“If you think of this world as a place simply intended for our happiness, you find it quite intolerable: think of it as a place for training and correction and it’s not so bad.”
In his book, A Brave New World, Aldous Huxley describes a new and “progressive” civilization, where all things are adapted and conditioned in citizens to allow for perpetual happiness and stability. Every physical impulse is immediately gratified so passion cannot develop, every obstacle to comfort is removed. Even old age is eradicated. Negative emotions are dulled by “Soma” – a drug to numb the senses. The spirit is never allowed to interrupt the distractions of the body – and so God “manifests Himself as an absence” rather than a presence. The Chief Controller of this “Brave New World” declared, “God isn’t compatible with universal happiness. You must make your choice. Our civilization has chosen machinery, and medicine, and happiness.”
Why isn’t God, or Objective truth, compatible with universal happiness? Isn’t that the point of a loving God? Isn’t the truth meant to set us free? The difficulty is found in our earth-bound timeline. We see happiness as a day to to day process – one day here, the next day gone. But this perspective is short-sided and limited.
For most of my engagement, my future-husband and I lived in different continents. It was a hellish experience for us. We were both working full-time in our respective countries, trying to save enough money for school and to start our lives together. We missed each other and were uncertain we would even be able to manage the logistics of marrying, living 10,000 miles apart. I remember as I was living through this time I felt cheated. “I am supposed to be enjoying my life with my soulmate! Instead I am in a constant state of stress and worry.” I would cry at night and be angry with God. Now, five kids later, with a happy and successful marriage, I see those times as more humorous than painful. I wouldn’t change it – those struggles proved our commitment. But the Ally of 13 years ago only wanted ease and happiness, I am glad she didn’t get her way. I would have been settling.
“Both good and evil, when they are full grown, become retrospective…That is what mortals misunderstand. They say of some temporary suffering, ‘No future bliss can make up for it,’ not knowing that Heaven, once attained, will work backwards and turn even that agony into a glory. And of some sinful pleasure they say ‘Let me but have this and I’ll take the consequences’: little dreaming how damnation will spread back and back into their past and contaminate the pleasure of the sin.” C. S. Lewis
Which Ally is living in reality? The younger stressed-out Ally simply desiring peace and happiness, or the current Ally looking back knowing how it all turned out? If we separate ourselves from the present moment – if we hover above and beyond this time – we get a clue to God’s perspective. That is the reality we want to live in, that reality brings ultimate peace and joy. There we are enabled to thrive amidst sufferings or uncertainty. But I keep slipping out of that reality. How can we dwell there when we are bounded by our material existence? I believe the first step is to attempt to engage with our non-material lives, our “intuitive” or spiritual lives.
“The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift.” Albert Einstein
Why are we so driven by “happiness” or pleasure? And why don’t I ever learn that I shouldn’t be controlled by their demands? My husband and I are trying to sell our house right now and again I want ease and happiness! I don’t want to have to try and keep a house spotless with five messy children. Is it even possible to not allow this to stress me out? I admit I have not quite figured out how to have a long-term view when stress and worry are screaming so loudly. But I do find that when I stop and engage my spiritual mind (usually in my quiet closet) – and seek out the peace and faith found through the spirit – the proper perspective can return. At least until the puppy has an accident on the carpet.
One reason we keep slipping out of “reality” may be that our bodies have a loud and persistent voice. We want that piece of cake, we yearn to be in the arms of our love, we don’t want stress and negative emotions. These desires are not bad – but they are also not the only good. Particularly in youth, in our naivety and lack of responsibility, our bodily impulses demand satisfaction. We cannot hear the calls of conscience or morality if we allow our impulses’ screams to drown out their soft promptings.
There is no balancing the intuitive (spiritual) mind and rational (material) mind in A Brave New World. There was no counter-point to the demands of the body. The only respite from stress and meaninglessness that a physical life inevitably produces is instant gratification and the drug Soma. Rather than seeking peace through prayer in a closet, Huxley’s citizens become numb to all suffering and all purpose. The citizens become servants to their own desires – they lose all ability to see beyond the material, beyond the immediate. They are easily controlled, listless puppets to a great Evil.
But we can discover a True New World and leave behind the Brave New World of meaningless pleasure. Huxley explains that the natural process of age can facilitate this discovering of a True New World. However, even in youth, the adoption of responsibility and practice of self-control can lead us to this world.
“They say that it is the fear of death and of what comes after death that makes men turn to religion as they advance in years. But my own experience has given me the conviction that, quite apart from any such terrors or imaginings, the religious sentiment tends to develop as we grow older; to develop because, as the passions grow calm, as the fancy and sensibilities are less excited and less excitable, our reason becomes less troubled in its working, less obscured by the images, desires and distractions, in which it used to be absorbed; whereupon God emerges as from behind a cloud; our soul feels, sees, turns towards the source of all light; turns naturally and inevitably; for now that all that gave to the world of sensations its life and charms has begun to leak away from us, now that phenomenal existence is no more bolstered up by impressions from within or from without, we feel the need to lean on something that abides, something that will never play us false–a reality, an absolute and everlasting truth. Yes, we inevitably turn to God; for this religious sentiment is of its nature so pure, so delightful to the soul that experiences it, that it makes up to us for all our other losses.”
-Aldous Huxley, A Brave New World
As we see our world follow the precedent set in A Brave New World, and happiness and stability are exalted to the place of Supreme Good, we must seek out a True New World. To discover the true reality of our existence we must “not walk according to the flesh but according the the Spirit,” Romans 8:4. We have to choose to see the Reality of truth and progress as more important than momentary self-satisfaction. If we accept the difficulties of life, rather than only seek to prevent them, our eyes become open to the Ultimate source of joy and fulfillment. This choice will lead to a life less stable and contented than that of the citizens of Huxley’s civilization, but one with access to truth, beauty, and progress not found in satisfied ease. The reality we discover may reveal that the very “act of striving for truth and beauty is where happiness resides.”
*Aldous Huxley and C.S. Lewis died the same day, November 22, 1963. Despite their prominence as great thinkers and authors, their passing was relatively unnoticed, as this was also the date of JFK’s assassination.
*Artwork: By the Mill, Henry John Yeend King