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Can atheists achieve levels of happiness comparable to that of theists?

Can atheists achieve levels of happiness comparable to that of theists despite their differing goals in life?

I am a junior in high school and i am writing my graduation project on Atheism compared to theism. I am arguing that atheists are just as happy if not happier for being more informed and knowing more answers. My thought is that theists live solely to do enough good deeds to gain entrance to heaven, and then their lives lack purpose while Atheists live to better the world and enjoy the pleasures of the day.

Posted: October 5th 2009

Mike the Infidel www

That’s a rather odd view of both theists and atheists. My parents are Christians, but they don’t do good deeds because they expect to be rewarded; they do it because they like to help people, for much the same reasons as I do.

I also don’t know many atheists who live just to enjoy the pleasures of the day. That’s hedonism, and I’m sure some atheists are hedonists, but none I’ve known personally (or, at least, they weren’t too public about it).

As to the original question, yes, we definitely can. I’d say I’m actually happier now than before my deconversion. I spent a lot of my time trying to figure out how I could possibly argue in defense of God when it didn’t seem to make sense to me anymore; now, I don’t have to bother, and I can feel free to consider ideas and position that were “forbidden” to me before.

Posted: January 22nd 2010

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Akusai www

This question assumes that theists, as a rule, achieve high levels of happiness compared to your average non-theist. I dispute that claim. So far there isn’t a solid body of evidence establishing the claim, and I would argue that any study that finds religion confers happiness is confounded by the presence of an inclusive social organization in which every religious individual is embedded.

I therefore feel like the question doesn’t really need an answer until someone establishes that theists are, indeed, far happier than non-theists.

Posted: October 12th 2009

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Paula Kirby www

I think you have to be careful if you are basing your project on the notion that the religious focus on doing enough good deeds to gain a place in heaven, because there is a major strand in Christianity, at least, that says that nothing we can do is enough to offset Original Sin, and that we can never earn our own place in heaven – that comes purely through trusting in Jesus’s atonement on the cross. As ever, the bible isn’t entirely consistent on this, with James saying that good works are important too, and Paul saying it’s faith alone that matters. But most Christians these days would say it’s a combination of the two.

Happiness is a difficult subject in any case, since it is so subjective, and dependent on such a wide range of factors. If an atheist is ill, impoverished, cold, hungry and isolated there is little doubt that she will be less happy than a theist who is healthy, comfortable, well fed and surrounded by friends, but the presence or absence of religious beliefs is probably not the deciding factor!

Since it is subjective, I can merely tell you that I am far happier now as an atheist than I was as a Christian, for a whole host of reasons. It feels like a weight off my chest – like coming up for air. The rejection of faith-based answers has set me on a search for answers based on learning and evidence, and has opened up a whole world of knowledge to me and has exposed me to insights that are more awe-inspiring than any religious ritual could ever be.

There is also the sense of relief that comes when you realise that you don’t have an omnipresent being peering over your shoulder the whole time, and into your deepest thoughts too. It doesn’t matter how benign you think that being is, it is intrusive and uncomfortable. What a relief to ditch that horrible idea for good!

And then there is the deep satisfaction that comes from being able to give full rein to the intellect: to be able to debate and discuss from a position of reason. I sometimes look at Christian internet forums and am struck by the vagueness, fluffiness, circularity and sheer inadequacy of the arguments there, and I really wonder how anyone can find them remotely satisfying.

Then there’s the fact that, as an atheist, I am in the driving seat of my life. If I have a problem, I also have the ability to find a solution, and that is far less stressful than feeling dependent on someone else (God, in this case). I don’t have to flounder in a constant state of worry about whether I’m doing God’s will, whether I’ve interpreted the (silent, obviously!) answer to a prayer correctly. I don’t have to be constantly searching myself for sins or inadequacies, or constantly telling myself I’m a miserable wretch who deserves to go to hell. I can now accept myself and others just as we are: a mixed bag, but on the whole pretty decent and likeable.

It seems to me that the happiness that many Christians purport to feel rests in their belief that they will live forever in heaven after their deaths. It seems a bizarre source of happiness to me, given that there isn’t the slightest reason to think it’s true, and that it would be unspeakably tedious even if it were. Give me the happiness of 70-80 years of real, full, active, productive life followed by an eternity of nothingness any day.

Posted: October 11th 2009

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Eric_PK

It’s an interesting question.

I can see factors pushing it both ways.

If your religion has the concept of afterlife, then that seem likely to make believers happier. You may have a poor job and bad health, but at least when you die things will get better.

And, if you like things simple and clear-cut, most religions are happy to tell you the answers to all of life’s questions, so you don’t have to figure them out yourselves.

On the other side of the coin, anybody going through a “crisis of faith” can be profoundly unhappy, and if you are a person who really enjoys investigation and puzzling things out, that’s not very compatible with many religions. I’ve had a few acquaintances who were in this category, and they had some psychological issues because of this, not to mention being very dissatisfied with life.

Not to mention all the people who pray fervently to get healed, and – because their religion tells them it’s possible to be healed through prayer – agonize over why they aren’t worthy.

There is an unspoken assumption in the question that to be happy is better than to be unhappy. But life isn’t that simple – things change and the human condition is improved because people are unhappy about things and decide to do something about it. Unhappiness is a powerful motivator, while happiness is not.

Hope that helps. Good luck on your paper, and kudos for choosing such a hard subject.

Posted: October 5th 2009

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