Freedom and Happiness

“Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord!” Psalm 144:15b~

I had the great privilege once to meet Harry Wu, a Chinese dissident who spent 19 years in a laogai, a “re-education camp.” Wu was eventually exiled to America. He worked nights in a doughnut shop until he could learn English to become a voice for freedom until his death in 2016.

Something he said still resonates with me. “A barefoot peasant can be happy if he is free.” Happiness and freedom go hand in hand. 

In “The Grand Inquisitor,” Fyodor Dostoevsky presents what at first seems like a different view.

Alyosha, a priest, is generous and loving. His brother Ivan is an atheist who plans to live until he is thirty, then commit suicide. The two discuss a parable Ivan has written. The conversation, a chapter in The Brothers Karamozov, is more of a political statement than a religious one. But sometimes, people substitute politics for religion.

In Ivan’s parable, a 16th-century Cardinal/inquisitor talks to a silent Christ who has returned to earth for the day. Christ sits silently while the inquisitor tells how he and others in power have replaced God, having improved upon His plan. They have convinced the populace to willingly relinquish their freedom.

Christ had brought freedom with the promise of heavenly bread. He had brought no guarantees of earthly bread or even of happiness. The inquisitor offers people earthly bread at the cost of freedom. Not having to pursue their own bread, the people will be happy, the inquisitor claims.

Speaking to Christ, the inquisitor sums up our times:

“Dost Thou know that the ages will pass, and humanity will proclaim by the lips of their sages that there is no crime, and therefore no sin; there is only hunger? ‘Feed men, and then ask of them virtue!’ that’s what they’ll write on the banner, which they will raise against Thee, and with which they will destroy Thy temple.”

Published in 1880, Dostoevsky was prophetic. Much of the world has turned to the bread of socialism. They don’t, however, seem any happier for having done so.

Satan’s promises never pay off.

In the 1960s, President Lyndon Johnson promised America freedom and happiness. He admitted he did not have the “full answer” to America’s woes. But he determined to find “the best thought and the broadest knowledge from all over the world to find those answers for America.” It’s unlikely that he realized his point mirrored the words of the inquisitor.

Johnson’s speech marks a turning in America, not the first nor the last, away from the wisdom of God to the wisdom of man.

“The purpose of protecting the life of our nation and preserving the liberty of our citizens is to pursue the happiness of our people. Our success in that pursuit is the test of our success as a nation.” The government’s new goal became to effect personal happiness in its citizens. Without it, the nation would be a failure.

Johnson’s Great Society would result in “abundance and liberty for all” and require “an end to poverty and racial injustice.”

After having spent more than $22 trillion over 50 years, rates of poverty first dropped from 17 percent to about 12 percent, rose again to hover at 15 percent, then ticked back up to almost 17 percent in 2020. 

Changes to Social Security and Medicare accounted for much of the initial poverty reduction. 

The FBI’s Uniform Crime Report shows a murder rate in 1960 of 4.6 (per 100,000). The rate soared to 10.2 in 1980 and was at 4.5 in 2013. Currently, the rate is 6.9. The War on Poverty has failed.

More than half a century since LBJ promised that programs could produce a heyday of peace and prosperity, a heaven on earth utopia has not come to pass.

It cannot be on earth.

The pursuit of happiness is not something that anyone–including the government–can chase on someone else’s behalf. Certainly, no one can pursue happiness without freedom.

In response to the inquisitor, Dostoevsky’s Christ remains silent. His only response: kissing the inquisitor before He departs.

Ivan thought he figured out how to fix the world. But Ivan still wasn’t happy. Before they part, Alyosha kisses him.

Alyosha knows happiness does not come in the form of government-provided bread. It comes in the form of love.

Love shares, provides for needs, and is generous.

That kind of love comes only through Christ.

Photo Credit: Pexels

Nancy E. Head’s Restoring the Shattered is out in paperback! Get your copy here!

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20 Replies to “Freedom and Happiness”

  1. I’m convinced we can never create a world system (government, political party, national program, anything) that can solve our problems. As Jesus said, the poor will always be with us. Earth isn’t meant to be perfect, and so what’s left for us who follow Jesus is to try to care for and love people as best as possible, sharing the truth and hope of the Gospel and living our lives in a way that points to the Father. Excellent piece, Nancy!

    1. Thank you, Jessica. You hit the nail on the head. Our place in life will never be perfect. It’s up to us to help others, not leave them to the mercies of government programs managed from a distance. God bless!

  2. So many people try to create programs that eliminate poverty but none succeed. The Bible even tells us we will always have the poor. The problem is rooted in our greed. I have read that if every Christian in the world gave their full tithe, there would be enough money to end world hunger. But, we fail. Thanks for sharing Nancy.

    1. That’s an interesting fact, Yvonne. Would we end world hunger for all time or just for a short time? People need to learn how to provide for themselves. There are natural events that cause famine, but so often, political situations keep food from getting to people. The Church can be the bridge to independence for the hungry–if we do our parts and programs don’t get in the way.

    1. Thank you, Ava. You’ve hit it exactly. Giving people money with no bridge to independence doesn’t solve anything. God bless!

  3. Some great points to consider Ms. Nancy. Sadly, we see this cyclical evolution throughout history ma’am. Satan’s flawed logic deceives a great many, still today.

  4. Mankind’s attempts at the perfection of love and selflessness never prove to be enough, for unlike Jesus, none of us are able to truly love with unwavering compassion and selflessness. We often forget this and try to accomplish perfect love in yet another failed attempt. This cycle repeats itself.

    1. You’re so right that the cycle repeats itself, Melinda. We find ourselves when we give ourselves away to God. Thanks and God bless!

  5. Such a great post, Nancy. How true that we cannot pursue happiness without freedom. So I loved Wu’s quote and how you note that happiness and freedom go hand in hand.

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