Thinking Out Loud

January 23, 2016

It’s Snowing

On New Year's Day 2009, Ippswich in Australia was expecting a high of +38C, which is about 100F. Meanwhile, back at home, my Weather Network indicator on my computer is showing that we’re heading to a low of -18C, which is about -1F. Their high temperature on a summer mid-afternoon Thursday would be occurring at the same time as my Wednesday mid-winter night. That's 101 degrees F difference. That day I was asking, "Are we even on the same planet?"

101 Degrees of Separation: On New Year’s Day 2009, Ippswich in Australia was expecting a high of +38C, which is about 100F. Meanwhile, back at home, my Weather Network indicator on my computer was showing that we were heading to a low of -18C, which is about -1F. The Aussies high temperature on a summer mid-afternoon Thursday would be occurring at the same time as my Wednesday mid-winter night. That’s 101 Fahrenheit degrees difference. That day I was asking, “Are we even on the same planet?”

A big shout-out to all of you trapped inside today by the blizzard.

Snow is something I know a little about.

I live in Canada. It snows here. But not always. And lately, not as severe as what parts of the U.S. have seen in recent years.

We drive carefully. I don’t have winter tires. I can’t afford to have one set of tires on the road let alone two. My wife’s car — my old one — has no anti-lock braking system. So we drive carefully.

When it does snow we don’t have a run on groceries, or snow shovels, or whatever it is that causes American grocery and hardware stores to be stripped bare. We already have food in the pantry. We already own shovels. Full disclosure, your average Canadian Home Depot is most likely to see a small run on rock salt in the event of an ice storm, or generators if the forecast is severe. But nothing like the inventory ransacking that takes place Stateside.

Mostly we stay home. No family event or business meeting or educational pursuit is worth getting into the type of accidents we see on the ABC or NBC evening news reports. Snow days for the kids. Closures for some retail stores and cancellation of some church meetings. But we don’t have closings or cancellations at anything close to the rate of our neighbors in Buffalo, New York.

I do remember one snowfall.

It was on January 23rd, several years ago.

It was the launch of my concert ministry organization, an outreach on the University of Toronto campus. The snow paralyzed the streets of the city and all of southern Ontario. Several youth groups had committed to attend, but hadn’t bought advance tickets. So we lost our proverbial shirts.

True, some people drove a great distance, and the concert went ahead, and it turned out the guy who drove the farthest was from… well… Buffalo.

“Concert promotion is legalized gambling;” I declared. And for the most part I stayed away from it. But I couldn’t stay away from Christian music. It was having a profound spiritual effect on me personally. And I had to share it with others.

In a little corner of the concert that night was a little concession stand we’d added at the last minute. Cans of soda. Bags of chips. And albums by some of the artists who would shape my life.

The albums grew into its own business. And expanded to include books and Bibles. Which at one point, expanded to include three retail stores.

It’s the same venture which today shapes about half of my work week. The blogs and other writing I do shape the other half.

And I owe it all to a bad snowstorm.

On January 23rd.

cat-can-part-snow

January 14, 2016

Spiritual Ups and Downs

Filed under: Christianity, personal, writing — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:24 am

Spiritual ups and downs

Several days ago I was introduced to someone who is a relatively new Christian. As she told a bit of her story, I felt led to share some things with her.

This is not a new thing, I do this all the time; but in this situation, even as I was hearing myself speak, I sensed an extra measure of authority in my words which is not always there. As an added plus, although I often allude to various scriptures, I found myself quoting passages more verbatim than I normally would.

It was a good discussion and I didn’t mind at all that it left me ten minutes late for our next appointment.

Flash forward about six hours…

I was alone in the house, and it was like I was having some type of gigantic spiritual breakdown. Overwhelmed with a variety of circumstances; frustrated, stressed out and discouraged; I found myself saying, “God, I can’t pray; I just can’t pray anymore.” (Yes, I realize the irony. By crying out to God I was praying. I was conscious of it at the time, too.)

It was just one of those moments — call it a spiritual warfare attack — where the burden of everything going on just seemed too much.

And that’s the end of the story…

…Okay, I realize this isn’t very redemptive, and it runs the opposite of most the Psalms you’ve read. If you read the Psalmist, you know that there is a lot of raw transparency there. But there is always resolution, a moment of ‘Then the Lord heard my cry’ (6:9; 18:6) or ‘Then the Lord answered me’ (34:4; 118:5).

