June 20, 2014

Atheist Happiness and Humanity

Smiley from the sMirC-series. laughing
Smiley from the sMirC-series. laughing (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Snowbrush recently wrote a thought-provoking post that is worth a read. He makes many points worth highlighting, but I'll limit myself to mentioning two of them here:
  1. Some atheists are not the "happy atheist" types who celebrate life without gods.
  2. Based on the behavior of many atheists, there is little reason to think that the rise of atheism will necessarily solve many of the problems we like to attribute to religion.
I found his first point quite interesting, but I'm still trying to figure out what to say about it. I have trouble relating to the desire to believe in gods or the pervasive sense of loss related to atheism. At the same time, I have never fit the "happy atheist" image either. When I moved from Christianity to atheism, I did experience a great sense of relief, newfound freedom, and better mental health. For at least a few years, I did feel much happier as an atheist than I had as a Christian.

It is nearly impossible to know whether I'd be any more or less happy today if I was still a Christian. Had I stuck with Christianity, I'd be a very different person in many ways. My best guess is that I am probably no more or less happy today than most Christians.

I thought Conservative Skeptic made a great point about this in his post, Happy Atheist? Just Human: with the sole exception of god belief, we are just like religious believers. They are not happy all the time, and neither are we. It sometimes irks me that some atheists seem determined to convey an image of perpetual happiness because I cannot relate to that at all. It strikes me as dishonest. Nobody is happy all the time, are they?

Here is how Snowbrush describes this second point:
Too many atheists are haters, and this means that their ascendancy to political power might not mark an end to religious intolerance but simply a reversal of whom is dishing it out. For example, if militant atheists ran the country, I’ve no doubt but what religion would be classified as a mental illness, religious people would be discriminated against socially and in the workforce, and the children of religious people might conceivably be taken from their homes. No matter which end of the spectrum they occupy, the reign of fanatics is always the same.
Unfortunately, I think he's right. We have seen too much irrational behavior, tribalism, and petty infighting on the part of atheists to imagine that many of the same problems would not persist if atheism were to replace religious belief. Just because we are right on the question of gods doesn't mean we are more rational in other areas, and it certainly doesn't mean we are any kinder, more thoughtful, or better able to resist the pull of the darker aspects of our nature. Being atheists does not make us any less human.

I cannot help thinking of that infamous South Park episode from 2006 where the Unified Atheist League and the United Atheist Alliance were at war. Sometimes it seems eerily prophetic.

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