Does the “Pursuit of Happiness” Mean a Grande Vanilla Latte?

Seek to do good, and you will find that happiness will run after you
.-James Freeman Clarke



Once again, I am humbled by the discussion ongoing by a few commenters on this blog. I was speaking with Deb this morning and we both agree that our knowledge in this area of religion and government is definitely lacking.We are blessed to have such astute readers on this site who are willing to share their thoughts. Please keep it up. It enriches all of us.


A relative, who has a limited understanding of Christianity, once remarked to me that I was naïve if I thought that various people groups around the world could accept an American faith. “Christianity, an American based faith?” I rejoined. “I thought it was a faith that got its start in a small country in the Middle East”. Yet, in spite of its inception 2000 years ago in a small, seemingly insignificant country, this faith’s emphasis on the creation, fall, sacrifice and redemption through a humble Savior has resonated with all cultures through the millennia.


One would think that such a successful faith got its start by first convincing the powerful of its truth, Instead, Jesus chose the proverbial “little guys” to be the first followers of the Way. It appears that God saw fit to choose a small, occupied country to be His witnesses to the world. Through His Spirit, it became the predominant faith in short order.


This faith has shaped the laws of countries as mankind learned the truth of a God who created all men in His image. In our own Declaration of Independence we read,

“When, in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the laws of nature and of nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed”.

(I find it amusing that spell check wants to make some changes in the syntax of one of the most recognized documents ever written)!


Such a document speaks of a self-evident truth that all men and women are created equal and are given certain “rights” by virtue of their Creator.

Liberty-first seen in the Garden when God gave Adam and Eve the right to chose to obey or not.

Life-given when God fashioned us out of the dust, breathed on us and imbued us with a soul, which set us apart from the rest of creation.

But, the term “pursuit of happiness” seems to confusing. Many of the motivational speaker types seem to confuse this with the old saying, “He who dies with the most toys wins.” The Health and Wealth preachers appear to concur. “Just pray and that Mercedes will be yours”.


Look at this wonderful document. Are Life and Liberty to be used in the same breath with pursuing a big house and expensive car? Did the framers really go from the sublime to the ridiculous? Why did Jefferson say pursuit of happiness instead of pursuit of “stuff?”


I believe that there is a deep misunderstanding of the intent of this phrase that causes many Americans to confuse materialism with something far deeper. As Christians in America, we have not done a particularly good job in defining this either. We build large churches, which are often dominated by well-connected, well-coiffed, well-dressed, well-paid pastors who appoint elders who exude an attitude of “to the manor born.” How often have we heard that “God is blessing us because…”look how many people are coming”, “did you see that x NFL quarterback was in church this week”, “we have a huge building and we are about to get a Starbucks” ,etc.


In his book, “INVENTING AMERICA- Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence”, historian Garry Wills quotes Adam Ferguson in this definition of the pursuit of happiness.

“If, in reality, courage and a heart devoted to the good of mankind are the constituents of human felicity, the kindness which is done infers a happiness in the person from whom it proceeds, not in him on whom it is bestowed; and the greatest good which men possessed of fortitude and generosity can procure to their fellow creatures is a participation of this happy character. If this be the good of the individual, it is likewise that of mankind; and virtue no longer imposes a task by which we are obliged to bestow upon others that good from which we ourselves refrain; but supposes, in the highest degree, as possessed by ourselves, that state of felicity which we are required to promote in the world (Civil Society, 99-100)”.

Wills continues, “Within its original rich context, the pursuit of happiness is a phenomenon both obvious and paradoxical. It supplies us with the ground of human right and the goal of human virtue. It is the basic drive of the self, and the only means given for transcending the self”.



The individual, who transcends his selfish nature in order to serve others, and, in so doing, gives light to our world, defines this pursuit of happiness. The pursuit of happiness is not about me but about “thee.”


Look at the life to which Jesus called His disciples. “Blessed are you when men despise and persecute you.” And most of the disciples were martyred. Yet, we read of Paul singing praises to God while in a filthy, infested prison. Paul was given life and liberty and he chose to pursue happiness to a martyrdom.


The early Christians were used as torches in Nero’s garden parties. Many were sent to the Coliseum and their precious blood was spent for Roman sport. Yet, they sang praises to their Savior while being torn apart by lions. They were given life and liberty and sacrificed both as they pursued happiness in serving Christ. In so doing, they received life that is eternal and liberty beyond the bondage of earth. Over time, many Romans came to the Christian faith as they observed these martyrs who exuded peace in their strange pursuit of happiness.