Hey, I’m a writer. I like to tie up the end of the story with a bow. I want to end each blog post with, ‘and they lived happily ever after.’

So it looks like I’ve got the parts in the wrong order, right?

Well, no. Life is after all, a series of ups and downs, not just downs and ups. Each chapter of our lives is connected to the previous and to the next, and so our lives are more like a sine wave. (If you’re spiritually up all the time, I look forward to reading your book. Most people’s lives aren’t like that.)

And God and I were never that far away from each other. I was just at a low point. And alone at home. And probably especially vulnerable to attack after the spiritual high of my earlier conversation. And things did even out after I was through with my spiritual rant.

Can you relate?

 

Here’s a classic from Maranatha Music which came to mind as I wrote this:

December 13, 2015

A Holiday Travel Alert

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:30 am

Many years ago blogger David Fisher introduced me to the poetry of Greg Asimakoupoulos whose work is posted at The Partial Observer. I felt that this poem, posted about ten days ago, would be a welcome addition to the mix here, especially with its provocative title! Send Greg some link love by clicking the title below to read this (and other works) at source.

A Holiday Travel Alert

Lessons from Mary and Joseph’s Flight to Egypt

by Greg Asimakoupoulos
December 4, 2015

The warning system set in place
suggested grave concern.
A terrorist in Israel hatched a plan.
Those leaving home this time of year
would do so at great risk.
The danger posed called for a travel ban.

A dad and mom and infant son
packed for their westbound trek.
They knew they had to make their midnight flight.
Determined to avoid the threat,
they cautiously escaped
advancing in the shadows of moonlight.

That terror cell in Bethlehem
achieved its ruthless plot
exterminating children under two.
With ISIS-like precision,
Herod killed the innocent
while unaware his hoped-for target flew.

And now-as-then the travel risk
this time of year is great.
Young families have good reason for their fear.
The tyranny of terror robs their joy
and steals their peace
because they can’t be sure when death is near.

So as You guided Joseph
on his flight to Egypt land
with Mary and young Jesus in his care,
won’t You dear loving Father
please protect the ones we love
as they travel in a car, by rail or air?

December 10, 2015

When You Start Seeing Ghosts

She walked into my workplace and made very direct eye contact. There was a sign of recognition from her to me, and I did believe she looked familiar. But no name or context appeared as my brain scanned all available memory trying to place her.

She had a wisp of hair in the front that had recently been streaked blonde, contrasting with the light brown tint of the rest of her hair. “Do I know you with a different hair color?” I asked her. It was what I felt was a disarming way of saying, “Do I know you from somewhere?” But isn’t that an overworked pickup line?

I can’t remember with what words she brushed the question aside. She didn’t offer her name, and I didn’t press any further.

The question was a little creepy, I’ll admit. Fortunately, she didn’t bolt for the door, but kept shopping, eventually making a rather large purchase. She looked so familiar, though.

I don’t think I had ever seen her before. Well, not her. I have reached an age where I am seeing ghosts, not in the sense of the spirits of departed people, but the visual twins to people I knew a generation or more ago.

There is a saying that, “When you get older, everything reminds you of something else.” Have I reached that age? That’s scary. Certainly it does seem lately that everybody reminds me of someone I was acquainted with when.

I keep seeing people who are Xerox copies of people from another time and place. The real people in question have aged, but unfortunately, my brain has not been online to receive any updates. The update would consist of seeing the same people as they are now, but that’s not likely to happen.

Before I got married, I drafted an elaborate theory on how there were only 17 facial types, only 17 available sets of eyes, 17 mouth shapes, 17 noses and 17 hair types. I’m not sure how I came up with the number seventeen, but I believe the number of facial types was meant to take into account ethnic variances as well. There was some rather lame comment at the time about most of the seventeen being white Caucasian because the others “all looked alike anyway.” I would not get away with that today, but those were different times. Apologies all round.

Combine this with two available sexes, and you are left with 2,839,714 people; so even within the United States and Canada, you’d be dealing with at least ten identical people. So you don’t have a twin, you have at least nine just within North America if that’s your home.

But the twin thing multiplies when you factor in time. If you have nine look-a-likes now, it’s possible that you also have ten people who are ten years younger than you are right now, who match what you looked like ten years ago. But also that you yourself look exactly ten people did who are — survival assumed — ten years older.

