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.


Jason Malloy said...

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.

Jason Malloy said...

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).

Bruce Charlton said...

@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.

Bruce Charlton said...

@ 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.

Jason Malloy said...

"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).