Mother Teresa lived her life amongst the poorest of the poor. She was given life and liberty and pursued happiness while serving others.


The Christian life seems full of paradox. Die that you might live. You are blessed when you are cursed. Be joyful when men hate you for His sake. Love those who don’t love back. You are blessed when you mourn for you will be comforted. Be meek and you will inherit the kingdom of God. Blessed when you are poor in spirit for you will get the kingdom of heaven. To be free, you must be a captive to Christ. Yet, it is in the seeming contradiction that we find Jesus.


As Americans we have it easy. We don't really like the contradictions. We want to live without dying. We certainly don't mind giving so long as it doesn't interfere with our daily cup of Joe. We are blessed with material wealth and great freedom. But we should not confuse wealth as a sign of God’s favor. Jesus never once promised His followers a rich and easy lifestyle. As American Christians we may be confusing our American riches, lifestyles, and culture with our Christianity. In so doing, we are in danger of losing the essence of our faith.


As Europe became more socialized, there was a concurrent decline in the belief in God. Could it be that, as the state guaranteed a certain standard of living, men believed that they could now take care of their lives and no longer needed God? In other words, is God only needed when material needs are uncertain? Did the churches of Europe drop the ball when it came to explaining that the Gospel dealt with the poverty of our spirit? Did the church emphasize caring for the poor and forget to concurrently emphasize our needy spiritual state?


Recent statistics seem to indicate that atheism is on the rise in America. Could our country's relative wealth lead men to think there is no longer a need for God? Could it be that America’s churches are emphasizing the external and deemphasizing our impoverished spiritual state? If so, the church is in deep trouble.


This post serves as a prelude to a further discussion on Michael Spencer’s book, Mere Churchianity. He addressed this book to those who are dropping out of church in America. He makes the claim that many evangelical churches have got it wrong and believes that evangelicalism will experience a precipitous decline in the coming two decades.

Tomorrow, we will deviate from this theme as Deb presents a rather interesting video that she has come across.



Does the “Pursuit of Happiness” Mean a Grande Vanilla Latte? — 6 Comments

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    Very good post. Reminds me of one of my favorite songs, which I have shared on blogs before, but I can’t remember if I’ve shared it here. Even if so, I think it bears repeating:

    My Jesus
    by Todd Agnew

    Which Jesus do you follow?
    Which Jesus do you serve?
    If Ephesians says to imitate Christ
    Then why do you look so much like the world?

    Cause my Jesus bled and died
    He spent His time with thieves and liars
    He loved the poor and accosted the arrogant
    So which one do you want to be?

    Blessed are the poor in spirit
    Or do we pray to be blessed with the wealth of this land
    Blessed are they that hunger and thirst for righteousness
    Or do we ache for another taste of this world of shifting sand

    Cause my Jesus bled and died for my sins
    He spent His time with thieves and sluts and liars
    He loved the poor and accosted the rich
    So which one do you want to be?

    Who is this that you follow
    This picture of the American dream
    If Jesus was here would you walk right by on the other side or fall down and worship at His holy feet

    Pretty blue eyes and curly brown hair and a clear complexion
    Is how you see Him as He dies for Your sins
    But the Word says He was battered and scarred
    Or did you miss that part
    Sometimes I doubt we’d recognize Him

    Cause my Jesus bled and died
    He spent His time with thieves and the least of these
    He loved the poor and accosted the comfortable
    So which one do you want to be?

    Cause my Jesus would never be accepted in my church
    The blood and dirt on His feet would stain the carpet
    But He reaches for the hurting and despised the proud
    I think He’d prefer Beale St. to the stained glass crowd
    And I know that He can hear me if I cry out loud

    I want to be like my Jesus!
    I want to be like my Jesus!

    Not a posterchild for American prosperity, but like my Jesus
    You see I’m tired of living for success and popularity
    I want to be like my Jesus but I’m not sure what that means to be like You Jesus
    Cause You said to live like You, love like You but then You died for me
    Can I be like You Jesus?
    I want to be like my Jesus

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    You are beginning to sound like a bleeding heart! Living among the poor and working to restore social justice is not easy, and few in the church are even willing to talk about the poor, let alone have them in the church as equals in all respects. There are few churches that welcome the poor with open arms on an equal footing. The rest are not following Christ.

