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.

Look around.

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?

The state of contentment, an old Muslim Cambodian man

The state of contentment, an old Muslim Cambodian man Creative Commons license, Flickr

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?

No.

Religions cannot promise happiness.
Religions should not promise happiness.

If we are truly fortunate, religion can be a path that brings with it contentment.
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.

Content couple

Content couple from Shutterstock

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.

10 Comments

  1. The author is right that religion cannot deliver happiness but they ALL promise to do so. Religion gives individual contenment which is satisfaction with how things are. Religion has proposed all changes in science, medicine, tolerance, and theology has frozen thoughts and ideas.

  2. I started reading this blog and thought the author was bitter, but as I read on I understood precisely what he meant and fully concur. To elaborate: how can a person with a social consciousness claim to be happy when in his own town or city children are starving, grovelling through dirt bins to find something to eat. Prophet Muhammad said: He is NOT of my Ummah (nation) when he goes to ssleep with his belly full while his neighbour is hungry. That is the expression of a social conscience. In all cities and countries, mine (South Africa) in particular there is hunger, poverty, unemployment, government corruption and crime. How can a socially conscious person be truly happy under such circumstances. If you are materially by the means, you help, if you are not, you do waht you can, but you can be contented in your own situation but ssocially happy? You tell me.

  3. A typical response by the religious is to attack an opponent’s lack of knowledge instead of the points raised. So
    I read the link and I now know what I am talking about.

    The link says that in theory there should be no conflict between religion and science.

    I will just give a few examples of how religions have opposed in practice.

    Christianity for centuries maintained a list of prohibited scientific books including Galileo’s. Juaism taught that God created a flat earth and to think otherwise was not Biblical. In Islam they are still debating whether evoluntion is true or creationism – not based on facts but in what the Quran says! There was a time when Islam led in science and Christianity lived in the dark ages. No longer is this true.

  4. “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”

    On other posts you probably would use these examples of how diverging from authentic religion causes these catastrophes? Here they are used against “religion”.

    Also contentment IS the happiness that is eluding people. And that contentment and happiness comes through “authentic” religion, and that connection seems to be missing here..perhaps not known?

  5. Omid, thank you for taking the “happiness that they are superior” veil off and acknowledging that is not “being right with God”. So much we as human being need to do and helping people is one road to momentary happiness and peaceful contentment within multiple faiths. This quote says it all for me… “But we cannot be right with God if the guides we choose promise our not being right with God, and not contentment, but a shallow promise of happiness that is now there, now gone, now back, ever transient.”

  6. Define happiness. There is artificial happiness which is like a mirage, a constant pursuit that fuels people to become rich, chase temporary pleasures, and acknowledgment from those around you that you are living the good life.

    Then there is true happiness. It’s the feeling of being blessed and fortunate when you give charity. It’s the feeling of being content, fully living in the present in a state of thankfulness. It’s the feeling of achievement in sticking to a set of principles and values and sometimes not following the herd. Sure there is sacrifice in it.

    Religion would not and should not promise artificial happiness. If a cleric imam or a guru does and one does not walk away from it, then that’s too naïve on the follower’s part. If one dedicates all effort and nourishment to the inner self and no social or community reform, then there is personal work to be done, but it does not mean that there is no happiness in solitude and spirituality. The alchemy of happiness from a religious point of view is best explained by alghazali in his book on this topic.

    I do understand the overall point of the article but could not detach away from the tone set in the very beginning and hence my comments about happiness. Sure there is killing and chaos in the world in the name of religion, but we need to rise above and see that all evils emerge from diseases of each persons individual heart.

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