Critical Commentary: Religions Sold as Happiness?

Posted on November 9, 2013 by





In the article “Religion cannot promise happiness” by Omid Safi, there seems to be a belief that religion has become an idea of a way to reach happiness.  The author says he has “had it with preachers, gurus, imams, and rabbis selling their religion as a promise of happiness.”  As I started reading the article I was not sure what to expect.  The author quickly throws together several religions at the beginning and accuses them all of implying their way of life promises happiness.  From my knowledge, Safi seems to be referring to Christians, Muslims, Jews, and some sort of Buddhists.  Of course, I can only assume he is referring to Buddhism with the use of the word “gurus” and presenting a picture of a young male with a shaved head wearing an orange robe.  The author could be talking about Hinduism or any other sort of a religion.  No reader will know exactly who Safi has “had it with” but we do know one thing: he believes religions cannot and “should not promise happiness.”  The article concludes that the main point of religion should be to teach people how to be content.

The author uses broad generalizations about religions and makes it seem as if all of them have the common goal of happiness.  He goes on to reference the Christian Bible and talk a lot about God.  I would like to know why he mentions the other religions if Christianity seems to be his main focus.  Through my studies I cannot remember one time reading about a person who started their practice of Buddhism to discover “happiness”.  Buddhism bases itself off finding an understanding to the world and escaping Samsara and the Karmic cycle of rebirth.  In fact, this religion’s roots come from the story of the Buddha, Siddhartha, who left his perfect life in a palace to explore the sufferings of life.  The goal of Buddhism is not to find happiness in this life, but to escape the cycle off rebirth.  If instant happiness is what people seek, they most likely will not be running to Buddhism.  Why then, does Buddhism seem to be pointed out?

Looking deeper into this idea of people using religion as a quick fix for happiness, I wonder who the author is truly blaming.  At the start of the article he is fed up with religious leaders who supposedly sell their religion as a promise of happiness.  Going back to the example of Buddhism, the main leader in today’s world is the Dalai Lama.  He is said to be a Bodhisattva – one who has reached enlightenment and can die whenever he or she wants to enter Nirvana, but has chosen to stay in the human world to help all others before doing so.  I sure hope the author is not accusing the Dalai Lama of simply trying to sell his religion for happiness.  Later in the article, the author says people use God for happiness rather than praise him for contentment.  Why does the author pool together several religions and then funnel them all down into the generalized idea of God and happiness?  The only specific example he presents in his complaints is the “shallow self-help section of bookstores”.  The idea of spirituality seems to be the main topic of the book sections he speaks of which makes me wonder if they should even be tied to religion.  What does spirituality even mean?  How can it help define religion?  The use of only one source of reasoning – a fuzzy one at best – makes this article appear as an opinionated rant of someone who has lost faith in their practice of religion.

Overall, this author is making a poor statement for all religions.  Even though the main focus gets placed on God, all religions are mentioned and therefore included.  A powerful piece of the article comes from the pictures used.  As pictures of a Muslim and the stereotypical monk or Buddhist are used, the author appears to be presenting a failure of specifically those two religions.  Although two completely different things, the author saw it okay to generalize the religions into the same category.  Does he think it is a social problem?  Is it a problem with the media?  Whatever the main cause for this author’s worries, this article is a perfect example of media’s failure to accurately and fairly assess world events and people’s religious practices.



Critical Commentary: Religion cannot promise happiness (Omid Safi, Religion cannot promise happiness, Religion News Service, 10/26/2013)

photo credit: <a href=””>Stuck in Customs</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;


Posted in: Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam