A little over a month ago I heard a dynamic presentation from Arthur Brooks, president of The American Enterprise Institute, at Acton University in Grand Rapids. Brooks caught my attention when he began by saying that the average age of unhappiness for men is 45, which explains why I’ve been crabby lately, though I suspect the age of unhappiness comes earlier for Cleveland sports fans. It might even be difficult to tell when we’re unhappy.
Brooks said that at 45 many men feel trapped in their jobs, mortgages, and marriages (and I would add alimony payments), and wonder what exit they missed on the road to happiness. Brooks declared that the secret to happiness is earned success. Finding money or being handed an impressive title is not nearly as satisfying as earning it. I think Brooks is on to something, though I would add that this earned success only brings lasting happiness when it is our Spirit led response to grace, or what socialists might rightly call a divine handout.
Brooks said that capitalists like him often cede the moral high ground to socialists because while he is busy making an impressive theoretical argument for capitalism the socialist is pointing to the single mother who can’t feed her children and asking who is going to help her. Brooks said that his side will continue to lose in the public arena until they begin to talk directly about how capitalism is the very economic system that will raise that distressed mom out of poverty.
I think Brooks’ point may equally apply to the culture war surrounding gay marriage. The right says that gay marriage is unnatural and the left says we’re unloving. It’s easy to see who is going to win this debate. Unnatural things might frighten us (think mutant life forms that arise from messing with nature), but unloving people make us angry. They fill us with moral indignation, which is why the people arguing for immorality are surprisingly able to claim they have the moral high ground.
If Brooks is right, and I suspect he is, then we on the right need to do a better job explaining why it’s loving to say homosexual practice is wrong and gay marriage is impossible. We may not “win” the debate even if we develop these arguments, for it doesn’t seem likely that either side will agree with the other. But if we can’t do this, then we can’t be surprised when we lose.