An atheist’s guide to the good life

Mark Poprocki / iStock A curious thing happened to my thoughts on the way to composing this essay. It was … Continued


Mark Poprocki / iStock

A curious thing happened to my thoughts on the way to composing this essay.

It was supposed to be about how to be an atheist, but I realized that that wasn’t right. Atheism is the default position. You don’t have to do anything to be an atheist, but you have to work awfully hard to not be one — atheism strips away a lot of superfluous nonsense, rather than piling on remarkable requirements and strange creeds and bizarre pointless rituals that you need to obey. So instead, I thought I’d address the believers and tell you what baggage you can throw off ol’ Conestoga Wagon of life, the stuff that we know is completely unnecessary because atheists have traveled the trail without it, and come out just fine.

You may have needed a book of rules and a master to put on the shackles of faith, but you don’t need a guidebook to live a life of liberty. Do you know why atheists are so happy? Because they’re the freest people on Earth, and their only responsibilities are to their fellow human beings, not phantasms.

Myers is author of the recently-released book, ‘The Happy Atheist.’

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  • Rongoklunk

    “My mind is incapable of conceiving such a thing as a soul. I may be in error, and man may have a soul; but I simply do not believe it.”
    Thomas Edison, from “Do We Live Again?”

  • Rongoklunk

    “I’m not somebody who goes to church on a regular basis. The specific elements of Christianity are not something I’m a huge believer in.”
    Bill Gates quoted in “Atheist Universe” by David Mills.

  • Rongoklunk

    “As far as I remember, there is not one word in the gospels in praise of intelligence”

    Bertrand Russell in “Why I Am Not A Christian”

  • Rongoklunk

    “I don’t believe in a God as I don’t believe in Mother Goose.”

    Clarence Darrow in a speech in Canada in 1930

  • Rongoklunk

    “The Christian system of religion is an outrage to common sense.”

    Thomas Paine American Revolutionary Hero.

  • plorlk

    Dear TychaBrahe:

    Historically, “true” unicorns were probably rhinoceri (rhinoceruses ?) The horse-with-a-horn version never existed. Within the past few years or so, some guy “created” a goat-unicorn by surgical means. (Could probably find it on Google.) With advances in stem cell technology and knowledge of DNA, etc., we probably could create the horse-with-a-horn version now, if we wanted.

    All joking aside, your points are well expressed. And, I especially applaud your last paragraph.

  • Rongoklunk

    “Religion is an illusion.”
    Sigmund Freud quoted in “Atheist Universe” by David Mills.

  • Rongoklunk

    “In the realm of science all attempts to find any evidence of supernatural beings, of metaphysical conceptions, as God, immortality, infinity, etc., thus have failed, and if we are honest, we must confess that in science there exists no God, no immortality, no soul or mind as distinct from the body.”

    Charles Proteus Steinmetz, Scientist and Inventor. Quoted in Atheist Universe by D.Mills

  • Rongoklunk

    “Religion was the race’s first (and worst) attempt to make sense of reality. It was the best the species could do at a time when we had no concept of physics, chemistry, biology or medicine. We did not know that we lived on a round planet, let alone that the said planet was in orbit in a minor and obscure solar system, which was also on the edge of an unimaginably vast cosmos that was exploding away from its original source of energy. We did not know that micro-organisms were so powerful and lived in our digestive systems in order to enable us to live, as well as mounting lethal attacks on us as parasites. We did not know of our close kinship with other animals. We believed that sprites, imps, demons and djinns were hovering in the air about us. We imagined thunder and lightening were portentous. It has taken us a long time to shrug off this heavy coat of ignorance and fear, and every time we do there are self-interested forces who want to compel us to put it back on again.”
    Christopher Hitchens from the intro to “The Portable Atheist” ed. C.Hitchens.

  • Catken1

    Mother Goose may have actually existed, though.

  • SimonTemplar

    If this article is true, then why do the “new atheists” and their followers in this comment stream always sound so angry and miserable? Why do they spend so much time “worrying” about what other people believe? Why do they feel so driven to insult the beliefs of others. Why is the author of the above article unable to write this article about how happy he is without trying to tear down the beliefs and lifestyles of others?