Ghosts. Everywhere. Walking past each other at the beach, at the mall, at church, at the airport…

The worst case is the summer camp we do volunteer work at. The generation of people we knew now has kids of their own, who show up at the same camp. When I look at Sam (real name) I see Tim (real name). He/they is/are not the only example. The generations start to blend in a brain that is reeling as though caught in some grand time travel experiment.

Other adult volunteers at the camp tell me our two boys look like me. I don’t see it. Not at all. I don’t say, “You must be crazy;” but I’m thinking they’re probably stretching the point, or maybe it is just that bad hair days (or weeks; years) run in the family.

Or maybe they’re seeing ghosts.

November 23, 2015

September 3, 2015

Content Not Copyrighted

There is no limit on what can be done for God as long as it doesn’t matter who is getting the earthly credit.

There’s a worship song currently making the rounds that goes, “It’s your breath, in our lungs, so we pour out our praise; pour out our praise…”  To me, the song is a reminder that it’s God who gives us breath, gives us abilities, gives us opportunities and one of the best uses of that is to offer back praise to him.

For the third time in nearly 2,000 posts, this week we got a take-down order at Christianity 201. Yes, it would be nice to have a staff and be able to contact writers in advance and say, “We think your writing would be a great addition to C201 and we’d like to include what you wrote last Tuesday in our gallery of devotional articles.” But I just don’t have that luxury. So we pay the highest compliments to our writers by encouraging our readers to check out their stuff at source, while at the same time archiving it for the many who we know statistically don’t click through. 

The one this week offered some lame excuse about how I was disturbing his Google analytics by publishing his works, and reminded me that he could sue me. Nice attitude, huh?

These days, most of the authors are appearing for the second, third or fourth time, and many write (both on and off the blog) to say how honored they are that we find their material helpful.

I honestly can’t remember the name of the first two authors, but I know one had some recognition in Calvinist circles; so when the lightning struck again this week, I checked out the guy’s Twitter to look for clues and guess what?

That got me thinking about something I wrote here about 16 months ago…

The Bible has a lot to say about the accumulation of wealth and the hoarding of possessions. Probably the classic statement of scripture on the matter is,

NASB Matt. 6:19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal…

or

MSG Matt. 6:19-21 “Don’t hoard treasure down here where it gets eaten by moths and corroded by rust or—worse!—stolen by burglars. Stockpile treasure in heaven, where it’s safe from moth and rust and burglars. It’s obvious, isn’t it? The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.

The Bible doesn’t say, ‘Don’t have any treasure whatsoever.’ True, when Jesus sent his disciples out he told them to travel light, advice that extends through all of life:

NLT Matt. 10:9 “Don’t take any money in your money belts—no gold, silver, or even copper coins. 10 Don’t carry a traveler’s bag with a change of clothes and sandals or even a walking stick.

But in everyday life, the Bibles teaching presuppose you will have a home or a donkey or bread that you may or may not choose to give your neighbor when he comes knocking late at night.

CopyrightThis week it occurred to me that at the time the Bible was written, one thing that we can possess that they didn’t was intellectual property. There was no Copyright Act; no Letters Patent. Did Jesus’ earthly father, Joseph the Carpenter have a special way of doing a table that would cause him great consternation if Murray the Carpenter down the road started copying the idea? You get the feeling that everything was open source.

I think it’s interesting that in the prior verse of Matthew 10, Jesus makes the often-quoted statement, “Freely you have received, now freely give.”

Personally, there’s nothing on this blog that isn’t up for grabs, provided it’s cited properly and quoted properly and being used non-commercially. Like this article? Help yourself. Yes, in the past I have been paid to write and could thereby consider myself a professional writer; but this is only a blog and it’s vital not to get too caught up in your own sense of self-importance; and I say that not out the spirit of someone who is loaded with wealth, but as a person who has had no specific fixed income for 19 years.

I also thought it was interesting that the one person who was so upset about the use of his material on other than his own website was complaining about a particular article that was about 50% scripture quotations. More than 50%, I believe. Oh, the irony. I can just hear Jesus saying, ‘Uh, could you just link to my words in the Bible rather than print them out on your own website?’

That said, I am consciously aware that a double standard exists in the Christian blogosphere. We both permit and excuse the copying of text, but there is far less grace for poachers of cartoons and photographs. (I guess a picture really is worth a thousand words.) If you take what belongs to them, it’s like trying to wrestle a t-bone from a pit-bull.

