I have had it with preachers, gurus, imams, and rabbis selling their religion as a promise of happiness.
I’ve had it with the shallow self-help section of bookstores, that promises spirituality as an individual path to “fulfillment” without a notion of sacrifice, without community, and without radical and fundamental transformation.
I have had it with religion as self-help.
Sure, religion is not the opium for the masses.
It’s also not Prozac for the masses.
Religion cannot promise us happiness.
Mad men walk into schools, shooting children and teachers.
A billion people live on a dollar a day.
Tsunamis kill more than a hundred thousand people.
Millions of Americans (overwhelmingly people of color) languish in the prison-industrial complex.
More than a hundred thousand Syrians have been killed, and millions have been made refugees.
Millions live under totalitarian regimes, under drones, under occupation.
At a more intimate level, your loved ones will die.
So will you.
So will I.
The one you love may not love you back.
Your partner may betray you.
Your children will, at least at some point, disappoint you.
How many of those who suffer from any or many of the above are good, faithful people?
You can be a person of faith, and not find happiness in this world.
Happiness is not promised to anyone. Not people of faith. Not anyone.
If a religious leader promises you happiness, and you find yourself in an unhappy moment in life, did God fail you?
Worse yet, if you find yourself in an unhappy life, did the God of happiness fail you?
Religions cannot promise happiness.
Religions should not promise happiness.
If we are truly fortunate, religion can be a path that brings with it contentment.
Happiness is overrated.
Contentment is where it is at.
Let us stop chasing happiness as a destination.
At best, it is not promised as a condition of the path.
At worst, it is a mirage.
The sign of a genuine spiritual path is contentment along the path.
The most beautiful religious people I know are content in joy, and content in tragedy.
They know that the task of religion is to remind us that we walk with God in every state.
We walk with God in the valley of death, and we walk with God on the mountaintop.
Where we are on the path is not guaranteed to us.
Religion offers us the company on the path, and how to process every state.
As the Muslims say, alhamdulilah ala kulli haal. Praise be to God for every passing state.
All shall pass, and all that remains is the presence of God, the Eternal Guest of the heart.
The Islamic mystical tradition tells of a humorous story of a king who passed out slices of melon to a friend. The friend relished each morsel, and after each said: “how lovely, how delightful!” The king finally tasted one himself, and found it to be somewhat bitter. Puzzled, the king turned to the friend and inquired how he could have expressed such joy. The friend said: “I am your friend, not the friend of the melon.”
As this tradition says, to be a beloved is to be constant in love. If we are attached to favors from the beloved, or in the relationship only to avoid the wrath of the beloved, then our connection is not with the beloved, but with favors/wrath. And so it is with God.
But we can not be right with God if the guides we choose promise out not being right with God, and not contentment, but a shallow promise of happiness that is now there, now gone, now back, ever transient.
AS Jesus kicked out the money-changers out of the temple, let us kick out every snake oil salesman who sells religion as a self-help, as a guarantee of shallow and individualistic happiness.
Let us, instead, work together for a community that walks together with God, in the valley of death and onto the mountaintop.