    In fact, I would say that if there is an imaginary, invisible “guy” comparable to a unicorn, a leprechaun or a djinn, it would have to be the “happy atheist.”

  • SimonTemplar

    Well, Jesus DID remind us to “Love the Lord our God with all our hearts, MINDS and strength.” Luke 10:27

    Also, there is an entire book in the Bible (Proverbs) dedicated to the subject of wisdom.

    Come to think of it, Russell is an odd fellow to quote in relation to the above article. Isn’t he the one who commented at the end of his life something along the lines of, “I see before me nothing but bleakness, darkness and despair.” Not the words of a particularly happy atheist.

  • SimonTemplar

    The same could be said about alien life, yet many scientists continue to be believers in extraterrestrial life.

  • goatmonster

    [quote]The same could be said about alien life, yet many scientists continue to be believers in [i]the possibility of[/i] extraterrestrial life.[/quote]
    ftfy

  • goatmonster

    God is the immemorial refuge of the incompetent, the helpless, the miserable. They find not only sanctuary in His arms, but also a kind of superiority, soothing to their macerated egos; He will set them above their betters.
    - H.L. Mencken

  • goatmonster

    What is the function that a clergyman performs in the world? Answer: he gets his living by assuring idiots that he can save them from an imaginary hell.

    - H.L. Mencken

  • itsthedax

    Would you entertain the idea that atheist activism is in direct response to christian organizations continual attempts to require that all americans live according to their beliefs? Would you consider that atheists are pushing back against christians’ attempts to subvert classroom science classes to indoctrinate children into christianity, restrict rights of women, and a host of other attacks on civil liberty?

    If christians would stop trying to institute their version of sharia law in this country, atheist activists would simply stop pushing back.

  • SimonTemplar

    So, in other words, the article above IS another attack on faith disguised as mere marketing polish.

    I do NOT accept your one sided, sanitized, filtered summation of the Christian position on cultural issues. The culture war (as some like to call it), and Christian participation in it, is far more complicated than you would have us believe. For example, what you call an attempt to “restrict women’s rights” others call defending the right of conceived, yet unborn, children.

  • Catken1

    “So, in other words, the article above IS another attack on faith disguised as mere marketing polish. ”

    So, in other words, “faith” to you means “requiring all Americans to live according to your beliefs”.

    ” For example, what you call an attempt to “restrict women’s rights” others call defending the right of conceived, yet unborn, children.”

    So if I tried to defend the right of conceived and born children to live by demanding that you provide your body parts, internal organs, and physical resources for their support for a period of nine months, at great cost to you and putting you at risk of problems up to and including permanent mutilation or death, that wouldn’t be “violating your rights”?
    Since when does any human have the right to live inside and use the body of another without that person’s ongoing consent?
    Or is it just that, while conceived and unborn children are human in your religion, pregnant women are merely property to be used? That would be a clear indicator of your imposing your religious views – namely that having one’s human status revoked and being reduced to the status of “property” for nine months is a fitting punishment for having sex or being raped, but only for women, never for men – on others who do not share them.

  • Catken1

    Alien life is not as improbable as a supernatural deity. After all, we know that sentient life did in fact evolve on one planet, and that other planets like our own almost certainly exist – therefore it is not completely unlikely that sentient life (or any life) will evolve or has evolved on another such planet.

  • Rongoklunk

    Russell fought superstition all his life. I never saw that quote before. But what’s “happy” have to do with anything?. Is that why you believe in a skygod? Because it makes you happy? Of course it is. It is so childish that you have to believe whatever makes you happy? Atheists are atheists because they don’t accept the god-hypothesis or an afterlife. They both defy everything we know about reality. You are searching for happiness. Atheists are searching for the truth – whether it’s good or bad.

  • Rongoklunk

    SimonTempler;
    Go to Wikepedia and type in Atheism. Then scroll down a ways, and read that 93 percent of all members of the Academy of Sciences do not believe in a God. Then you won’t have to lie about it anymore.

