Some time ago at the Atheist Christian Book Club, I had a conversation with a new Christian attendee. I don’t think she had much experience talking to atheists, but she pulled out an old canard like a seasoned pro:
I just don’t know how atheists live without the love of Christ. I think I would just be depressed all the time!
This line of thinking reveals how some theists have entirely different end goals than most atheists. It’s similar to the whole “atheism would lead to amoral anarchy” trope: the effects of holding a position have nothing to do with the validity of a position. In other words, we have to deal with reality as it is, even if we don’t like the results.
According to polls, religious people tend to be happier than the non-religious. Of course! Belief in a supernatural father figure and a blissful afterlife can buoy one through many a rough sea. But what happens when these ideas are challenged? Do believers face them and risk losing their happiness and security? Or is it more important to follow truth where it leads, even if one’s religious foundation is discovered to be incorrect?
“Right” is absolute: you and I share a reality, and there’s only one way to be right about it. “Happy” is relative: what brings you happiness may not have the same effect on me. Religion does not make everyone happy; communities of ex-believers are rife with examples. What if you’re a gay Christian or Muslim, being told that your very nature is an abomination? What if you’re a woman, forever told to submit, keep quiet, know your place? I’m sure antebellum slaves were overjoyed when their masters brought out the Bible to support their subjugation. Many people find happiness impossible under a theistic paradigm.
Atheists regularly employ the term “delusional” when it comes to religious folks. Personally, I try to avoid it; I’ve spoken with quite a few believers who put a lot of thought into their faith and have a logical, if flawed, basis for it. However, there are also a large number of believers for whom the comfort of their faith is so paramount that the factual foundation of it remains unexplored. While it’s important not to overuse the term, choosing to be happy over being right is the very definition of delusion.
Consider the #wakeupolive saga that at the time of this post has only recently concluded. I feel awful for the Heiligenthals, even more than mere sympathy for grieving parents who have lost a beloved child. Their confidence in God’s power of resurrection has hamstrung them from dealing with reality on its own terms. Even when God fails to expend one iota of his mighty power on their behalf, they remain steadfast. In their community, this is a virtue! The family may have their doubts in private, but it’s telling that they feel it necessary to maintain a positive public image. In the end, they know what their parishioners want to hear, and it’s not the harsh reality of life.