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Victoria Osteen, Her Christian Critics, and the Rational Alternative

Victoria Osteen, wife of megachurch pastor Joel Osteen, is being harshly rebuked by fellow Christians for telling her church congregation that Christianity is about selfish happiness:

When we obey God, we’re not doing it for God; we’re doing it for ourselves. Do good for your own self. Do it because God wants you to be happy. When you come to church, when you worship Him, you’re not doing it for God, really—you’re doing it for yourself, because that’s what makes God happy. Amen?

Religious writer Matt Walsh correctly points out that, according to Christian doctrine, Osteen’s comments are heretical, blasphemous, a “vulgar abomination.” “In more primitive times,” writes Walsh, “they burned heretics at the stake. Now we greet the blasphemers with applause and multi-million dollar book deals.” (He concedes that burning blasphemers at the stake is wrong.)

Walsh argues that Osteen’s view that “You act virtuously for your own sake, because it brings you happiness” is “[r]ooted in the Idolatry of Self” and “betrays a pagan attitude which positions the Self as the Ultimate Good, the Final Purpose.”

As Walsh makes clear, Christianity utterly rejects the view that you should “act virtuously for your own sake, because it brings you happiness.” Instead, as the Bible exhorts, we should “present our bodies as a living sacrifice.” Walsh points out that central to Christianity are the concepts of “sin, and duty, and obedience”; that Christianity “is a faith for warriors and martyrs”; and that Christians ought not “pretend that Christ didn’t promise us suffering and persecution in this life.”

R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, also points out that, according to Christian doctrine, Osteen’s view is heretical. He notes that “believers are not promised earthly wealth nor the gift of health,” and that the fundamental concern, in Christianity, is not achieving personal happiness, but overcoming “sin.”

Both Walsh and Mohler claim that, despite its call for sacrifice and suffering, Christianity is the only path to “true joy,” and that the only alternative is an empty, hedonistic “happiness.” Walsh holds that personal happiness of the sort that Osteen promotes is “shallow, corny, and incomplete.” Mohler holds that earthly “Happiness . . . doesn’t last, cannot satisfy, and often is not even real.”

However, despite the claims of Walsh and Mohler, the choice between sacrifice, suffering, and obedience on one hand and hedonism on the other is a false one.

Genuine happiness comes, not from self-sacrificially obeying the commands of some ancient religious text, nor from mindlessly chasing hedonistic “pleasures,” but from rationally pursuing values for the sake of your own life and happiness—values such as career, romance, friendship, health, and art.

Victoria Osteen’s advice to her congregation certainly contradicts Christian doctrine. But the solution to such a contradiction is not to faithfully embrace the Christian duty to sacrifice and suffer; rather, the solution is to rationally reject religion and embrace a morality for living and loving life on earth.

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