  • Rongoklunk

    “The idea that the scientific method should be applied to the deepest of questions is frequently decried as ‘scientism’. This charge is made by those who hold that religious beliefs should be off-limits to scientific scrutiny – that beliefs (convictions without evidence that can be tested) are a sufficient way of knowing. Carl understood this feeling, but he insisted with Bertrand Russell that “what is wanted is not the will to believe, but the desire to “find out”, which is the exact opposite. Carl didn’t want to just believe. He wanted to KNOW.”

    Ann Druyan, in the introduction to “The Varieties Of Scientific Experience” by Carl Sagan.

    What a guy!

  • Rongoklunk

    “His argument was not with God but with those who believed that our understanding of the sacred had been completed. Science’s permanently revolutionary conviction that the search for truth never ends seemed to him the only approach with sufficient humility to be worthy of the universe that it revealed. The methodology of science, with its error-correcting mechanism for keeping us honest in spite of our chronic tendencies to project, to misunderstand, to deceive ourselves and others, seemed to him the height of spiritual discipline. If you are searching for sacred knowledge and not for just a palliative for your fears, then you will train yourself to be a good skeptic.”
    Ann Druyan from the introduction to “The Varieties of Scientific Experience.” by Carl Sagan.

  • Rongoklunk

    The universe is infinite. It is beyond anything we can imagine. Nobody could rule out the possibility of life somewhere out there. The mind has to stay open for all possibilities. Only an idiot could conclude that there’s no life out there. We simply do not know. But what we can believe though – is that there is no reason to think that a god is out there somewhere, in a place called heaven. That is a childish fantasy based on wishful thinking and fear of death.

  • itsthedax

    Simon, if you’re opposed to abortion, don’t have one.

  • itsthedax

    I also noticed that you didn’t comment on the christian attempts to hijack public school curriculae, and destroy science education in public schools. Also, what are your views on the attempts to funnel taxpayer funds to christian schools under the guise of vouchers?

    Or are atheists just expressing hatred and fear when they oppose the highjacking of taxpayer money?

  • SimonTemplar

    @ Catkin: So you are just beginning to understand that sex is fun but the consequences/costs can be great? The sexual revolution which required abortion on demand was not conceived (no pun intended) by Christians. That was a bed made by the left (pun intended).

    I think that Christians have a right to voice their expectations with regard to their own children’s education (public or private). If a majority of people in a community (say, in Texas) share the same ideas on the matter it is up to them to decide how to precede. If the Christians are in a minority, they had better get used to disappointment. It certainly is not up to outsiders like ourselves to tell them what to do. We don’t live in a completely centralized system like the old Soviet Union after all. Perhaps that accounts for so many unhappy (or at least discontented) atheists.

    I’m not sure about vouchers. They may help some underprivileged kids to get out of useless or dangerous schools. I don’t believe the recipients are forced to go to Christian schools. By the way, parents who work two jobs to send their kids to a private Christian (or non-Christian) school have to work those two jobs because they still have to pay taxes to their local school district in spite of the fact that their kids do not attend said public school. Not everyone gets a voucher, you know. Do you think that is fair?

    I don’t think that science education is affected in the slightest by what people believe about evolution. The theory has no impact on the physical sciences or mathematics. A skilled surgeon who believes in creationism, is still capable of transplanting a kidney. I don’t know of anyone who asks their doctor what they believe on the subject of origins. You may prefer someone who believes in evolution but that would be your own prejudice. A scientist can even believe in something other than evolution and still be quite capable of engineering anti-virals and anti-biotics.

  • itsthedax

    So you support public schools indoctrinating all children in your religion, regardless of their parents wishes or beliefs.

    And christians are never in the minority. You are not a victim. You are simply trying to suppress any views that disagree with yours.

    That’s why some atheists are activist. It may be the only way to save the constitution and this country from people like you.

  • itsthedax

    Simon, alien life would not be supernatural. That’s the difference.

