The Discipline of Hedonism

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In The Simple Life, Vernard Eller delights himself in some of the great parables of Søren Kierkegaard. One of his favorites is the parable of the lighted carriage and starlit night. We could also call it the crisis of Christian Hedonism. It goes like this:

When the prosperous man on a dark but starlit night drives comfortably in his carriage and has the lanterns lighted, aye, then he is safe, he fears no difficulty, he carries his light with him, and it is not dark close around him. But precisely because he has the lanterns lighted, and has a strong light close to him, precisely for this reason, he cannot see the stars. For his lights obscure the stars, which the poor peasant, driving without lights, can see gloriously in the dark but starry night. So those deceived ones live in the temporal existence: either, occupied with the necessities of life, they are too busy to avail themselves of the view, or in their prosperity and good days they have, as it were, lanterns lighted, and close about them everything is so satisfactory, so pleasant, so comfortable—but the view is lacking, the prospect, the view of the stars.

Eller comments, “Clearly, ‘the view of the stars’ here intends one’s awareness and enjoyment of God.” The rich and busy who surround themselves with the carriage lights of temporal comfort, or the busy who cover themselves with troublesome care, cut themselves off from what Kierkegaard calls “the absolute joy”:

What indescribable joy!—joy over God the Almighty.… For this is the absolute joy, to adore the almighty power with which God the Almighty bears all thy care and sorrow as easily as nothing.

Eller applies all this to the so-called “simple life” and says,

The motive of Christian simplicity is not the enjoyment of simplicity itself; that and any other earthly benefit that comes along are part of ‘all the rest’ [Matthew 6:33]. But the sole motive of Christian simplicity is the enjoyment of God himself (and if that be hedonism, let’s make the most of it!)—it is “the view of the stars.”

This is indeed hedonism! And I have done my best to make the most of it in this book.

Precisely! Christian Hedonism does not make a god out of pleasure. It says you have already made a god out of whatever you take most pleasure in.

How shall we open their ears to the shout of Jeremy Taylor: “God threatens terrible things, if we will not be happy!”?

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