It’s impossible to count how many times atheists, agnostics, secularists and freethinkers are told by religious folks of various faiths that we will regret our ‘godless’ or ‘sinful’ life sooner or later. I can honestly say I haven’t had any regrets for my decision to trade in what I perceived to be the miseries of traditional Catholicism for the pleasures of freethinking. Since no regrets have surfaced in the twenty-five years that have elapsed since making my secular choice, I doubt they will surface any time soon.
Theists often write and speak of the wonders and happiness their religion provides, citing miracles, doing good works for others, and security in the belief that they’ll ascend into a place called Heaven when their lives end. I have no doubts they’re sincere, and if this is what truly makes them happy, then it’s a good choice for them. However, what many theists tend to overlook, either by accident or by design, is that atheists and agnostics are just as happy, and can find the same joy in our world without following a particular faith.
Most of us have been asked at some point what pleasure can we have in such a ‘godless’ existence. What happiness can we hope to find without a particular faith or god to guide us? Since there’s no one-size-fits-all answer, I can only explain the pleasures of life I experience myself, as spiritual outlooks vary from person to person.
Pleasure #1 - Kindness
A common misconception that many theists labor under is the belief that the only kind people are those who follow a particular god or religion. To this, any atheist or freethinker with common sense will no doubt reply ‘rubbish.’ British philosopher Bertrand Russell, a well-known secularist himself, made the following statement in his essay ‘The Faith of a Rationalist:’ “Men tend to have the beliefs that suit their passions. Cruel men believe in a cruel god and use their belief to excuse cruelty. Only kindly men believe in a kindly god, and they would be kindly in any case.” In other words, one doesn’t have to believe in a god to be a kind person. Many atrocities in past history have clearly demonstrated that religion and kindness were worlds apart.
Pleasure #2 - Knowledge
It is well known that traditional and fundamentalist religions place certain restrictions on the kinds of knowledge their members are allowed to pursue. Traditional Catholic and conservative Christian parents tend to isolate their children from their secular peers as much as possible so no “unwelcome elements” are allowed in. As a result, these children grow up ignorant in many things, which may severely limit them in terms of finding suitable employment when it is time for them to look for jobs. Some extremist faiths keep their girls and women ignorant of almost everything, believing that the only suitable occupations for women are marriage and motherhood. We have no such restrictions. In fact, we are free to obtain knowledge on any subject we want, to use for our benefit and often the benefit of others too.
Pleasure #3 - Happiness
What happiness would this be? This is simple; that which comes from the absence of stresses, anxieties, and worries burdening people who don’t have the freedom to make their own life decisions. For example, a couple with no ties to a conservative church or faith can decide for themselves whether they will become parents or not, and if they choose parenthood, how many children they can comfortably manage and afford. A traditional Catholic or conservative Christian couple generally feel they have no choice in the matters of sex and reproduction. Their faith demands that all sex must be ‘open to life.’ In other words, it means that sex must lead to children sooner or later, and preferably sooner.
If a couple is financially strapped with just the two of them working, things are going to get a lot worse when one or two children enter the marriage, especially if the wife’s income has to be sacrificed to become a stay-home mom. The husband may have to work one or two jobs to make ends meet after the wife’s income is lost, resulting in his being away from home more often and spending less time with the children he has. However, all of that means nothing to their church.
Obedience to the faith is the church’s primary concern, not the physical, emotional and financial comfort of individuals. I can’t imagine anything more unhappy for a married couple than having to bear more children than they can handle, both physically and financially. For a child growing up in such a home, maybe resented because she’s ‘another mouth to feed,’ chances for happiness are slim to none. For the Catholic church and other conservative faiths, personal happiness isn’t on the priority list for children or adults.