It is a sad and common mistake that we choose to be happy instead of good. In some imagined Eden, perhaps, there would never have been such a choice to consider, and in the mere imagining of that paradise we can see that goodness and happiness are not intrinsically opposed. No — let it be clear — happiness is not evil. But this side of our broken souls the choice between being happy and being good is all too often set before us, and, all too often, we choose happiness over goodness. Couched in such abstractions, perhaps it is difficult to see why we should consider the alternative. Yet we know (don’t we?) that in a fallen world the good is greater than happiness, as truth is greater than both.
Here, perhaps, is the root of our temptation: That in Eden happiness is greater than goodness, greater even than truth. In Eden the glory shines foremost, and the lovers of glory may delight in innocence, naked and unashamed. And even now, driven from the Garden, the glory calls and whispers, telling us to delight, reminding us of dew-watered grass and the beauty of the world’s first sunset. But with innocence gone, all is twisted, easily misled, most of all the delight that is made to love without caution. And so must delight be held, kept, not caged like a beast, but guided like mighty waters between rocky banks. Like the soft wildness of sex kept sacred in a marriage bed, delight is made free by the dedication of the moral vow. Without the vow, it is an impostor at best, rape at worst. And so is happiness a moral usurper if chosen above the good; so is it necessary, when confronted with the horror of the choice, to sacrifice happiness for goodness. I’m sorry.