In the early days of this blog, the weekly link list included cartoons from Baptist Press. Not any more. Baptists can be very litigious, which is too bad, because the cartoons were worthy of an audience beyond a single denomination. Everybody loses, but that’s the Baptist way, I guess.

Words are cheaper however. I respect intellectual property rights in general, but hey, guys, it’s only a blog.

I really think when the writer is a little older, they will look back and see the foolishness of trying to hang on to what really isn’t yours to begin with.

Think About It: Some things simply didn’t exist when the Bible was written, such as smoking cigarettes or driving over the speed limit. It’s the same with intellectual property. We have to appeal to the timeless, grand themes of scripture to make behavioral determinations.

The corollary to this is that if I do choose to copyright my blog writing here, I am basically saying this is mine; I wrote this, I created it, it was my talents and my gifts that went into creating it.

I’m glad the Biblical writers didn’t feel that way. If you believe in plenary inspiration — that God birthed ideas within them but they stylized it and added their individual touch to the writing — then even if you hold that “all Scripture is inspired” (which I do) you could still make a case that they could copyright the particular words used.

copyright 2But some would argue that even if you say, “This came entirely from God and I shouldn’t really take any credit for it;” if you want your writing to reach the greatest number of people, then you’ve got to put somebody’s name underneath the title.

That’s essentially the case with Jesus Calling. I don’t want to get into the larger debate on that book, because it’s been done elsewhere (with many comments) but if, like the classic God Calling, the “authors” feel that this book is the equivalent to Dictation Theory in Biblical inspiration, realistically, nobody’s name should appear on the cover. I wonder if “by Jesus” or “by God” would sell more or fewer copies than “by Sarah Young.”

You can however engage the commercial marketplace and at the same time take no money (or very little) for your wares. Keith Green is a name that some of the younger generation don’t know, but Keith basically said that if anyone couldn’t afford his records or cassettes, he would send them copies free of charge. It was radical at the time — this was before free downloads — and Keith took ribbing that perhaps he was also going to ship stereo systems to people who had nothing on which to play the music.

Keith GreenKeith Green would have loved blogging — he’d have about ten of them — and would be fighting hard for the open source blogosphere mentioned above, and also  when the first writer protested. (The post then was triggered by an irate blogger at C201 as well, so we’re running one complaint every 700+ articles, which isn’t bad.) In fact, Keith would argue for open source thinking in a variety of Christian media and art.

Bottom line: We have to be careful about holding too tightly to the things of this world including possessions that are tangible and those which are intangible such as intellectual property. 

Moving forward: We’ll try to stick to repeat authors and original devotional material. If you’ve ever wondered if you could write devotional material — and it’s both a rare and challenging calling — check out the submissions guidelines at C201.  

“It’s your breath, in our lungs, so we pour out our praise…”

June 4, 2015

Split Person

Kevin was the reason a whole bunch of guys from one of the local high schools started attending our youth group, and later joined the follow-up Bible study.

His leadership qualities meant that people listened when invited and many of the guys, as well as a few girls I probably wasn’t aware of, stayed and became part of the local church. Some of those I still see today.

Kevin was also rather promiscuous.

While at an age where boys are often more talk than anything, there was no denying his feeling of entitlement to an active sex life. He shared his philosophy with anyone who would listen, including my own circle of friends, and there didn’t seem to be any filters as to who he would try to make converts to his liberal views on sexuality.

Sometimes when there are disconnects in the life of a Christian, we say they have "a divided heart." Read more at Psalm 86:11.

Sometimes when there are disconnects in the life of a Christian, we say they have “a divided heart.” Read more at Psalm 86:11.

One time he invited me to a particular club he was going to on a weeknight. Though the bar was in downtown Toronto, it was on the edge, about ten minutes from where I was living. I wanted to hear the band, so I went along and got to see him in action. Within minutes he was in deep conversation with one particular young woman, had bought her a drink, and then they were dancing.

I had some conversations, too; but had a sense of being in the wrong place. Around the same time, I would write a song, “You Don’t Belong Here,” about a young person who is basically looking for trouble, but the people he meets up with have a sense that he belongs to another tribe, and simply don’t let him enter in fully to what they’re doing. The situation repeats through another two verses, and then in the final verse, he finds himself standing before God who checks his list and says, “You don’t belong here.”