  • Catken1

    ” So you are just beginning to understand that sex is fun but the consequences/costs can be great?”

    Funny how the “consequences” only ever seem to apply to women. No man is ever required to give his body parts over to his born child, even if the child will die without them – you are perfectly free under law to refuse to donate your kidney or your blood or your bone marrow without any legal consequences whatsoever. The morality of that is between you and God – but not even the Catholic Church says you ought to be forced to donate.

    “A skilled surgeon who believes in creationism, is still capable of transplanting a kidney. ”

    But he won’t understand why it’s necessary for the patient to finish an ENTIRE course of antibiotics, lest the disease bacteria be selected for greater resistance.
    And he won’t understand the human anatomical structure completely, resulting as it does from millions of years of evolution.
    To do the medical research that saves lives – yes, one does need to understand the key unifying theory of biology. No way around it.

    ” I don’t believe the recipients are forced to go to Christian schools.”

    But the rest of us are forced to fund them, however immoral we feel the doctrine taught at them may be. Are you willing to be taxed to support Muslim schools that teach jihad against non-believers, Wiccan and Hindu schools that teach polytheistic and/or pantheistic beliefs, or other schools that teach that people like you deserve to burn in hell forever?

  • Catken1

    “By the way, parents who work two jobs to send their kids to a private Christian (or non-Christian) school have to work those two jobs because they still have to pay taxes to their local school district in spite of the fact that their kids do not attend said public school.”

    And they benefit from a society where a free public education is available to everyone, regardless of their religious beliefs. We don’t just benefit from having our OWN kids educated, either, but from having a pool of educated citizens who provide services we need, keep the economy humming, and run the government.
    If we had a culture where only Christians could expect a good education, because they were the majority and taxes were diverted on a substantial level to fund their religious schools not open to others, would that be fair?
    Public schools are open to everyone. If your religious school fails you, or if the only private schools available in your area are of a sect to which you don’t belong, you don’t lose your right to an education.

    “Not everyone gets a voucher, you know. Do you think that is fair? “”

    One very good reason why vouchers are UNFAIR. And even those who get vouchers may not be able to fund a full private school education with them, or find a private school that matches their beliefs, and if their child is disabled or has behavior issues or a history of asking inconvenient questions about religion, the private school may just plain refuse them entry.
    Vouchers give privileged access to better schools to some kids, and drain the public schools, open to all, of needed funding just as they leave them with a disproportionate number of the more difficult-to-educate kids, the ones private schools don’t want to pay extra to educate.

  • Catken1

    “I don’t think that science education is affected in the slightest by what people believe about evolution.”

    That’s like saying, “I don’t think that science education is affected in the slightest by what people believe about demon possession or germ theory – chemistry and physics aren’t in the least impacted because someone believes the flu is caused by demons rather than germs.” It affects medicine hugely, but never mind that. Or “I don’t think social science education is affected in the slightest by people who don’t believe in the Roman Empire- the theory that Rome existed has no impact on psychology or physical anthropology.” It affects history hugely – but never mind that.
    Chemistry and physics education may not be hugely impacted by a lack of belief in evolution (except that then you also have to explain away physics when it says that certain elements decay at measurable rates, because the rate of that decay inevitably denies a 6,000 year old Earth, and when it postulates a constant speed of light, as that means that some of the light that meets our eyes from stars at night is coming from a past too distant for young-earth creationists to allow…). But biology sure as heck is. And biology is part of science.

    And then there’s the point that if you teach lies and falsehoods as part of your education, you inevitably corrupt everything you teach. Creationism is, by all the evidence we have, a falsehood, pure and simple. There is no substantial evidence for any divinity, and quite a lot of evidence for an old earth, for the descent of all living Earthly creatures from a common ancestor, and for the change of one species into another.

  • quickshot

    It’s insane that no one can see the irony of this post:

    First point: You don’t need rules!

    Second point: Here are a bunch of rules.

  • quickshot

    What is the function of the professional atheist? Answer: he gets his living by assuring idiots that their lives still have meaning.

    -An actual rational thinker

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