We live in the age of Empiricism—the world encountered through the 5 senses is the ultimate source of personal truth.  This is not a new idea, but goes back 2,000 years to the writings of Aristotle. In his work “Nicomachean Ethics,” he outlines the goal of life as happiness achieved through the contemplation of philosophic truth. Aristotle taught,

aristotle1Thus the moral ideal appears as a code of rules, accepted by the agent, but as yet to him without rational justification and without system or unity. But the rules prescribe no mechanical uniformity: each within its limits permits variety, and the exactly right amount adopted to the requirements of the individual situation (and every actual situation is individual) must be determined by the intuition of the moment. There is no attempt to reduce the rich possibilities of right action to a single monotonous type.

The United States of America was founded, in part, in Aristotle’s philosophical goal of happiness. John Stuart Mill picked up on this theme in his work “On Liberty.”

John_Stuart_Mill_by_London_Stereoscopic_Company,_c1870“As it is useful that while mankind are imperfect there should be different opinions, so is it that there should be different experiments of living; that free scope should be given to varieties of character, short of injury to others; and that the worth of different modes of life should be proved practically, when any one thinks fit to try them.. It is desirable, in short, that in things which do not primarily concern others, individuality should assert itself. Where, not the person’s own character, but the traditions of customs of other people are the rule of conduct, there is wanting one of the principal ingredients of human happiness, and quite the chief ingredient of individual and social progress.” — John Stewart Mill, “On Liberty” Ch. III

The pursuit of individual happiness rooted in a personal ethic was fundamental to the founding of the USA.  n 1776, the thirteen United States wrote in the Declaration of Independence.

declaration of independanceWe hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

Today, we live in an ailing culture dedicated to the pursuit of personal happiness as determined by the experience of each individual. We see daily the sickness caused by our radical pursuit of autonomous individuality guided only by the paradox of the ever-changing absolute truth of the moment.

How can we heal the cultural sickness?

Healing will come through nothing less than a rejection “happiness” and the pursuit of a communal and transcultural ethic rooted in worship of YHWH.

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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