The title of this post (as you probably know) comes from Pharrell Williams’ immensely popular song “Happy”. “Happy” is a song about “happiness” and how if you’re “happy” then nothing can touch you and you can take on the world! The singer describes “happiness” as this all conquering power to those who know what happiness is to them. But it is those last three words in my previous sentence that get Mr. Williams into problems.
In our society it is not a sin to find happiness in whichever way you think best but it is a sin to tell someone that they are pursuing happiness the wrong way. This is one of the main reasons why Pharrell Williams’ song is so popular.
Clap along if you know what happiness is to you.
There is no one alive who cannot heed this command. Everyone, in some measure, has some idea of what they think will make them happy. Using the logic of “Happy”, it doesn’t matter if feeding the hungry makes you happy or if pushing grannies in front of buses makes you happy. Either way you should clap along if you know what makes you happy!
This is one of the main problems with our culture. We believe the lie that each individual should find their own way to happiness. We believe that if people are left to themselves to find their own way of happiness then they are likely to find it, granted we remove any obstacle that may lie in their way to perceived happiness.
This idea is most easily found in the pop-music that our culture produces. Pop-music is produced to be consumed by individuals who can make it mean whatever they want it to mean. Have you ever listened to a Katy Perry or Lady Gaga song and wondered if they are actually singing about anything real or if they are just reciting one liners that can be manipulated by their listeners to mean whatever they want it to mean? When Katy Perry or Lady Gaga sings “You just gotta be free and be you!” they don’t care what you take that to mean as long as you are at their concert and buy a t-shirt on the way out (which ironically aren’t free & they may not carry your size).
Ken Myers once gave a talk where he addresses this very concept (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHl9bQvJ_M4). He stated that in a culture that prizes subjectivity, meaning must be made from music and not the other way around. What he means is that music must not actually mean anything. Singers and songwriters must not write and sing about objective experiences but instead must tailor their content in such a subjective way that anyone can make it mean whatever they like.
This concept is rampant in our society and it has even crept into the church. Most contemporary worship music resounds with subjectivity. Instead of reciting the true and objective history of Israel (which the New Testament calls instruction for Christians ~ 1 Cor. 11) we sing about some ambiguous and subjective understanding of “God’s Embrace” that could mean a hundred different things to the hundred different people singing it. In more severe cases, this cultural tendency towards relativism has even crept into the way Christians read and understand the Bible. Instead of reading the Bible to understand what it is saying, Christians now (too often) read the Bible to find out “what it means to me”. What this creates is a religion that is shaped after the individual instead of an individual that is shaped after their religion.
As Christians, we are to be salt and light to our culture and society. Therefore, if our society is embracing relativism and subjectivity, we should look to present to them an objective Gospel that is the same yesterday, today, and forever, regardless of what they think happiness is to them.
Food for thought.