The Closet Dam Thing To Happy

(Disclaimer: This article is out of place for this blog and is better suited towards: self development, it maybe removed in the future)

I think there were two similar versions of happiness I imagined growing up. Firstly the kind of 'large success' version. This entailed being very wealthy (including super rich) and being very famous (perhaps through acting or music, or a sports star or whatever). Basically this version of happiness presupposes that you would win the lottery and become an overnight super-star in life. Fanatics who follow this model, truly will never feel complete until they achieve this state. For them basically that is their way out of the present suffering and misery, almost like redemption.

The second version of happiness I imagined was that of 'moderate success'. In this version you have a relatively stable income and admirable career, with a loving beautiful partner and awesome family. You have an interesting life, with fascinating hobbies. You graduate college, you graduate University (or some other higher end institution). You go to work every day 9-5, you retire when you become 65-70. The glory is in your retirement. You finally worked all that time to be rewarded. Finally you can relax, take it easy, and have a few laughs with the grand children and enjoy living out your days in peace.

With regard to the first version, obviously there is no genie in a bottle for most of us and our chicken wish bone probably got fried over night or thrown out by accident. Maybe if we wrote a song about some neighborhood peeping tom perving in our home window at the age of 16 we could become instantaneously rich and successful like Taylor Swift, but a gambler isn't going to place one on this. This leaves us with the secondary option, which is what all of society is in actuality based upon.

Now with regard to the second version, I grew up in that model, and well, it turns out it was kind of bunk (at-least for me personally which impacted my perception of it in general). I will relate that model of happiness upon some of my personal history and we can judge the outcome.

My brother was thrown out of our home early, I was bullied at school, I was beaten up everywhere, at home and at school, and my dad and brother would be physically violent to one another, sometimes even my mum would to my dad (as little as a woman could). One day I remember as an 11 year old even attacking my own mother. Why? My parents were divorcing, I was being forced to move away from everything and everyone I ever knew. This attack resulted in my grandparents never truly loving me the way they once did. Their daughter was the most precious person in the world to them. And so I craved for them to love me again in the same way they always had, but they never did, as a young child, I couldn't understand, all I wanted to do was prove myself to them, that I wasn't that way anymore, but I never felt like I convinced them.

Now both of my parents were single for years, lonely, and never truly happy, just well 'surviving'. My parents handled life post-divorce differently. My dad became more spiritual and less carnal and my mum moved back home (in which event I was now living and under my grand parents who I now dreaded for hating me). My mum felt more at homely in her home town, she seemed more social, and often attempted to find a new partner, eventually she got remarried, but it took along time, and it was late in her life. So really none of them get their 'happy ever after' at-least not exactly how they might have anticipated or planned for it, yet they continued on that path anyway, straining to get the result, as that is all they knew and indeed all that I knew.

Personally with me after the divorce, I moved with my mother. I got beaten up on the first day of my new school (that happened quite a few more times), but atleast I made it to college (high school) but I didn't pass school cert, I didn't pass sixth form or seventh form (that's Years 12-13), hence I didn't go to University. In fact puberty in a way came much later for me, I was often clowning around for most of college, I even failed my favorite subject at the time: music

Academia never interested me, until that one important day (when all my chances were over) I realized it impacted my very identity. Was I a child of God? Where do I come from? What is my place in history? That is the point where a light bulb went off, and I became interested in Science and the Bible initially, then eventually this passion extended to many other areas, actually branching off, the world was interesting to me now, not just because of whom I am, but because every topic in itself was fascinating but it is some how interconnected to me and everybody!

