ordinary rules of behavior, we do so not because of what our passion shows itself to be in experience but because of what it professes to be while we are in the grip of it. Hence, while the bad behavior is real and works miseries and degradations, the happiness which was the object of the behavior turns out again and again to be illusory. Everyone (except Mr. A. and Mrs. B.) knows that Mr. A. in a year or so may have the same reason for deserting his new wife as for deserting his old. He will feel again that all is at stake. He will see himself again as the great lover, and his pity for himself will exclude all pity for the woman.

Two further points remain.

One is this. A society in which conjugal infidelity is tolerated must always be in the long run a society adverse to women. Women, whatever a few male songs and satires my say to the contrary, are more naturally monogamous than men; it is a biological necessity. Where promiscuity prevails they will therefore always be more often the victims than the culprits. Also, domestic happiness is more necessary to them than to us. And the quality by which they most easily hold a man, their beauty, decreases every year after they have come to maturity, but this does not happen to those qualities of personality—women don’t really care twopence about our looks—by which we hold women. Thus in the ruthless war of promiscuity women are at a double disadvantage. They play for higher stakes and are also more likely to lose. I have no sympathy with moralists who frown at the increasing crudity of female provocativeness. These signs of desperate competition fill me with pity.

Secondly, though the “right to happiness” is chiefly claimed for the sexual impulse, 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. We thus advance toward a state of society in which not only each man but every impulse in each man claims carte blanche. And then, though our technological skill may help us survive a little longer, our civilization will have died at heart, and will—one dare not even add “unfortunately”—be swept away.

C.S. Lewis

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21 Responses to “We Have No “Right to Happiness”…C.S. Lewis”

  1. I will be linking to this one, Kelly. Disturbing as it is, there is a school of thought among believers (not mormons) that is growing. It’s the idea of Christian polygamy. And as disturbed as I was before, I am even more disturbed as the comments have unfolded and several people have seen this affecting their fellowships and friends.

    Although Lewis is talking about adultery, I think these thoughts can also be applied to that issue as well. Ultimately, it is the elevating of sexuality and its drives above all else. Thanks for this. It is very good.

  2. The comments I referred to are the ones on my blog.

  3. Word Warrior says:

    Terry,

    Yikes…another “new” Christian thought that is jaw-dropping. I wasn’t familiar with that debate! You’re right…Lewis’ summary is so accurate:

    “The fatal principle, once allowed in that department, must sooner or later seep through our whole lives. We thus advance toward a state of society in which not only each man but every impulse in each man claims carte blanche.”

  4. brandy says:

    Very good. I am glad Lewis was able to verbalize my thoughts. 🙂

  5. Mrs. Parunak says:

    I LOVED this. I’d like to read Lewis’s whole essay. What is it called?

  6. Margaret says:

    Amen! Blunt and right on the money.

  7. Word Warrior says:

    Mrs. Parunak,

    The title is the same as his essay. Here’s a link…ironically, I could only find the whole essay on an Islamic site ???

    http://www.sunnipath.com/library/Articles/AR00000268.aspx

  8. Rin says:

    What a true excerpt! Thanks for posting it!

  9. Katherine says:

    Hi Kelly,

    I think that the piece, which comes from one of C.S. Lewis’ anthologies on theology and ethics, isn’t out of copyright yet, which is why it’s not available freely on the Internet.

  10. What a gifted, Godly man Lewis was.

    Excellent!

  11. Kelly L says:

    How true. I just had this discussion with a neighbor. She asked “don’t I have the right to be happy?” Speaking on this very same subject. I replied she did not. She had the right to fulfill her obligations that she willingly enjoined. She had a right to put her kids real needs above her perceived needs. She had the right to follow what God says. I said it lovingly (the first 3 times), but then had to say it more forthrightly. This thinking is pervasive and will stay that way unless we speak out against it as Kelly(WW) has. Not just nod because feelings might be hurt and later go home and bemoan the state of our society. We cause the state of our society, not just the “heathen.” Sorry if this is rant like, I feel like I am in a warrior season…LOL

  12. Word Warrior says:

    Kelly,

    “Sorry if this is rant like, I feel like I am in a warrior season…LOL”

    That great news! I heard a fantastic sermon that put me in one too…gotta turn it into a post.

  13. Kim M. says:

    Thanks for posting this! And keep preaching it sister!

  14. Tricia says:

    That said (I don’t know it it’ll be posted or not), there’s a lot of truth in the C.S. Lewis excerpt.

  15. Tricia says:

    Oops. Maybe I forgot to send my first comment? Just in case, here it is:
    Since we are not here just to be in a bubble with other like-minded Christians, but to be examples of the love and truth of Jesus to those who believe AND to those who do not, I think there’s one element that may be missing in this converstion.

    I believe the Bible is the Word of God; I try to live it in my daily thoughts, life, and actions. I also share His love and Truth verbally with others. But let us remember that if we are to be true example of His love and Truth, and thus win some who do not yet believe or know Him personally (and maybe never will, or maybe will—who are we to know that?), I believe we should deliver these in a loving way. And one thing that can stand in the way of a loving presentation is self-righteousness, to which most of us who strongly believe in anything (Christians, humanists, secularists, etc. alike) are prone.

    Even a person who reviles God was created in His image and likeness, and Jesus loves that person. So if I show sincere love and humility (which is very akin to love) when I share my views with him or her, then I’m closer to being like Jesus and more likely to have either successfully planted a seed which may later come to fruition in his life, or watered one which someone else (or Jesus Himself!) planted earlier.

    Please, my intention is not to criticize here, but to add what I think is a vital element to the dialogue.

  16. Kelly L says:

    Tricia,
    A strong agreed from me. Christ did everything in love, even when He overthrew tables in the temple, or called the Pharisees a brood of vipers. The best way for me to avoid self-righteousness is remember what I’ve done. Not in a woe is me way, but in a Christ still died for me when I stunk, He still died for so and so. To see them through the eyes of Christ is to see them as a crumpled ball in the corner crying out for Daddy they do not yet know. How imperative to be the lights that lead them home. And you didn’t sound critical at all, I think.

  17. Tricia says:

    Thank you, Kelly. That’s encouraging.

  18. Jennifer says:

    Kelly, this is brilliant!!! Lewis was a genuis. Your writing is splendid too and thank you for sharing wisdom, yours and others’! What a man, Lewis.

  19. Word Warrior says:

    Thanks, Jennifer 😉 He is quite a genius.

  20. TYREESE FOCIKEN says:

    SMOKE CRACK ERRY DAY

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