Saturday, October 27, 2007

Even French Philosophers can be wrong on happiness

One of my friends, writing an article, quotes the contemporary French philosopher Pascal Bruckner as having the view that "up until the Middle Ages, happiness was viewed as one's reward, if that was just, only in the hereafter."

Well, I wrote to my friend today setting right the record. Bruckner (who may be right on any number of other things, being a philosopher) is wrong on his history.

In Jewish belief up to the time of Jesus the Lord, there was only the faintest hint of any life after death, and most Jews up to then did not believe in it. The reward for obedience to God was considered to be prosperity and health here on earth (Ex.15.27 and Deut 15.4-6) though this view was modified by the Book of Job and by other the historical books of the Jewish Bible, whose viewpoint seems to be that God is God and He is free to prosper whoever He wants - the relationship between obedience and prosperity/ health is *not* one-to-one because of God's patience in spite of human rebellion - though the relationship between obedience and prosperity/ health holds in the long term.

In any case, it was the communication of the good news of Jesus the Lord with the concomitant radical belief in life after death that led to the idea of happiness "here as well as hereafter" for everyone who follows Him

However, the bringing together of State and Church by the Emperor Constantine, and the compromises resulting in the rise of the Orthodox and Roman Churches meant that what Bruckner says is indeed true, though only of the Middle Ages themselves (and we ought to remember that today's Roman Catholic Church comes into existence only after its rejection of the Reformation).

The original Biblical emphasis on "happiness here as well as hereafter" was recovered by the Reformation - partly by the "main" (or "Magisterial") Reformation, and much more wholly by the "Radical Reformation".

Together, these two wings of the Reformation were the cultural forces that popularised the idea of earthly as well as other-worldly happiness, and that is what led later to the secularised version of happiness to which Bruckner refers (wrongly) as inhering in the Enlightenment - which itself, by the way, led only to the *terror* of the French Revolution (1789) and the reaction against it - resulting eventually in Napoleonic emperorship, from which France was finally freed only in 1870. Sphere: Related Content

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