So I blew it academically. then later every time I tried to work (once I was old enough) I would get nervous break downs, and become extremely anxious, and no one understood me so I felt incredibly judged, resulting in even more anxiety and an extremely introverted young adult-hood. I had something similar to GAD (General Anxiety Disorder). At-least I found several jobs, where I was almost the only employee! Later I realized a nurse pointed out to me, I have symptoms of Bipolar. And to top it off I always had some variant degree of depression, ranging from low to moderate to extreme that I have been prescribed medication for, but knowingly rejected it, claiming I would deal with the issue myself, I love to refuse help. What can I say? Maybe it's a man thing. At an early age I also had no idea how to talk to women or how to meet a girlfriend, so there went the whole idea about family and marriage. For me there will be no great retirement with grand-children, no family, no wife, no diamonds, no cash, no 'merry Christmas' unless God changes my heart towards these things.

So since these two options aren't going to work in my case I thought I would broaden the range of what constitutes happiness, the happiness meter, if you will. So firstly lets look at a Forbes article: 

"The Legatum Prosperity Index is based on a study of 142 countries comprising 96% of global population. Nations are analyzed and ranked on 89 indicators in 8 categories such as education, government and economics. Per capita GDP — basically how rich a nation is — is a factor in the index, but the whole point of the Legatum study is to look beyond such a simple measure at all the myriad issues that make up wellbeing and prosperity. 
In general, the most prosperous (thus “happiest” in my book) countries enjoy stable political institutions, a strong civil society with freedom of expression, good education and healthcare, personal freedom and a feeling of being safe and secure." - "The Happiest (And Saddest) Countries In The World"

That seems pretty rational on the surface level. Freedom of speech? Sure why not? Equality? Sure that's a great contribution to happiness. Being safe and secure? Sure! That is until you contemplate this a little further.

Firstly we have to remember our ancestors had none of this. Even if we go back to the 2nd millennium before Christ, there was no health care, there was no personal freedom, there was no guarantee of safety and security, there was no adequate education, governmental or economic system. There certainly was no prosperity other than raiders and rulers, everything was chaotic. Obviously none of these things are 'fundamental' to happiness, but some can be additional components in the same way money could. But yet if real happiness existed, despite all of this. How was it then possible? Was no one happy before our generation? Was materialism the source of all satisfaction? Was accumulating material objects and wealth and having stable living conditions really all there was to life and being happy? I already have all this, but it doesn't by default make me happy? I don't get it. And i'm pretty sure happy-people existed before our modern era.

Well the immediate answer might be to go to God or the transcendent. But even that old saying is applicable here: 'God only helps those who helps themselves'. This still intuitively seems true. In other words God can satisfy your spiritual needs and spiritually fulfill you, or when you reach out to God he will gratify this primitive urge, however God is not going to physically force you to take a bath like your mother or grand-mother may have as a child. You have to treat your body with respect. God can't force you to work out every morning, yet this is generally good for your well being and health and overall happiness. Hence while I personally believe your world view and your relationship with God is essential and fundamental to your spiritual well being, it cannot encompass everything happiness has to offer, it's the foundation. One way to put this as a philosopher might put it is 'the conditions are necessary but not sufficient'. God has so wired us to fill our happy-meter by other criterion as-well. 

We could perhaps catalog all the above three models of happiness as 'external'. This is most evident in the last example, political and economic conditions, or are we under slavery? But this is also true of the first two. Money and Celebrity are obviously external elements. And finally but less obviously having a partner and home, and viable career, would also be part of the more external range of happiness. But what if you lost all of this? What if every one of these external pillars fell on it's head? Could I then still be happy?

And this left me with one final model for happiness, which I personally resonate with, I would call this more 'internal'. I believe this is the best model and can individually apply to me or anyone who needs this and resonates with this version:

"Gallup, The American Institute of Public Opinion, conducted a study to find out which country had the happiest citizens. The survey results were striking as it was discovered that citizens of the poorest countries were the happiest. The list of the happiest countries was topped by El Salvador, Paraguay, Uruguay, and Trinidad and Tobago. What is the secret of Hispanic happiness? Specialists of the Gallup Institute released data from a study conducted back in 2011. Experts conducted a survey in 148 countries around the world to find out in which countries people were more likely to experience positive emotions. People were interviewed in person and on the phone, and each person was asked five questions, all about the ways they spent the previous day. Social scientists asked whether the respondents felt joy, whether they felt rested, and how often they laughed and smiled. In addition, the researchers asked whether their interviewees felt respected by their peers, as well as whether they learned something new the day before. According to the Gallup, the happiest people on the planet were the citizens of El Salvador, Panama and Paraguay. These three countries were the "happiest". The top ten included 7 countries in Latin America - in addition to the above, Venezuela, Ecuador, Guatemala and Costa Rica made the list. Russia, however, did not even make it to the top one hundred of the happiest countries, occupying one of the lowest spots (along with Iran and Algeria)."- "Citizens of poorest countries are happiest in the world

The article goes on to state 'Panama' as happiest country in the world. And describes some interesting variables that may explain why:

  1. Standard of living in Panama is relatively high.
  2. The mortality rate is low (high life spans for both male and female)
  3. Majority of the population lives in urban areas
  4. Only the price of goods and services is several times lower than U.S.
  5. The level of health care in Panama is also high 
  6. Health insurance is much cheaper than U.S.
  7. The country's favorable climate plays a significant role. The temperatures remain virtually unchanged all year round at the level of 25-28C degrees in the afternoon.
  8. In 2005, Panama won the first place in the global index of the most comfortable countries in the world. 

So are these external factors really the keys to happiness, is this what our knowledge of the world really has to offer?

Alas it turns out the article demonstrates quite the opposite:

"Despite the fact that El Salvador and Paraguay took the second and third places in the Gallup ranking, experts still say that the standard of living in these countries is low. The urban population in these countries is under 60 percent, and the economy is based on agriculture. The unemployment rate in these countries is somewhat higher, but it is easier to find a job here than in Panama - mainly in logging, and cotton and sugar cane plantations.

Average life expectancy in other Latin American countries, however, is the same as in Panama - 73 years for men and 79 for women. However, the level of health care in these less developed countries is poor. For example, this year, Paraguayan doctors sounded the alarm as the country faced an epidemic of yellow fever. According to the Associated Press, in 2012, the state government appealed to various international health organizations asking for 600,000 vaccines for prevention of yellow fever.

The results surprised the researchers from the Gallup Institute as it turned out that the happiest people live in poor countries of Latin America. If the standard of living in Panama is comparable to that of developed European countries, residents of such countries as El Salvador, Uruguay, Venezuela, Trinidad and Tobago cannot boast similar conditions. Scientists explain this by historically formed mentality of these people who see happiness in things other than material goods. According to them, people in poor countries can find joy in the moral satisfaction that often is not available to citizens of the developed countries."

And it concludes by making an interesting example:

"Some of the world's media cited an example of two attitudes - a successful and wealthy businessman from Singapore and a poor woman who sells tea in the streets of Paraguay. "We keep working and don't get paid enough," complained the 33-year Singaporean Richard Lowe. "Wealth does not bring happiness, but only problems. Life is too short, and there is no place for sadness," said Maria Solis of Paraguay
Singapore, Iraq and Armenia closed the list of the happiest countries in the world. It may be true that it is not the standard of living in a particular country, but the attitude of the citizens that matters."

What can we take from this? Well first of all we have probably had a few misconceptions all of our lives. That old seductive and conniving formula: success = happy. Now you can observe that you can be happy without success as are those citizens of the most poorest nations in the world happen to be. You can also observe the most successful nations are not at the top of the list as the most happy, hence success neither provides happiness nor sustains it. From a historical or evolutionary perspective, perhaps you could imagine those tribes in the Americas, Africa and Papa New-Guinea who were dancing around a fire laughing their asses off who were truly joyful, excited about life, excited about living, the threat of death was imperative, but the living pulse they had gave them such excitement and joy. Yet they never heard of this system the West offers. It's easy to conceive of true happiness, when we try.