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    Arce, one can be quite conservative politically and be a bleeding heart for the poor. One can be quite conservative politically and work with them and help them. One can be quite conservative politically and realize that government help keeps them poor infinitely. And there is a reason for that.

    In my work with poor refugees (many are Muslims) I find that those who come from wartorn poor country’s are willing to do any work at any pay. they are willing to live 20 to a one bedroom apt. They work all the time and are quite the go gettters. (Except the Muslim girls
    are extremely backward and uneducated but the boys aren’t)

    In one generation, these people will have escaped poverty. Most before that. And the reason is simple: They take advantage of all educational opportunities, are seirous and are willing to work hard.

    The problem now is that the opportunities are less. Small Business is good for America. For a small business owner ONE single dollar is very hard to earn BUT it is very easy for the government to take that dollar away.

    Right now, it is estimated that teen unemployment is more like 35%.Older, laid off workers are taking the 8 dollar an hour jobs. Increasing minimum wage only hurts the poor. It keeps those who need job experience from getting experience. If you owned a small business, who would you hire for 10 dollars an hour? The older, more educated person who lost their previous job or the person with no job experience and minimal education. (Even a HS education means little these days because people know it does not necessarily mean one can read above 6th grade level)

    A former client of mine told me that he would rather hire a GED over a HS Diploma to work in his chain of gas stations because he knew they had a pass the test. That meant they could read AND they had to know the content.

    Now, if you force them to pay 15.00 per hour for unskilled and unexperienced labor, you will drive most people out of business.

    There are some things government cannot fix. And when they try,they make it worse and consign many more to life long poverty. We have seen this in action over the last 60 years.

  4. Notice: Undefined variable: button in /home/guswo2wr8yyv/public_html/tww2/wp-content/plugins/quote-comments/quote-comments.php on line 127

    I was not talking about minimum wage. I was talking about how government (county and city) resources are spent to attract businesses to the area in which I live and work. Currently, the subsidy (tax abatement and some incentives) are provided to attract out of the area employers who will pay an average of $12/hour. That means that most of the jobs are at or near minimum wage. In this town we have $8.50 jobs that go wanting for employees because of the working conditions and that it is HARD work that few can do physically for more than a few weeks or months.

    I have experienced and educated clients who cannot get jobs at minimum wage — the employers say that they will leave when the economy gets better, so they will not hire them.

    There are good reasons for keeping the minimum wage where it now is. I am not talking about that, just about how the county and city use incentives to bring jobs to the area. We have empty slots between minimum wage and $10.00 per hour. We do not need more jobs there. We do need more jobs that pay higer wages, so as to offer a family with two workers and three non-workers a family sustaining wage rate if they can fulfill the job requirements. BTW, a part of the incentives available include tax-supported training to meet a new employer’s needs.

  5. Notice: Undefined variable: button in /home/guswo2wr8yyv/public_html/tww2/wp-content/plugins/quote-comments/quote-comments.php on line 127

    As I’ve commented previously, I think that the Declaration is probably the first document in human history to recognize human rights as we know them today. Jefferson’s reference to nature and nature’s God is not the same God that Paul tells us of in Romans 13:1-7. There was no such thing as human rights or government by consent of the governed in Paul’s day.

    I think that the pursuit of happiness can mean anything you want it to mean so long as it doesn’t involve murder, theft, or coercion. The ideal of course is a life of service to others, but if pursuing that latte makes ya happy, go for it! Same goes for them cute shoes!

  6. Notice: Undefined variable: button in /home/guswo2wr8yyv/public_html/tww2/wp-content/plugins/quote-comments/quote-comments.php on line 127

    “I was not talking about minimum wage. I was talking about how government (county and city) resources are spent to attract businesses to the area in which I live and work. Currently, the subsidy (tax abatement and some incentives) are provided to attract out of the area employers who will pay an average of $12/hour.”

    I have been involved in this process with my state and I find it ridiculous that government provides incentives to attract certain businesses. And they are competing with several states and the stakes are high. Then we rate our local/state politicians on how many companies/jobs they have provided. And what types of jobs they are.

    They also provide special incentives to KEEP certain companies from moving such as tax breaks, free training government paid, etc. It only goes to show how government involvement in such things is wrong and unequitable.

    Why does this government intervention such as this exist in the first place? That is the question to answer and the right answer will provide the solution. We just do not have the guts to go there.

    But right now, the only thing growing is government. If you look at average wages for government jobs vs avg wages for private industry, the disparity is glaring. Government pay is growing by leaps and bounds. And that is NOT good at all.