Happiness, Hedonism, and The “Gay Marriage” Debate

Alright folks, pour yourself a glass of milk or a frosty mug of root beer and let’s try to walk through this together. Unless you live in a hole where your smartphone does not receive a signal you know about the arguments taking place before the Supreme Court of The United States. There are two cases before the SCOTUS: 1. A question about the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and 2. A question regarding whether Proposition 8 is unconstitutional as declared by the Ninth Circuit Court.

In the weeks leading up to these two cases being brought before the court there was a wave popular figures using their platforms to voice their support for “gay marriage.” The voices ranged from the expected (Hillary Clinton) to the unexpected (Rob Portman). Plus, the coverage has been practically wall to wall on television, in print, and on the net. Every news show on TV has a segment on “gay marriage.” Every newspaper has headline space and editorial space devoted to the topic. Every news website has something “gay marriage” related at or near the top of the page. There is no missing this and there is no missing the direction that all those voice are screaming we should go.

For a few moments I want to try and cut through all the headlines, profile photos of red lines, and the cries of bigotry and backwardness to just try to find the real pulse that is driving the question of “gay marriage.” I’ve read more articles than I can count in the past few weeks about the issue. Over the past couple of years I’ve watched some debates/lectures that evangelical Christians have participated in with proponents of “gay marriage.” What I have observed to be driving this in the popular culture is the question of happiness.

The mantra being shouted from the rooftops right now is that to be against “gay marriage” is to be unamerican. Why? Well, think about it. In the minds of most of the American public what is being an American all about? Life (unless you are a life in the womb but that is a topic for another post), liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. More than life and even more than liberty, I would argue that it is that latter “pursuit” which is driving much of American culture today.

You see this in the arguments put forth by “gay marriage” advocates. When you boil them down to their essential element it is a supposed “right” to happiness that seems to lie at the root. That might not be the case for all the proponents but it does seem to be what is steering the lumbering Titanic of popular culture right into an iceberg infested ocean of unforeseen consequences.

That got me to thinking about this supposed right to happiness which is motivating so much of the conversation surrounding “gay marriage.” I remembered a term that isn’t used much today but which seems to apply perfectly to what is going on. Hedonism. In philosophy, hedonism is the idea that pleasure (happiness) is the highest good and is thus moral. In other words, that which makes you maximally happy must be moral and right. Thus, for a hedonist it only makes sense to pursue those things which will lead to the greatest individual pleasure for themselves.

I hope you are already beginning to see the problems. You can’t build a society on hedonism. It simply won’t work. But what has happened is that the culture at large has accepted hedonistic philosophy. So if “gay marriage” is required to make a segment of the population happy, so be it. Who cares about thousands of years of human history. Who cares about procreation. Who cares about the chilling effect on religious liberty. Who cares about the repercussions of divorcing marriage from the natural order, history, and procreation and instead allowing government to define what marriage is. WHO CARES!? What matters is happiness. Maximum happiness.

I know that people guffaw when the slippery slope argument is brought out, but I think it is especially relevant here. Douglas Wilson has argued it far better and far more persuasively than I ever could but I’ll toss my hat in the ring too. Since the core of the argument for “gay marriage” seems to be maximal personal happiness there is absolutely nothing to stop that argument from being used for any host of other issues. “Dropping acid and doing a line of coke makes me happy.” “Having three wives makes me happy.” (Remember, with the government getting into the business of defining what marriage is there is nothing to stop them from changing those definitions in the future.) We don’t like to talk about it because of the “ick” factor but there are groups actively pushing for the normalization and legalization of pedophilia. How could we ever get to that point? Simple, by being a society driven by hedonism. A society where we pursue our personal happiness and pleasure above all else and where government exists for the purpose of making as many of us happy as possible.

What is the real antidote to all this hedonism? Truthfully, there is only one answer. It is not legislation. It is not a Christian subculture cut off from the world. It is not a politician. The only answer to our humanistic tendencies towards hedonism is in a suffering servant Savior. Consider this which I wrote out this afternoon as the conclusion to the Easter sermon I will preach on Sunday (sorry to any of my church folks who read this, you’ll get to hear it twice).

The image of Jesus, the creator of the universe washing the feet of his disciples points towards the washing away of sin which would happen once and for all at the cross for those who would be his disciples. The Creator’s body was broken and his blood was shed in a perfect sacrifice for the sins of his creation. On Easter we remember this sacrifice and we celebrate the victory of Jesus over sin and death when he rose from the grave and changed the course of history. As Jesus washed the feet of his disciples he told Peter unless one is washed by Jesus that person will have no share with Jesus. In other words, that person will not have a part of the inheritance that Jesus gives to those who are adopted into his family. Consider, church, the great sacrifice of Jesus when he made himself like a slave and came to earth as a man. He ended up beaten, despised, rejected, and dead in a borrowed tomb after all his closest friends had abandoned him. For your sin and unrighteousness he became sin. Your filthy rag of a life he put on himself and took to the cross. His broken body and shed blood became the perfect and unblemished sacrifice that God in his perfection required because a perfect and holy God cannot have sin in his presence. So in order to redeem us back to God, in order that we might enjoy the presence and blessing of God for eternity in a new and perfect world, Jesus bore the full force of God’s wrath on the cross in order that those who would believe and follow him might be saved.

The answer to our hedonism is Jesus. The happiness that so many are seeking will not be found in “gay marriage” (or heterosexual marriage for that matter) or in anything this life can offer. True and lasting peace and happiness can only be found in Jesus and the pursuit of the glory of God above all else. Hedonism is not the answer our culture needs. Christian hedonism (see John Piper’s Desiring God for a whole book on this) is exactly what the world needs. Humans were created to glorify God and only in pursuing that glory above all else can true fulfillment be found.

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2 thoughts on “Happiness, Hedonism, and The “Gay Marriage” Debate

  1. There have been a thousand things written on “gay marriage,” and I’ve read many of them too, but it’s nice to hear truth in the midst of a bunch of nonsense. Thanks Caleb. Very well written and to the point.

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