b Peter Kreeft Discusses Christ's Concept of Happiness -b

Contrasting contemporary notions of happiness with the true blessedness that is found in Christ, Boston College philosophy professor Dr. Peter Kreeft addressed the age old question of what constitutes happiness in a recent lecture at the Cosmos Club in Washington, D.C. The lecture, titled "Christ’s Concept of Happiness," was part of the John Henry Cardinal Newman Lecture Series, an annual program hosted by the Institute for the Psychological Sciences. Featured speakers are widely recognized for their contribution to psychology, bioethics, moral and political philosophy and theology. Kreeft is a noted Catholic apologist and the author of over 40 books on philosophy, apologetics, theology, the writings of C.S. Lewis, Scripture and spirituality. His most recent titles include How to Win the Culture War, Socrates Meets Jesus, Three Approaches to Abortion, and Socratic Logic. Taking up a question posed by Freud, Kreeft asked, "Why are people so discontented at a time when contentment is the object of living? Nearly everyone from Aristotle to Freud agrees that we all seek happiness as an end, not just as a means…. No one asks what good is happiness if it does not bring me riches," he said. But, while most agree that happiness is what people seek, Kreeft said the way we as a society conceive of happiness is radically different from how our ancient forebears, even those preceding Christ, understood happiness. Moderns, he said, equate happiness with contentment and subjective satisfaction. For most people, happiness, which derives from the old English word "hap" meaning fortune or luck, denotes a feeling. In contrast, ancients going back to Socrates and Aristotle understood happiness as a state of true blessedness that superceded feeling good. Eudaemonia, the ancient Greek word for happiness, was a state of being that not only included contentment, but also freedom and responsibility, goodness and a spiritual dimension as well. Kreeft said that according to modern society there are nine ingredients for a happy and contented life, including power, riches, individual rights to justice and peace, good self esteem, freedom from pain, success, and being understood, loved and accepted. Yet, he said, Christ’s concept of happiness goes beyond both the eudaemonia of the ancients and the subjective satisfaction proposed by modern society. In giving us the Beatitudes, Christ gives us a recipe for happiness. "The secret of happiness is really quite simple," he said. "It is Jesus, not just the philosophy of Jesus." "Suppose there was a preacher who taught that true happiness was the exact opposite of each of the nine ingredients. Imagine further that this man became the most beloved, respected, praised, esteemed and believed teacher in the world. That would be a greater miracle than God becoming man. It would be even harder to believe that anyone would believe his uttering such shattering paradoxes." Yet, Kreeft added, Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, the most famous sermon ever preached, reverses each of the "truisms" of what constitutes modern happiness. Quoting Chesterton, he said, "It is because we are standing on our heads that Christ’s philosophy seems upside down. In giving us himself, Christ gives us the viewpoint of heaven. " In contrast to those who seek conquest, Christ taught that those who are meek will inherit the earth. While most of us desire to be known, people who are meek remain hidden, as God often remains hidden. Meekness is in sharp contrast to those who desire to conquer. The meek are not nebbishes, nerds, or geeks, but are instead those who do not harm. The meek see the best things in life are spiritual things — wisdom, creativity and beauty. They also understand that spiritual things are not competitive, but multiply when shared, whereas material things are limited and thus divided. Similarly, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are those who have a passionate thirst for sanctity that "cuts to the rotten flesh at the heart of the modern world." "Nothing more distinguishes us as a society than our lack of passion," Kreeft said. "It’s not that we do not admire holiness, but having a passion for holiness requires us to do more than have a positive self esteem. It requires us to be fanatics — to love one thing infinitely." Danielle Smith, a student at the Institute for Psychological Sciences, found Kreeft’s lecture insightful. "It helped me better understand what it means to be blessed in contrast to how the world views happiness," Smith said. Peter Martin, also a student at the IPS, said that Kreeft "did a masterful job of using witty metaphors to explain the countercultural message of Christ." "He explained the Beatitudes in a manner that was accessible and reasonable. It was really enjoyable, especially when you get to know him as a person. He has a brilliant way of answering questions in terms of metaphors that are concrete," Martin said. Following the lecture, Kreeft answered questions and attended a book signing hosted by the IPS. 

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