"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Who’s Happier–Conservatives Or Liberals?

Decades of research have confirmed the happiness gap – conservatives are happier than liberals.  This is not surprising given the constant whining of progressives who are always worried about something.  The climate is warming, income inequality is increasing, racial divisions persist, the glass ceiling has proven harder to break through than once thought, and so on. Being responsible for human progress is a tough moral, ethical burden to bear.

Conservatives on the other hand worry far less.  For religious fundamentalists who make up close to fifty percent of the population, the Bible provides a solid basis of absolute certainty when it comes to matters of faith, morals, or climate. “It is in God’s hands”, they say, and conclusions about contentious issues are simple.  The Bible – the word of God – is unequivocally clear about reproduction, sexual behavior, and family values.


America was built on a foundation of faith.  After all the country was first settled by those fleeing religious persecution in Europe.  The Founding Fathers, well versed in the principles of the Enlightenment, wrote the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights on the basis of 18th Century principles. Individual liberty within the context of community, strengthened by faith, guided by rationality, and fueled by enterprise reflected the gospels of the Bible.  The Old Testament God wrote the Law and Jesus Christ preached a doctrine of faith. The secular testaments of the new republic and the sacred testaments of the Lord were no different. Conservatives question neither.

John Locke

Freud would have a field day with today’s progressives. So much worry is not good. A close friend of mine who is a psychotherapist in Boston told me that liberals pay the rent, the mortgage on the house on Cape Cod and the condo in Aspen.  “They have so much on their minds”, she said. “I have all I can do to keep their heads above water.

“Think about it”, she said. “In addition to a kvetchy wife, tenure battles at Brandeis, children whose grades will never make Harvard’s threshold, and hectoring in-laws, these patients are worried sick about the planet.”

They refuse to take Zoloft and Xanax, she explained, because they want to deal with their problems directly.  It is more honest and morally responsible.  “They don’t want to be cured”, my friend went on, “they want to be listened to; and they want to know what it is like to suffer.”

I have spent many years in the small, conservative, and profoundly religious community of Randolph, Georgia.  Judging by the goings on at the Mt. Airy Baptist Church every Sunday, people are very happy indeed. Pastor Roberts’ message is simple – through faith in Jesus Christ, all can be saved – and his mission was to create the joy and ecstasy that the born-again knew. “Do you believe in the Lord Jesus”, he shouted, mopping his brow and waving his Bible. “Will you take him as your personal savior? Will you receive Him in to your hearts, believe in him, and receive his grace?”


After each question, the congregation shouted their reply, each time louder and more enthusiastically than before. As the pastor reached a crescendo, tears rolling down his cheeks; and as the faithful stood up, raised their arms, and yelled ‘Hallelujah’, the choir began to sing.  When they did, the congregation swayed in unison, arms locked together, smiles and tears on their faces.

The River Road Methodist Church in Bethesda, Maryland prides itself on having found the right balance between the spiritual and the secular.  Henry Potter, the pastor, had studied at Yale Divinity School and had received a postgraduate degree from Harvard. River Road Methodist was as far from the red dirt hills of Randolph as one can get.  Mr. Potter’s mission was not to invoke the Holy Spirit nor even encourage personal expressions of faith. It was to strengthen the commitment that his congregation had to helping the poor, to reducing racial tensions, and to saving Earth from sure incineration.

Occasionally he would bring Jesus into the discussion, referring to one parable or another to illustrate his points about compassion, alms, and the duties of the wealthy; but mainly his sermons were about Selma, Ferguson, and Atlanta and the struggles of African Americans to reclaim their God-given rights.  Many of his congregation were veterans of the civil rights struggles of the Sixties and were looked up to by younger members who wished they had been born in time to storm the barricades, march, and sit in.  Pastor Potter would often invite one of those who had been on the Freedom Rides to speak and to explain that the struggle was far from over.  There were no tears of ecstasy as there were in Randolph, but tears of sorrow and commiseration.

Image result for images jesus with the poor

Henry Potter knew that his job was not to make his congregants feel good, but to feel bad; that is to keep an edge on their liberal angst.  They should leave his church angry that America had not listened to them fifty years ago and was being taken over by neo-Nazi thugs.

The reply to “How are you today?” in the South is “I’m blessed.” Among those who attend services at River Road Methodist it is “I could be better.”  In the nearby synagogue, it is, “Don’t ask”. It is no surprise that most American Jews are liberals, for after five thousand years of misery and travail, the world is still farfalen but Jews have been instructed not to give up on the mishegas.

A former colleague had spent most of his life working for progressive causes. He was in the trenches in Alabama in the Sixties. He picketed the White House and the Capitol whose leaders were indifferent to the cause of nuclear proliferation.  He led candlelight vigils before the first and second Gulf Wars.  He and his wife were honorary members of the foremost feminist organizations in the country, and he had recently served as the principle white advisor to the White House on civil rights issues. 

Needless to say, they had no fun. Dinners revolved around social issues, injustice, and Republican ignorance.  The conversation was intelligent and high-toned, but the issues were too important for humor, they said.  All I could think of were off-color, racially insensitive jokes.

Conservatives believe that there is no such thing as social progress.  The world has been a mess for millennia and won’t get any better.  The only validation of humanity is the expression of individual will. The only relationship worth nurturing is that between sinner and Savior. This certitude leads to a happy life.  There is a certain fatalism to the philosophy, and Lord knows, Indians are not a very happy lot; but there something to be said for ceding one’s concerns to a higher power.

Image result for images born again

Ivan Karamazov in this role as the Grand Inquisitor in The Brothers Karamazov challenged the returned Christ and said that He had betrayed mankind by offering him promises while ignoring his hunger and misery.  Man wants nothing to do with Free Will, the Inquisitor says, but wants only miracle, mystery, and authority.  Conservatives are quite happy to turn their souls over to Jesus Christ and the Church and want only some charisma, ecstasy, and minor miracles to satisfy them.

Image result for image grand inquisitor

Liberals may be more reflective and thoughtful about issues. They are not content to let things alone unless they have understood them, made rational decisions concerning them, and armed themselves for battle; but a conservative life of certitude, removing doubt and questioning, has to be a happier one.

Tolstoy struggled his whole life with questions about death and the meaning of life; and finally near the end of his career wrote A Confession which chronicled the painful path to conversion. Actually he backed into faith.  He wore out with so much thought and anxiety.  One morning he woke up and realized that tens of millions of people alive believed in God and billions before them did as well, so why not him. He could have saved himself a lot of trouble.

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Happiness is a function of many things, but being a liberal is not one of them.

1 comment:

  1. I'm sure the rats in the bilge of the Titanic were happy too, right until the final moments. Also, your insinuation that most liberals are wealthy (almost a contradiction in terms) is not appreciated.


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