I got Kevin to drive me home, and then, as I learned later, he drove back to the club and reconnected with the woman. It wasn’t all talk.

He was a strange mix. An ambassador for both Evangelical Christianity and a Playboy lifestyle. He was actually one of three people I knew during that time period, whose personality and person-hood was split between competing ideals, and had basically no problem with that. At the time, I always felt there was an element of secrecy about a duplicitous life, so I couldn’t really think of him as hypocritical when he broadcast his views so widely and loudly.

If it were me, I would be torn apart with internal conflict.

Troy was another. Despite a very conservative Christian upbringing in which he was still committed to, he had no problem regularly going to strip clubs.  By age 23, he had seen more women naked than most men would ever see in a lifetime. While I was tempted, his invitations to me to tag along were never accepted.

Derek was another. Vowing never have sex with a non-Christian, he would invite the girls to church and see that they prayed the sinner’s prayer before taking them to the bedroom in his parents’ home. That was the one that disgusted me the most, and when you analyze it, there was nothing particularly redeeming about his ‘vow;’ it would probably have been better if it never existed. 

I should say that around the same time, I realized that there is a sense in which everybody has some type of compromise, albeit to a greater or lesser extent. With the three guys here, it was just so brazen.

These are the types of people I met in church when I was in my early twenties.

In their own way, God used them to refine my faith.


Names have been changed. The youth group was a mix of teens and college and career aged people and so two of the three people in the story were of legal age for drinking and clubbing. Two of the three people in the story maintain a connection to the church.

June 1, 2015

Stuff Happens: Our Robbery

Filed under: writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 6:43 am

” I thank Thee first because I was never robbed before; second, because although they took my purse they did not take my life; third, because although they took my all, it was not much; and fourth because it was I who was robbed, and not I who robbed.” ~ Matthew Henry

As a family, looking back on what happened to us late Friday afternoon, it’s clear that our lives — as well as the owners and passengers of two other vehicles broken into — simply intersected with the lives of two people who were up to no good.

Stuff can be replaced, but my wife lost stuff that had sentimental value. And the replacement costs (direct and indirect) from this will approach $1,000.00

It makes me have a better understanding of people who were simply going out for a night at the cinema, or were standing on the sidelines watching a marathon race. People whose lives took a turn because they were just there at the wrong time. Not wrong place, wrong time, simply wrong time.

In some respects, we could say we didn’t deserve this. Life has been crappy enough lately. On the other hand, there were some factors in this that protected us from far worse impact and damages.

And miracles do happen. Pray that somehow my wife’s purse is recovered with some of the contents intact.

The quote from Matthew Henry also helps put things into perspective as well, doesn’t it?

 

May 24, 2015

Quality of Life

Filed under: Christianity, writing — Tags: , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 7:47 am

Essay of the WeekI usually see him at church.

He lives in a house for developmentally challenged adults.

Unlike me, he can’t just get in a car and go somewhere, and yet he truly gets around.

He has no fashion sense, yet neither he is encumbered by having to worry about clothing, its availability, cost, cool factor, and what color goes with what other color.

He isn’t blessed with perhaps all the right social graces, and yet I think he knows when people are taking a general interest in him as opposed to those who are just playing him in a conversation.

He didn’t sweat the income tax deadline. He doesn’t have to worry about renewing his drivers license. I doubt his life is complicated by remembering user names and passwords.

His love for God is a genuine priority in his life.

…So there I am, lying in bed at 4:00 AM one day this past week and suddenly I start thinking about him.

And I started asking myself who has the better quality of life?

If you meet him, he will tell you about an upcoming week he’s going to be spending at a Bible conference. Honestly, given the right speaker that week, I would love to be able to take a week off with my wife and have a place to stay and all meals provided.

But look, already I’ve qualified it. I want it to be a certain type of Bible teacher. He’s not worried about who the guest speaker is. He’s not going to critique the worship team. He’s not about to second guess the lunch menu.

He was recently told that due to staff changes where he lives, he would have to change churches. So he did. Willfully. Peaceably. Not for some doctrinal reason. Not because he didn’t like the percentage of the budget allocated to missions. Not because so-and-so was elected to another three-year term on the church board. Not because he didn’t like the new chairs. The change was made for him, and he just went with it.

At the new church, everybody knows him.