But if happiness is neither dependent on success nor does success grant happiness, then what have you indeed been working towards your entire life?  Why are you doing what you do? I thought of this question a few times myself. Stay tuned for the next post of this series.

If the Qur'an is Absurd then...

Apparently the best argument for the Qur'ans divine origin is it's sublime insurpassable eloquence. Earlier I had provided a few quotes as to why many Arabic scholars and speakers cannot sincerely concede this claim. The following authors really highlight what the unfortunate result of this argument is:

From the literary point of view, the Koran has little merit. Declamation, repetition, puerility, a lack of logic and coherence strike the unprepared reader at every turn. It is humiliating to the human intellect to think that this mediocre literature has been the subject of innumerable commentaries, and that millions of men are still wasting time absorbing it. (Salomon Reinach, Orpheus: A History of Religions, (1909))

And what does this say about human intellect?

"On the whole, while many parts of the Koran undoubtedly have considerable rhetorical power, even over an unbelieving reader, the book, aesthetically considered, is by no means a first-rate performance... Muhammad, in short, is not in any sense a master of style. This opinion will be endorsed by any European who reads through the book with an impartial spirit and some knowledge of the language, without taking into account the tiresome effect of its endless iterations. But in the ears of every pious Muslim such a judgment will sound almost as shocking as downright atheism or polytheism. Among the Muslims, the Koran has always been looked upon as the most perfect model of style and language. This feature of it is in their dogmatic the greatest of all miracles, the incontestable proof of its divine origin. Such a view on the part of men who knew Arabic infinitely better than the most accomplished European Arabist will ever do, may well startle us. In fact, the Koran boldly challenged its opponents to produce ten suras, or even a single one, like those of the sacred book, and they never did so. That, to be sure, on calm reflection, is not so very surprising. Revelations of the kind which Muhammad uttered, no unbeliever could produce without making himself a laughingstock." - (Nöldeke, Theodor. "The Qur'an," Sketches from Eastern History. Trans. J.S. Black. London: Adam and Charles Black, 1892.)

Medicine for Tawheed (P1)

For those of you who don't (yet) know the Orthodox Islamic doctrine of Tawheed (Islamic Monotheism) teaches that God is a relative unity, this means that Allah is not wholly indivisible or entirely without composition. 


Instead Allah is a composite being (dhat), meaning (as Samuel Green puts it): "each of God’s attributes (his power, knowledge, speech, life, will, sight, hearing, breath, etc.) are a distinct attribute" and: "Islam solves the problem of God’s unity of essence and diversity of attributes by saying there is a special connection between them". 


Anthony Rogers points out some earlier Muslims refused to acknowledge these divisions within God: "According to the Mu‘tazilites, Allah’s absolute oneness, transcendence, and dissimilarity from all created reality precluded the idea that he had distinguishable and knowable attributes." 


But later Rogers observes this view was supplanted: "Although the Mu‘tazilite position was eventually displaced by the “suprarational” (i.e. mysterious, paradoxical, etc.) idea that God does have attributesin addition to the essence in such a way as to be neither the essence nor other than the essence”".


Green adds how Orthodox Muslims (past and present) confronted this dilemma: 

For the Ash`aris this was expressed with the famous Arabic saying bi-la kayfa (without asking how). Therefore, if Muslims do not accept the unity and diversity of the Trinity they still must acknowledge that in Islam God does have unity and diversity, and that Muslim leaders disagree about how to explain this. That is, Muslim leaders do not agree about Tawheed, and Muslims are rarely encouraged to think about the diversity of God

A non-Muslim scholar who points out this controversial division is Harry Wolfson:

The belief in the reality of divine attributes was characterized by those who were opposed to it as being analogous to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. Abul-faraj, also known as Bar Hebraeus, speaking of the Mu'tazilites, who denied the reality of divine attributes, says that thereby they steered clear of "the persons (akanim) of the Christians,"3 the implication being that the belief in the reality of divine attributes indirectly steers one into the belief of the Christian Trinity. 'Adad al-DIn al-Iji similarly reports that the Mu'tazilites accused those who believed in the reality of divine attributes of having fallen into the error of the Christian belief in the Trinity.4 And prior to both of them, among the Jews, David al-Mukammas,5 Saadia,6 Joseph al-Basir,7 and Maimonides,8 evidently reflecting still earlier Muslim sources, whenever they happen to mention the Muslim doctrine of the reality of divine attributes, compare it to the Christian doctrine of the Trinity. (Harry Austryn Wolfson, The Philosophy of the Kalam [Cambridge, Massachusetts: Harvard University Press, 1976], p. 112f.)

Several Muslim Scholars confirm the same:

The Mu‘tazilah synthesized a complex theology that, while grounded in the Qur’an, was heavily influenced by Hellenistic rationalism. At its simplest level, their creed involved five “fundamentals.” The first was “unity,” by which the Mu‘tazilah meant more than simply the tawhid that Sunni Muslims understood: One God as opposed to many. The Mu‘tazilah insisted that God’s attributes had no existence distinguishable from His essence, but rather they emanated from the essence of God: God willed from His essence, and He knew from His essence. Their negation of God’s attributes arose from their concern regarding the Sunni position. The Sunnis, in turn, responded to the Mu‘tazilah, arguing that the attributes were in addition to the essence in such a way as to be neither the essence nor other than the essence; this was a suprarational attempt at avoiding the polytheism of which the Mu‘tazilah accused them. For the Mu‘tazilah, this affirmation of “hypostatic” attributes approximated the Orthodox Christian argument of a triune God that was closer to polytheism than monotheism. It is arguable that the debate is not simply semantic, but, in the eyes of the more conservative Sunni scholars, it accomplished little more than an immense exchange of talk (kalam) about God that the pristine understanding of the early community would never have accommodated. (The Creed of Imam Al-Tahawi (al-Aqidah al-Tahawiyyah), Translated, Introduced, and Annotated by Hamza Yusuf [Zaytuna Institute, 2007], p. 20).

And:

The Ash`aris maintain that the attributes of God are not the essence [dhat] nor are they other than His essence. If it is said that the attributes are the very essence of God (as the Mu`tazilah and philosophers claim), then it means that the essence of God is without attributes since they would be one and the same as the essence (whereas the attributes and essence are understood to be two different things). However, it is also problematic to say that the attributes of God are totally other than His essence, since it would mean that the attributes may exist separately and die away - whereas this is certainly not the case given that his attributes are eternal. The reality is that there is a special connection between His essence and attributes. His attributes exist in His essence, are eternal in His eternalness, and everlasting with His everlastingness. They have always been WITH HIM and will be that way for eternity. (Muhammad Salih Farfur, The Beneficial Message & The Definitive Proof in the Study of Theology, (Trans: Wesam Charkawi) 2010, p. 119)

The Great Islamic Scholar, (the Proof of Islam, Hujjathul Islam ,the Mujaddid of the 5th Century of Hijra) Imam Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazali in his most noteworthy book on the theology of Islam stated of God's attributes:

They are not the essence but rather they are: (1) Eternal and subsistent in the essence, and that it is impossible that any aspect of the attributes is temporal. (2) Distinct (existing separately and objectively) (3) Super added to the essence. We maintain that the Master of the world is knowing according to knowledge, living according to life, powerful according to power, willing according to will, seeing according to sight, hearing according to hearing, and speaking according to speech. The divine attributes are not something other than God. All the attributes are all eternal because if they were originated the eternal a parte ante would be a locus for contingent things which is absurd .It is impossible for a necessary essence to possess possible attributes. When say “God”, we point to the divine essence together with the Attributes and not to the essence alone because the term “God” could not be predicated of an essence that is judged to be free from attributes. As against Philosophers and Christians who say that attributes are essence, We believe that attributes are not essence but only superadded to the Essence. They are rather point to essence.” The essence is independent of attributes but the attributes depend on the essence. All the attributes subsist in His Essence and none of them could possibly subsist without His Essence whether (the attribute is) in a locus or not. Just as the mind is capable of intellecting an eternal existent who has no cause, it is also capable of intellecting an eternal existent who has attributes and who has no cause for the existence OF BOTH [essence as independent and attributes as super added. i.e, the attributes are not something other than Allah and there in no plurality in his essence either through attributes or otherwise]. (Al Ghazali On Divine Predicates And Their Properties)

