Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Happiness and the New Pagan Chaplain

Norse pagans, Sweden 2008
“If being a pagan makes me a better person and makes me happy, that's all that matters.” —Mary Hudson, the first pagan chaplain at Syracuse University

“I didn’t go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of Port would do that.” —C.S. Lewis

In doing research for my novels, I sometimes visit pagan message boards (a task that’s both fascinating and sad), and I’ve noticed over the years a popular theme on those boards: I became a pagan because I wanted to be happy.

Not “I found happiness in paganism,” but “I searched for happiness and found it in paganism.” And there’s a difference. The search for happiness first and foremost will lead you astray every time. In most areas of life, certainly in matters of religion, the search for truth has to come first. You may find happiness—or better yet, real joy—at the end of your search for the truth, but if you search for happiness first, you’re likely to find it in the spiritual equivalent of a bottle of port.

And that leads me to the breathtakingly silly comment by the new pagan chaplain (a self-described “third-degree priestess”) at Syracuse University. “If it makes me better and makes me happy” is the sort of thing you hear from people who haven’t given truth much thought at all. It’s pop psychology. But it sounds good, doesn’t it? How could one object to someone being better or happy?

The first part of the chaplain’s statement depends very much on her definition of “better,” and I’m not that confident of her ability to draw sound conclusions. Her “better,” as I discovered through reading more about her, is a somewhat hazy concept that excludes outside judgment. Even the “deities” don’t judge her, she says. It’s a do-it-yourself kind of thing, putting a gold star sticker on your own forehead.

So how does Hudson define “better”? Being so self-contained, how does she even know what better is? The less-than-better become better by striving toward a something or someone separate from, and better than, themselves. But to do this, they must recognize that they are less than better, an impossibility unless they take notice of outside judgment. The less-than-better who refuse outside judgment have no idea what to aim for—they can’t. They have no compass point.

The second part of Hudson’s statement is nonsense. All sorts of things make people happy. Vapid things make vapid people happy. Evil things make evil people happy. The fact that something makes you happy is not, in and of itself, proof that you’ve found something good—or true. Happiness is a byproduct, not a goal.

But this is modern paganism, and part of why paganism today embraces so many different, often conflicting practices and philosophies. Because it’s not the truth of one or the other belief that matters, or if one actually believes in Celtic or Norse or Greek goddesses, or whether Cerridwen or Artemis could actually coexist, but the happiness it all brings.

1 comment:

Cynthia said...

Prolonged adolescence. It would be funny if it wasn't such a loss of potential, soul, and glory.

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