The other day, I noticed this tweet:
Atheists are joyless. pic.twitter.com/uGLascR0oq
— Mary Parkis (@parkism) March 21, 2018
Aside from the fact that Mary seems to have missed the point of the poem, Mary has offered up the same sentiment I hear from so many theists: atheists are joyless.
This is something I’ve heard more than once, and I’ve never quite understood it. As someone who has had a life filled with joy but who has lacked religious belief since day one, it’s completely absurd to me. I think that for some religious people who say this, this is an attempt to make us feel small; that they don’t really believe that we can’t feel joy. For others, however, I get the sense that they truly believe we live without any joy at all.
Either way, many religious people I’ve had the opportunity to get to know, are miserable. Now, I realize that the small group of religious people I’ve gotten to know is hardly representative of an entire demographic… I get this. Of course, not all of them are miserable. I’ve met some truly happy people who profess a belief in god. However, there are some things we don’t need stats to know when it comes to how atheists experience joy. We know that religion comes with dogma. We know that religion is prescriptive and requires certain behaviours. We know that those behaviours are promoted with the use of threats, guilt and shame.
We also know that atheists are free from all of that. We don’t do dogma, we don’t take kindly to threats from the magical zombie in the sky. We don’t believe in eternal punishment or infinite reward. We are free to explore what it means to be us without the pressure to fall in line.
Here are nine ways atheists are free to feel joy, without the burden of dogmatic shame or guilt:
1. Sex! We are not afraid of going heels-to-Jesus! We celebrate the four-legged foxtrot like it’s an Olympic event. If an atheist feels shame for hiding the bishop, it’s only because he has residual BS carried over from when he was religious. It’s okay for women to ride the bologna pony as much as they like and it’s perfectly okay for men to nail men and women to bang women. So, you’re a back door bandit? That’s fine. More than one partner? It’s cool, as long as all your partners are. Whips and chains your thing? Have at it! Role-playing, toys, or just the good old missionary position with the love of your life? It’s all good! It’s good for the heart, it’s good for the mind and it even burns calories! As my motto goes, a little less time at the gym, a little more time riding him. There is absolute joy in mutual pleasure if you can strip away the shame, the guilt and the idea that you’re a dirty little sinner bound for hell.
2. Celebrating the joy of others! Instead of disowning people because they have fallen in love with someone of the same sex, we love them just the same. Even more, we are happy for them! We celebrate their milestones with them, and we dance with them at their weddings. We happily consume their wedding cakes baked by people who are not bigots and we joyfully march down to the county clerk’s office and look down on people like Kim Davis with the full knowledge that we are, in fact, better than them. We find profound amounts of joy knowing we are on the right side of history, and even more joy can be derived from being able to separate ourselves from those who would judge another based solely on who they have fallen in love with. You see, trying to actively prevent certain people from loving certain people, is an act against love and against joy. It defies the very idea of joyful living.
3. Discovery! Nothing is quite as exhilarating as reading a headline that a global ocean was discovered on one of Saturn’s moons or hearing that a new robotic prosthetic will give amputees all sort of new abilities and movement. I imagine one day we will find signs of life out there in that deep abyss… my heart literally flutters at the thought. We’ll discover cures for the ailments that most trouble us now, and we’ll discover new tech that makes life easier, of a higher quality and more enjoyable. The absolute and utter joy in new discoveries is indescribable. An atheist would never dismiss these discoveries if they conflicted with previous explanations for our existence. We embrace them and allow them to lead us to new and exciting places. We will all die knowing more about our world and our existence than we do now.4. Saying “I Don’t Know”! I know what you’re thinking… how can saying I don’t know be joyful? It’s very simple. Saying I don’t know means you have more to learn. Learning is fun. Learning expands our ability to be able to function in this world, treat others with respect and potentially one day live in peace. Those who insist they are certain of something, are closed to the joy of learning. Saying, “I know for certain that God created us” gives you no need to further investigate our origins and eliminates the possibility of you learning something new about it. Saying we don’t know, leaves us open to discovering something new about our existence… and that would be a discovery that would bring a great amount of joy to those who were open to learning about it.
5. Sunday mornings! In the fall, watching your football team win with your little boy by your side… or hiking along a creek as dried up leaves crunch beneath your feet. In the summer, swimming with your kids out to the platform in the middle of the lake and diving off. Sleeping in and rising to your husband making you Nutella crepes or jumping all morning with your son on the trampoline. These are just a few of the things that bring more joy than a sore-bum from being stuck in a cold, hard pew, surrounded by corpses on crosses, listening to a man warn you of the eternal fires of hell.
6. The joy in knowing this life is all we have. Understanding that there are no second chances and that once we’re gone, we’re never coming back makes a person really want to live life to its fullest. We really live because we know life is fleeting. We cherish this life whereas many religious individuals appear to be living for the next life.
7. Masturbation! Yes, self-pleasure brings a great deal of joy to someone who understands that there is nothing wrong with it and that it is absolutely normal. We all know that even the most devout monks slap their happy sack from time to time but the difference between myself and a monk is that I am not ashamed of it. I am a sexual creature with a libido and the sheer joy that comes from celebrating that over being ashamed of it is inexplicable.
8. No Hell to fear! An atheist is free to live their lives without the fear of hell. When we do good things, it’s because we want to do good things, and never because we are afraid of eternal torture. There are no firey images of the devil floating around in our minds, no act that we feel deserves suffering for eternity. We believe in compassion and empathy and love, not torture. It’s not so hard to believe that choosing compassion over eternal torture is a far more joyful way to live, is it?
9. We are not being watched! Well, some of us may have stalkers but as far as being watched by a celestial Dad-dude in the sky who judges our tiniest actions goes… well, we live happily and joyfully without that. We know that consequences for our actions are detectable and real-world and we adjust our behaviour based on that rather than a space-stalker.
Today’s most populous religions come with deep shame. They make people feel guilty for who they are, and how their bodies function. Fear is driven into the devout and obedience is cultivated via threats of damnation. These things are directly incompatible with joy.
Facing facts is not cold or hard or joyless. Facing facts gives us freedom. It gives us the freedom to live with far more joy than your book would have you experience. It gives us the freedom to live life in reality and celebrate our own humanness.
Are atheists more joyful than religious people? I doubt we can prove that… but to assert that we are joyless is completely unfounded. We live with a great deal of joy… joy that many of you will never know.
What do you think? Do atheists feel joy? Let me know in the comments!