Happiness, Joy, Morality, and the Confusion of Atheism

I have come to the conclusion that atheists are simply clueless. They have this caricature of religious people (ie Christians, in particular) that they like to drag out and flog in front of their fans, and Courtney Heard, aka Godless Mom, is no different. 

I have a lot of respect for an atheist who can present a coherent, cohesive argument for their position, but the majority of the time it’s just like, “blah blah blah, religious people can’t do this or that blah blah”, the crowd cheers and they feel like they have presented some meaningful argument. Push them, push their logic, and the wheels quickly come off. 

Let’s take one of Courtney’s latest missives, provocatively titled, “9 Ways Atheists Get More Joy Out of Life.”

First, we need to note that “joy” is being used as a synonym for “happiness” in her title. Further, since she is responding to a tweet, a tweet that effectively demonstrates the absurdity of the atheist worldview. So, the Christian must first define what we mean by “joy” before proceeding. 

Brenda Heyink, writes in her Lexham Bible Dictionary entry that a biblical concept of joy that it is, “[closely] related to gladness and happiness, although joy is more a state of being than an emotion; a result of choice (emphasis added).” She especially notes, in regard to the Christian that,

Joy is one of the fruits of the Spirit; it is expected of Christians because it is the natural result of having received salvation. The joy comes on account of what Christ has done, irrelevant of whatever other circumstances are happening in one’s life.

So, “joy” is directly related to choice, most likely in association with gratitude, and it is irrelevant to one’s situation. The Christian doesn’t expect things to give him joy, as much as he has chosen to embrace the joy found in Christ and the indwelling of the Spirit. 

Now, we also have to be honest: within the boundaries of Christianity there are some “Debbie-downers”. They act as if they were baptized in vinegar and they drink green persimmon wine from the Lord’s cup. They think that the life of the Christian is supposed to be drab, tasteless, and robotically uniform. Now, perhaps that is what atheists, like Courtney, are arguing against, but that’s a segment of Christianity, both historical and modern, that those of us who rest in Christ often argue against and find to be lifeless and joyless in the context of the faith, which brings us back to Courtney’s post.

In the first paragraph, she writes,

As someone who has had a life filled with joy but who has lacked religious belief since day one, it’s completely absurd to me. I think that for some religious people who say this, this is an attempt to make us feel small; that they don’t really believe that we can’t feel joy. For others, however, I get the sense that they truly believe we live without any joy at all.

This is why I think that she is confusing “joy”—which is about a relationship—with “happiness”—which has to do with circumstances. Joy is what causes a man at the end of his rope to tie a knot and hang on. Joy is what prevented Job from taking his wife’s advice. So, do we need further evidence of this instance of equivocation?

In the second paragraph, she writes,

Now, I realize that the small group of religious people I’ve gotten to know is hardly representative of an entire demographic… I get this. Of course, not all of them are miserable. I’ve met some truly happy people who profess a belief in god. However, there are some things we don’t need stats to know when it comes to how atheists experience joy.

There we go.

Now, some will point to the dictionary definition of joy and argue that she is being perfectly consistent with that, however, the specific accusation that she is responding to, is that, “Atheists are joyless” as seen in the screenshot that she uses to begin her piece, perfectly summarizes the irredeemably gloomy worldview of the atheist.

She then steps into the deep end, both philosophically and ethically, writing,

We know that religion is prescriptive and requires certain behaviours. We know that those behaviours are promoted with the use of threats, guilt and shame.

Now, as a philosopher of religion—more specifically as a theorist who has focused a great deal of study on just exactly what a “religion” is or isn’t—Courtney’s oversimplification is readily apparent. If she wants to minimize “religion” down to a “prescriptive” element, then every single time she makes a prescriptive statement to he child in regard behavior, and accompanies that prescription with a threat that she intends to hold her child guilty of trespassing or imposing shame for violating, she is establishing her own religion. She cannot get away from the term without finding herself sucked back into it.

Atheists, especially the internet variety, rarely think further than the next word. They impart a specific meaning to a word without considering that the word has an incredibly broad and historical application and meaning already associated with it. But she continues,

We also know that atheists are free from all of that. We don’t do dogma, we don’t take kindly to threats from the magical zombie in the sky. We don’t believe in eternal punishment or infinite reward. We are free to explore what it means to be us without the pressure to fall in line.

Actually, atheists are some of the most dogmatic creatures on God’s green earth, ranked right under Christians. She demonstrates this by the unreflective use of a common straw man that atheists really like to use. The statement of universal knowledge is also demonstrative of her dogmatism.

Now, I want to warn my readers that Courtney gets a little vulgar the farther in she goes, so caution is advised. Further, given the length that this post has already taken, I will not deal with every single point that she raises, just the ones where she demonstrates incoherence or hypocrisy, also they fall along a few primary lines: sex and the accompanying behaviors and experience. Primarily sex though.

Points 1, 2, and 7: sex.

I’ve spent a great deal of time and energy writing about morality on this blog, especially sexual morality. I’ve responded to atheists attempting to establish an objective morality apart from God through appeals to definition and other absurd options. I’ve dealt with how the Bible defines and deals with negative sexual behaviors, such as rape. They aren’t comfortable subjects to deal with because sex is incredibly personal. It goes right to the heart of a person’s being. However, when we wallpaper over a sacred act with childish euphemisms, or minimize it to just being an act, that it’s just something we do, we discover an inability to positively define it. Then we wonder why people are so broken and joyless. Culturally, we’ve minimized the meaning of sex and maximized the damage that removing boundaries does. 

In point 1, Courtney confuses the joy of a fully invested sexual union with one person for life with the hormonal rush of casual sex with whoever, however, whenever you want, as long as it’s consensual. This caveat of consent begs the question, who says? Why does sex have to be consensual? If there is no God that exists that has defined who I can have sex with, how my sexual effort is to be directed, or when that effort is to be experienced. However, if there is a God who not only exists, but has made his creatures to reflect him in his attributes, then not only are these matters defined, but they can also be enforced. This study on the college “hookup” culture revealed that the more that a person engages in a sexually promiscuous lifestyle, the greater chance that one will end up being a consenting, but really unwilling participant (leading to the so-called “campus rape culture”) and the greater likelihood of exposure to an STD or even an unwanted pregnancy. Some might point to instances such as this Psychology Today review of a number of similar studies and say that such cultural phenomena are  essentially dying off. There is also no conclusive data that says one way or the other whether such behavior one way or the other brings true happiness, which would seem to indicate that true happiness (the biblical concept of “joy”) is ultimately not found in circumstances. But then there’s point number 2.

This point deals with the matter of same-sex relationships, where Courtney writes,

Celebrating the joy of others! Instead of disowning people because they have fallen in love with someone of the same sex, we love them just the same.

Of course anyone who disagrees with her is called a “bigot”, but I would just love to ask, what if this was a 40-year old man and a 9-year old boy, (or this recent example) would she be just as elated, or would she become the “bigot”? That’s the problem with name-calling, shift the premises just a little and one can, rather quickly, find themselves tarred by the same brush that they were just wielding. Until Courtney can provide a coherent sexual morality that satisfies the necessary preconditions of intelligibility, she better be careful what she’s celebrating. Which brings us to point number 7, and that tricky issue of self love.

Masturbation, while it may have certain benefits, it can often be a breeding ground for socially unacceptable and even potentially dangerous or criminal behaviors. The act has no precise scriptural prohibitions; however, if it is being used as a substitute for the real act with a real person, it definitely falls into the realm of covetousness, and can even be what Jesus was referring to when he spoke of committing adultery “in the heart”. This issue, and others in regard to sexuality are tackled in this episode of The Whitehorse Inn, where, “Michael Horton talks with Jeff [Mallinson] about the rationale behind his new book, Sexy: The Quest for Erotic Virtue in Perplexing Times.”

But let’s be clear what she’s claiming: atheists enjoy sex more because they have no boundaries for it, even though they will gladly impose one rather arbitrarily: consent. That’s a very difficult claim to prove when you don’t have any meaningful grounds to define your terms. I would argue that there is a significant difference between enjoying something and being joyful in it, that is finding true satisfaction in it. Even the Kinsey Institute has produced research that demonstrates that monogamous couples who have been together for at least 15 years have higher sexual satisfaction levels than were expected. So, that’s proof, scientific proof, that the Bible gets the relationship dynamics right: long-term and monogamous.  

The point here is that she can say that she feels “joy” here in these, but she’s simply confusing the meaning of the word that comes from a meaningful and purposed (ie moral) existence—how the Christian defines the term—with momentary excitement. 

This confusion becomes even more apparent in point three, where she discusses making discoveries, writing,

Nothing is quite as exhilarating as reading a headline that a global ocean was discovered on one of Saturn’s moons or hearing that a new robotic prosthetic will give amputees all sort of new abilities and movement…. The absolute and utter joy in new discoveries is indescribable.

Does she not think that new discoveries and developments, both in the observable universe and in the medical world, make Christians excited? I’m not the most excitable person in the world, but I find these things incredibly interesting. The thing that she has to remember is that the ground upon which modern science was planted was plowed, prepared, and sown by the Christian worldview. But again, this is not “joy”, this in no uncertain terms, disproves the claim to which she is responding to. In fact, it flies directly in the face of certain necessary assumptions of the atheist worldview. She further displays her confusion when she writes,

An atheist would never dismiss these discoveries if they conflicted with previous explanations for our existence.

giphy-3

First, all evidence is subject to interpretation, and every interpretative grid must necessarily be judged for consistency. Second she confuses “discoveries” with explanations. These are not the same thing. Third, dismissing the explanation is not the same thing as dismissing the discovery. Two significant errors in reasoning bring all subsequent arguments into question. Also this doesn’t prove the claim that she’s making. 