The last quotation is the most baffling of all them, yet it is the official position of Orthodox Islam. Even attempting to summate this incoherence is mind boggling. I will only attempt to put forward some of the possible paradoxes: 

  • God's attributes are not his essence but they are in his essence
  • God's essence does not contain any plurality or multiplicity yet attributes are super added his essence
  • Are they super added or in his essence or do they actually point to the essence? 
  • God's essence is independent of attributes yet the attributes are not other than the essence, nor the essence
  • All the attributes cannot exist without God's essence, but God's essence is independent of any and all attributes
  • God's attributes are not God's essence nor other than his essence
  • The attributes are not other than Allah but nor are they Allah's essence

Anthony Rogers documents an irony: "According to Hamza Yusuf, when one looks at questions like the relationship of Allah’s essence to his attributes, as well as a number of other issues that have been fiercely debated by Muslims throughout the centuries, Islamic theology must be defined or described as:


A mental activity by nature and often involves paradoxes, in which seemingly insoluble problems…are dialectically entertained in the mind of the theologian, who then attempts to reconcile them, using sacred scripture and intellect—a combination made volatile and dangerous in the absence of a devout piety that would otherwise illuminate both the effort and the outcome. For this reason, true theology is, to a certain degree, the squaring of a circle within an enlightened mind. (The Creed of Imam Al-Tahawi, Translated, Introduced, and Annotated by Hamza Yusuf (Zaytuna Institute, 2007), p. 13.)

Perhaps this is why some Muslim Scholars have just given up. Muhammad ‘Abduh, the renowned and highly respected Egyptian scholar of the early part of the 20th century, had this to say:

But as for whether the attributes are other or more than the essence, whether speech is an attribute other than the import of the heavenly books within the Divine knowledge, and whether hearing and seeing in God are other than His knowledge of things heard and seen, and other such controversial issues, of the pundits and the contentions of the schools—all these are questions impenetrable to us, beyond the wit of human mind to attain.[Muhammad ‘Abduh 56]

But not all Muslim scholars have relented, some just reverted back to ancient times:

“…. The very concept of ‘definition’ implies the possibility of a comparison or correlation of an object with other objects; God, however, is unique, there being ‘nothing like unto Him’ (42:11) and, therefore, ‘nothing that could be compared with Him’ (112:4) – with the result that any attempt at defining Him or His ‘attributes’ is a logical impossibility and, from the ethical point of view, a sin. The fact that He is UNDEFINABLE makes it clear that the ‘attributes’ (sifat) of God mentioned in the Qur’an do not circumscribe His reality but, rather, THE PERCEPTIBLE EFFECT OF HIS ACTIVITY on and within the universe created by Him.” (The Message of the Qur’an – Translated and Explained by Muhammad Asad, Surah 6, fn.88. See also Surah 13, fn.21; Surah 76, fn.73.)

I cannot help but recall Samuel Green's words:

"Muslim leaders disagree about how to explain this. That is, Muslim leaders do not agree about Tawheed, and Muslims are rarely encouraged to think about the diversity of God."

I can only conclude with a germane comment made by Anthony Rogers:

"THIS is the grand cure for the Christian doctrine of the Trinity?"

(Stay Tuned for P2: The Grand Cure)

Google+Badge