I watched the first episode of Status Anxiety, the TV program by Alan de Botton (yes, another book on my shelf is waiting to be read and so I am taking the easy way out for now). He describes a rather simple equation for anxiety or happiness/contentment.
contentment = success/expectation
It's a pretty simple sort of equation really. The less you expect, the more content you are with what you have. Likewise, the more success you have, the more content you are. However, if your expectations are ever growing, then how can you expect ever to be content?
de Botton makes the interesting observation that too much US Christianity has lost its roots in hope for the life hereafter (more properly, life after, life after death), and absorbed too much of the culture of success in the US that says if you succeed you have earned it, and if you have failed, you have earned that too.
I found it rather amusing that in his Guide to Happiness he advocated Nietzsche as a consolation in hardship, who castigated Christians for being too content with their lot and not striving against their difficulties, and then lamenting a loss of Christian roots when it comes to humility. It was also interesting that he noted that in pre-democratic societies, the poor and less successful were more content because they had no hope of aspiring. Those in democratic society have false hopes of success. Yet I'd content that he is wrong on a few counts.
Firstly, I don't think that there is merit in keeping people down when they have the talents, abilities and potential to "rise" in their role in life. I agree that Christianity affirms people's status apart from their role in society (see for example 1 Corinthians, where Paul wants the church at Corinth to relate to each other on an equal basis). However, the letter Philemon has strong hints that Paul was all for the emancipation of slaves. He wasn't about to rock his world too much, but where he could, he'd rather see people free. Being at the bottom is a status to be contented with insofaras the fact that God loves you regardless, Christ died for you, and all humans are made in God's image. Being at the bottom of scoiety, despised, disadvantaged is not a virtue in of itself. I wonder if de Botton has Seneca and Saul mistaken?
All this being said, the example in the of properity teaching was truly frightening, and sounded little like Jesus of Nazareth's teachings. Furthermore, while Nietzsche exposed a poor, watered down form of Christianity, he didn't discredit the real thing. It is one thing to hope for the resurrection and face suffering for it. However, where Jesus said turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, he was advocating non-violent protest against Roman oppression. Instead of being struck on the right cheek with the back of the hand like a slave, present the left to be struck like an equal. Get the Roman soldier for carrying his burden further than was allowed. Jesus was no wuss.
Can't wait for the episode where de Botton visits the nudist resort!