The image of the “Christian mountain man” came to mind while reading Dr. Christopher Kaczor’s book “The Gospel of Happiness.” Opposing the readily available, emotionally amped reads that promise rediscovery of faith, Kaczor’s book offers unique rediscovery through the lens of empirical science, through the discipline of psychology. While he warns that not all psychology schools or particular psychologists have a positive relationship with Christianity, (Friedrick Nietzsche is quoted as believing Christian practice “drains the love and life and happiness from people”), Kaczor excuses these schools to insist upon the synchronization between positive psychology and Christianity.
Rather than throwing out all psychology due to particular errors, Kaczor offers that comparison of positive psychology findings with Christian tenants reveals harmony and reaffirms the wisdom of Christianity. For those unfamiliar with psychology, a book outlining a scientific field with woven comparison to a particular monotheistic theology might sound complicated and heavy. Yet, Kaczor’s humor and clarity make for a buoyant, thorough read, a fittingly positive experience.
Kaczor introduces positive psychology as the empirical search for what makes people happier or more resilient, as opposed to traditional psychology that focuses on solving people’s problems. The “glass half-full” psychology, Kaczor explains, flourished in the late 1990’s thanks to the encouragement of Martin Seligman, then president of the American Psychological Association. The discoveries of positive psychologists in this time period interest Kaczor because they concluded that traditional Christian practices — such as giving thanks, forgiveness, and care of neighbor — promotes human happiness and wellbeing.
The body of Kaczor’s book is dedicated to explaining these findings, by leading the reader through a comparison of Christianity and positive psychology. He first proves that both share an end goal. By breaking down Seligman’s acronymic definition of happiness, PERMA – positive emotion, engagement, relationships, meaning and achievement – using Biblical references and Christian philosophy, Kaczor shows the positive psychologist’s understanding of “flourishing” and “well-being” agrees with the Christian’s concept of happiness.
With mutual goal established, Kaczor then lays out the ways positive psychologists agree with and reconfirm Christianity’s method of attaining happiness. His treatment thoroughly examines a list of basic Christian tenants, from the cardinal virtues to the Our Father prayer to the dignity of suffering. All find empirical explanation and support as to why and how they lead humans to deeper fulfillment and happiness.
Throughout his comparison, the author’s consideration of the topic is clear. He presents his case while always careful to point out the ways Christianity differs from psychology. In the introduction, he reiterates that psychology is not an alternative to religion. His thorough deliberation on the subject is also shown by the numerous examples and varying quotes from classics such as Shakespeare and Star Wars (I enjoyed the liberty of naming those together) to Christian giants Ignatius of Loyola, Ratzinger, and Thomas Aquinas.
This leads to the conclusion one is left after reading “The Gospel of Happiness” which may be summarized by Aquinas’ himself “Grace perfects nature.”
To meditate on that quote after reading Kaczor’s work is like Chesterton’s vision of revisiting the mountain on which you were born and raised. The conclusion that God’s grace perfects nature — that His laws are not blindly made, but help us obtain the end for which He created us — is one that is taught to Christians from their Sunday school beginnings. But what does that actually look like? Beauty is sometimes hard to see when surrounded by it. The challenge is to take a step back, or better, to delve deeper into what is held.
Christopher Kaczor offers a unique perspective on the Christian life, giving concrete examples through empirical discovery of just how grace perfects human nature. His book is a perfect tool for Christians looking to revisit their faith.
Released to the public on September 8, 2015 — be sure to get your copy here!