Thursday, 22 July 2010

Which religion gives the most happiness? C.S. Lewis's reply

Q: (Audience member) "Which of the religions of the world gives to its followers the greatest happiness?"

A: (C.S.L) - "While it lasts, the religion of worshipping oneself is the best."

"I have an elderly acquaintance of about eighty*, who has lived a life of unbroken selfishness and self-admiration from the earliest years , and is, more or less, I regret to say, one of the happiest men I know. (...)

"I haven't always been a Christian. I didn't go to religion to make me happy. I always knew a bottle of port would do that.

"If you want a religion to make you feel really comfortable, I certainly don't recommend Christianity."


From C.S. Lewis - Timeless at Heart (ed Walter Hooper) - Answers to Questions on Christianity.

* I guess this was Rev Dr Frederick Walker Macran or 'Cranny' (1866-1947) - biography in All my Road Before Me - Diary of C.S. Lewis 1922-1927 edited by Walter Hooper.

5 comments:

  1. Religion is a reliable correlate of subjective well-being and life satisfaction. Sociopathy, disagreeability, and lack of a strong social network are all associated with poor well-being.

    The religion that makes people happiest is probably just the most popular religion in their society. The "weirder" (i.e. distanced from others) people feel, the sadder they'll feel.

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  2. Then again, weird religions can also foster more happiness by generating much stronger in-group loyalties (analogous to enhanced group spirit on the meta-ethnic frontier: solidarity through contrast pressures).

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  3. @Jason. I've studied the empirical side of Religion/ Atheism and 'happiness/ depression' for many years, and I don't think I would accept your summary; at least not in a causal fashion.

    The main correlate of 'happiness' responses to survey questions is - as you imply - probably related to the confounder of personality; which is substantially genetic.

    I don't believe that this has yet been disentangled from 'religion' in any meaningful way.

    In other words, I don't think 'scientific' or survey evidence is much use in addressing this question in the way that people really want/ need it addressed - I mean people genuinely seeking meaning and purpose in their lives - or seeking happiness.

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  4. @ Jason.

    It depends what you would count as weird - perhaps you would count all religions as weird?

    At any rate, the second largest religion in the world very clearly generates intense in-group loyalties; but is equally obviously not primarily motivating its most devout adherents towards this-worldly happiness/ pleasure/ lifespan extension.

    In-group loyalty is, indeed - like love and transcendental religious devoutness - a major factor in encouraging people to *sacrifice* personal here-and-now happiness in pursuit of what they perceive to be higher goals.

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  5. "It depends what you would count as weird - perhaps you would count all religions as weird?"


    I meant 'weird' as in how the religion is perceived by others in a given society. In America Judaism is viewed as weirder than Lutheranism, and Mormonism is weirder still.

    To the extent that people desire feeling like a wanted or unified part of the society they identify with, beliefs which differentiate them more from the group will have lead to negative emotions (shame, paranoia, hate, etc).

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