And everybody likes him.

And he likes everybody.

Like I said, I wonder who has the better quality of life?

May 22, 2015

Do We Have a Right to Happiness? — Part One of Two

I’ll keep my intro short so you can get right into this. Thanks to Martin and Nancy for allowing me to reproduce this here, but if you want to send them some link love — or not have to wait until tomorrow for part two — click the link in the title below. Comments here are open, but to communicate with the authors directly, use the link below as well.


C.S. Lewis For The 21st Century

Have you ever, on the recommendation of a teacher, book-review website, or a friend, began to read an old book – a classic – only to discover a few pages in, “I just can’t get into this … the language is so archaic!”

C. S. LewisNancy and I thought it would be a challenging exercise to modernize one of our favorite essays from C.S. Lewis found in his compilation of short works, entitled ‘God In The Dock’.

The essay we chose was “We Have No Right To Happiness”. I set out to rework the article in a way that I thought would align closely with C.S. Lewis’ original style, but with a modern spin via sentence structure and word choices.

Nancy read my modernized version and felt that she too could bring some 21st century life to the piece by structuring it more like a blog post.  (Click the link above to read today, or wait until tomorrow’s post for part two.)

Below represents each of our individual attempts to present the powerful, highly prophetic message penned by Mr. Lewis that examines humankind’s pathetic attempts to justify that which is unjustifiable – that we have the supposed ‘right’ to be happy in this world.

Please feel free to provide feedback with respect to our efforts to modernize the essay and, more importantly, share with us your reflections on C.S. Lewis’ thoughts re the society-eroding, self-entitlement posturing that so many among us now eat, breathe and sleep in this present day.

We Have No “Right to Happiness” by C.S. Lewis
Paraphrased by Martin Douglas of Flagrant Regard

“After all,” said my friend 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 gotten her divorce in order to marry Mr. A. And there was clearly no doubt that Mr. A and Mrs. B were very much in love with each other. It was equally clear that they were not happy with their former partners. If the newly formed couple continued to be in love and if nothing failed with respect to their health or financial security, they might expect to be very happy.

Mrs. B had adored her husband at the beginning, but then he was severely injured in the war. It was said that he had lost his virility and had also lost his job. Life with him was no longer what Mrs. B had bargained for.

Poor Mrs. A, too. She had lost her looks was no longer her vivaciousness self. It might have been true what some had said – that she had become worn down by having and raising Mr. A’s children and nursing him through a long illness that overshadowed the early years of their married life. But please don’t think that Mr. A was the sort of man who nonchalantly threw a wife away like the peel of an orange he’d sucked dry. Her suicide was a terrible shock to him. We all knew this, for he told us so himself. “But what could I do?” he said. “A man has a right to happiness. I had to take my one chance when it came.”

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’. I believe (whatever any particular brand of moralists have to say) that for the most part our happiness or misery hangs 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 have good weather show up whenever you want to have a picnic.

Now, I get that a ‘right’ is a freedom guaranteed me by the laws of the society I live in, therefore I have a right to travel along the public roads because society gives me that freedom (that’s what we mean by calling the roads “public.”)

I can also understand a ‘right’ as a claim guaranteed me by the laws, and as it correlates to an obligation on someone else’s part. If I had a right to receive $100 from you, this is another way of saying that you have a duty to pay me $100. If the laws allow Mr. A to desert his wife and seduce his neighbor’s wife, then, by definition, Mr. A has a legal right to do so, and we need not bring in talk of ‘happiness’.

But of course that was not what my friend meant. She meant that Mr. A had not only a legal but a moral right to act as he did. In other words, Clare is (or would be if she thought it through) a classical moralist after the style of Thomas Aquinas, Grotius, Hooker and Locke.

She believes that behind the laws of the state there is a Natural Law. I agree with her and I hold this conception to be common knowledge in all civilizations. Without it, the actual laws of the state become an absolute. They cannot be criticized because there is no norm against which they should be judged. The ancestry of Clare’s maxim, “They have a right to happiness,” is high-minded in nature. In words that are cherished by all civilized souls (but especially by Americans), it has been laid down that one of the rights of man or woman is a right to “the pursuit of happiness.” And now we get to the real point.

