The Happy Atheist
The words “Happy Atheist” come across much in atheist literature and conversations. In part, the point is to prove that 1) An atheist can be happy without God 2) That not all atheists fit the old stereotype of angry and mad at God. There is also sort of a PR battle that takes place when we see the words on buttons, signs, and in literature. Getting the word out about atheism is almost a celebratory activity. I remember when the big signs about atheism went on billboards and buses, some atheist organizations were celebrating that they were spoken of in churches, even if in a negative light. Thus, some atheists may be happy to see me writing on the subject.
Either way, I think it is important for Christians to evaluate what we are saying and what we are not saying about atheists and atheism. Christians sometimes make the argument that Atheists cannot live a happy life since they do not believe in God. It is this basic argument that we must distinguish some things.
First, an atheist can live a happy life if they surround themselves with the things that makes them happy. Happiness in this sense has to do with happenings. It is this sense of happiness that the Christian should concede that the atheist can have many meaningful and happy moments in their life. We should also be glad for them in this respect. For instance, right now I am listening to so music that I enjoy. Is this not a happy time in my life? I would say that it is, and the atheist can surely experience this as well.
Second, the Christian’s main contention is that the atheist lacks an ultimate reference point for their meaning and thus their happiness. Happiness when used in the historic Christian sense had much more to do with a telos. A telos is the “end” or the “goal.” It is here that the Christian questions the atheist on happiness. Can they obtain an ultimate end or goal which helps them frame all of reality with purpose? It is hard to see how.
The atheist might be stoic on this and point out that they are just living in line with the reality that life ends and there is no God. Other atheists may answer that living for the human community or perhaps for the value of reason gives them purpose and meaning. I would agree that both of those areas can have some meaning. Yet, making these the absolute reference point seems to be lacking. When pushed I typically find that atheists will agree that the areas of happiness they experience little purposes that give them moments of happiness, but none of these provides the kind of happiness that Christians speak of.
The atheist lacks an objective framework of meaning, that the Christian at least has available to them. If you run into a happy atheist, make friends with them and enjoy a reasonable conversation… something that both Christians and atheists can find sublime. Although, this could lead us to another discussion about the meaning of reason if there is no God, but we will leave this for another post.