Do Atheists Have More Fun?

Heather Wilhelm asks the question in this article about Penn & Teller‘s Penn Jellette’s new book God, No! Signs You May Already Be an Atheist and Other Magical Tales. The column is worth reading as she addresses some of Penn’s objections.

Jillette‘s main problems with the man upstairs can be difficult to quote, given his fondness for F-bombs and earthy references to his favorite body part. On one page he blasts the “arrogance” of those who claim to have knowledge of a higher power. On the next, he rather confidently declares “No! There is no fricking God!” (He said something other than “fricking,” but I’m making this PG-13, repressed and Christian-y.)

Contradictory? Absolutely. Many of the objections in God, No!, in fact, are addressed in Tim Keller’s excellent book, The Reason for God, which illustrates the many leaps of faith that unbelievers must take. “Skeptics believe that any exclusive claims to a superior knowledge of spiritual reality cannot be true,” Keller writes — but this, ironically, is “also an ‘exclusive’ claim about the nature of spiritual reality.”

Similarly, Keller writes, atheists who try “to follow John Rawls and find universally accessible, ‘neutral and objective’ arguments” for a moral society will inevitably fail. In God, No!, Jillette does just that, offering “human intelligence, creativity and love” as the highest ideals.

But where do these, and other “suggestions” in the book, come from? In the end, Keller notes, people affirm “the equality and dignity of human individuals simply because [they] believe it is true and right. [They] take as an article of faith that people are more valuable than rocks or trees — though [they] can’t prove that scientifically. [Their] public policy proposals are ultimately based on a religious stance.”

For my part, I do not believe it is possible to develop an ethical or moral system without the aid of religion of some sort. Philosophers have tried to create a system of morality based solely on reason but I do not believe they have been very successful. This is not to say that there are many moral and good atheists, but they are using the moral values of the Judeo-Christian ethic. When they say that such and such is right and such and such is wrong, they are making use of norms that have already been developed.

Not only that, but where do they get the idea that there is in fact a right and wrong? It seem to me that of only the material world exists then questions of right and wrong are merely the personal opinion of each individual. What is right is what benefits me. What is wrong is what harms me. I doubt many atheists or non believers are willing to take things that far, but that is the end result of their beliefs.

Wilhelm ends her article by using C. S. Lewis to illustrate a point.

After Jillette’s mother died, as he describes in his book, “It was a time for sadness and memory, and it was also a time for pure, raw, empty hate at the pain of life.” The pre-conversion C.S. Lewis had a similar feeling: “My argument against God,” he wrote in Mere Christianity, “was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust.”

But then there’s more. “But how had I got this idea of just and unjust?” Lewis continued. “A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust?” Eventually, Lewis saw his argument against God buckle and he turned out to be one of the leading Christian thinkers of the 20th century.

Just so. Again, if all that exists are atoms and the void, to quote Epicurus, than any ideas of right and wrong are so many phantasms.

But, to answer the question above, do atheists have more fun? I cannot say but judging from the screeds some of them are always writing against Christianity, they do not seem to be a particularly happy lot. The Hitchenses, Dawkinses, and Harrises of the world seem to be going around with a chip on their shoulders, which is not the happiest way to live.


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