Just what did the writers of that grandiose declaration mean? We’re quite sure what they did not mean. They did not mean that everyone was entitled to pursue happiness by any and every means including, say, murder, rape, robbery, treason and fraud. No society could be built on such a basis. They meant “to pursue happiness by all lawful means”; that is, by all means which the Law of Nature eternally sanctions and which the laws of the nation shall sanction.

Yet here is where I disagree with my friend: I don’t think it’s obvious that people have some sort of unlimited “right to happiness”, as she has suggested.

For one thing, I believe that when Clare says “happiness,” she means simply and solely “sexual happiness”, partly because people like Clare never use the word “happiness” in any other sense. But also because I never heard Clare talk about the “right” to any other kind of happiness. With respect to her political views, Clare, being rather leftist in her approach, would have thought it scandalous if anyone defended the actions of a ruthless financial tycoon on the grounds that his happiness consisted in making money and he was pursuing his happiness. I also never heard her (a serious non-drinker herself) excuse an alcoholic because he was ‘happy’ when he was drunk.

Clare is, in fact, simply doing what I think the whole western world seems to have been doing for the last forty-odd years. When I was a kid, all the progressive people were saying, “Why all this prudishness? Let’s 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 restrained.

For instance, absolute obedience to instinct for self-preservation is considered cowardice. An ever-increasing desire to collect things will have us in the grip of greed. Even sleep, normally a welcomed respite, must be resisted if you’re a officer on guard duty. But every unkindness and breach of faith seems to be condoned provided that your object is to have “four bare legs in a bed.” It is like having a moral standard where stealing fruit is wrong except if you steal nectarines. And if you protest against this view? You are usually met with rhetoric about the legitimacy, beauty and sanctity of “sex”. You get accused of harboring some Puritanical prejudice against it – that you view sex as something disreputable or shameful. (I vehemently deny being guilty of such a charge: Venus, Aphrodite, Our Lady of Cyprus – I never breathed a word against you!)

If I object to kids stealing nectarines, must I then be thought of as someone who disapproves of nectarines in general? Or even of kids in general? It might be the stealing I disapprove of, you figure?

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.” If I may continue with the fruit analogy, robbing an orchard is not an offense against some special morality called “fruit morality.” It is an offense against honesty. Likewise, 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.

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

Now though I see no good reason for giving sex this privilege, I think I see a strong cause, and it is this: the nature of a strong erotic passion, which is completely distinct from any heat-of-the-moment, fleeting appetite, makes more towering promises than any other emotion.

No doubt all our desires make promises, but not so impressively. To be in love involves the almost irresistible conviction that one will go on being in love until one dies, and that possession of our beloved will supply us with not just merely frequent ecstasies, but settled, fruitful, deep-rooted, lifelong happiness. Hence, all seem to be at stake. If we miss this chance we shall have lived in vain. At the mere thought of such a doom we sink into fathomless depths of self-pity.

Unfortunately these promises are often found to be quite unfounded. Every experienced adult knows this to be the case with regard to all erotic passions (except the one he/she is feeling at the moment). We discount the world-without-end pretentiousness of our friends’ romantic liaisons easily enough. We know that such things sometimes last and sometimes don’t. When they do last, it is not because they promised at the outset to make it last. When two people achieve enduring happiness, this is not solely because they are great lovers but because they are also – I must put it crudely – good people; controlled, loyal, fair-minded, mutually adaptable people.

If we establish a “right to (sexual) happiness” that 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.

So while the bad behavior is real and works miseries and personal ruin, 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 he did for deserting his old one. He will again feel that all is at stake. He will again see himself as the great lover, and his pity for himself will exclude all pity for the (current) woman.

Two final points remain:

1. A society in which marital infidelity is tolerated must always be in the long run a society adverse to women. Whatever a few songs composed by men and/or satirical offerings might say to the contrary, women 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; 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’ve reached maturity, but this does not happen to those qualities of personality we find in women. In the cut-throat promiscuity war that rages on, 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 lewdness of female provocativeness. These are signs of desperate competition and fill me with pity.

2. Secondly, though the “right to happiness” is claimed chiefly for the sexual impulse, it seems to me impossible that the matter will remain there. Once such a fatal principle is condoned in that department (our sexual natures) it will sooner or later seep through into our whole lives. We therefore advance toward a society where not only each person but every impulse in each person claims no-holds-barred permissions. And at that time, though our technological skill may help us survive a little longer, our civilization will have died at heart, and will – don’t even dare add the word “unfortunately” – be swept away.

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