To further demonstrate that she simply isn’t providing anything conclusive in regard to her claim, all that we have to do is look at point 4:

Saying “I Don’t Know”! I know what you’re thinking… how can saying I don’t know be joyful? It’s very simple. Saying I don’t know means you have more to learn. (Emphasis original)

I wish that she would learn what it means to make a claim then prove it. I love to learn all kinds of things, I wouldn’t be working on a second college degree if I didn’t. I enjoy learning new things. 

Learning is fun.

Yes, absolutely. But “fun” and “joy” are not the same thing. 

Learning expands our ability to be able to function in this world, treat others with respect and potentially one day live in peace.

This we need to break down. 

Learning expands our ability to be able to function in this world…” Awkward phrasing aside, learning new skills does give people greater functionality in the world. “Greater functionality” and “joy” are not the same thing. 

Learning expands our ability to … treat others with respect…” Not necessarily. It does not necessarily follow that “learning” and “respect” follow one another. 

Learning expands our ability to … potentially one day live in peace.” Again, not necessarily. One of these doesn’t necessarily follow from the other. Living in peace is something that is often learned itself because peacemaking is a skill that must be learned. 

Those who insist they are certain of something, are closed to the joy of learning.

She sounds pretty certain about that conclusion. But this statement, just like the other, doesn’t necessarily follow.  Certainty regarding a certain topic can actually cause someone to learn to gather more evidence to demonstrate their certainty in regard to what it is that they are certain of. They may learn about objections and differences in coming to that conclusion. Certainty and learning are not mutually exclusive conclusions. It simply doesn’t follow that certainty closes the joy of learning. 

Saying, “I know for certain that God created us” gives you no need to further investigate our origins and eliminates the possibility of you learning something new about it.

giphy-2

Thanks, President Trump. The non sequiturs just keep on coming. Where does she think that the foundations of modern human biology and physiology are grounded? Certainly not in atheism. The history of modern medicine is one driven by people operating within a decidedly Christian worldview, and people doing work for the glory of their God who has fearfully and wonderfully made his image bearer. When I was considering potential career paths, medicine was one that kept in mind. More than that, there were certain things that I could only say with certainty about the medical arts because I was certain that God had made man, especially when it came to making ethical claims. 

Then there’s this doozy at point 5,

Sunday mornings! In the fall, watching your football team win with your little boy by your side… or hiking along a creek as dried up leaves crunch beneath your feet. In the summer, swimming with your kids out to the platform in the middle of the lake and diving off. Sleeping in and rising to your husband making you Nutella crepes or jumping all morning with your son on the trampoline. These are just a few of the things that bring more joy than a sore-bum from being stuck in a cold, hard pew, surrounded by corpses on crosses, listening to a man warn you of the eternal fires of hell.

Has she actually ever been to church? I go to church every Sunday that I’m able, and you know what, I still get to watch football with my son in the fall. I still get up and make breakfast. We go swimming, go out to the trampoline. We do everything that she says except “sit on a cold, hard pew, surrounded by corpses on crosses”. I’m trying to think of the last time that I sat on a pew that wasn’t padded, and it’s probably been…oh… 20 years. And just one other thing if hell is real (and I believe it is) I would think that one would want to be warned about it. Again, she’s confusing that which she might enjoy with that which gives joy. 

Point 6, is interesting, but I want to focus on this statement,

We really live because we know life is fleeting. We cherish this life whereas many religious individuals appear to be living for the next life. (Emphasis original)

Okay? What does it mean to “really live”? What does it mean to “cherish this life”? These vague, even cliched statements assumes something about this life that she just assumes and invests nothing into explaining. Further, just because something “appears” to be the case, doesn’t mean that it is because the Christian actually believes that all that we have is this one life, there is no other. But here’s the main point, “really living” and “cherishing life” do not equate to joy. True joy is what drives one to those things. 

Lastly, points 8 and 9, share common sentiments, so I will put them together when she proclaims in the former, “No Hell to fear!” And announces in the latter, “We are not being watched!” Given that, to the Christian, these are in something of a reversed order, I’m going to deal with them in that way.

In point 9, she writes,

We know that consequences for our actions are detectable and real-world and we adjust our behaviour based on that rather than a space-stalker.

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Now, keeping in mind how she proceeded this statement (We are not being watched!), upon what basis can she make the claim that she knows that the “…consequences for our actions are detectable and real-world…”? It’s this appeal to some unjustified universal knowledge that bothers me. The Christian has reason to believe that our actions have consequences, but what about the atheist? 

This is especially relevant, given that in point 8 she writes, “…[when] we do good things, it’s because we want to do good things…” Guess what, that makes the obverse equally true, “When we do evil things, it’s because we want to do evil things.” No one is denying that. The question is, what makes something “good” and what makes something “evil”?

What, from a presuppositional starting point of the universe being a mindless accident, is a “good thing” either in action, or as a result of that action consequentially? How does she know that her actions have moral consequences? One man gets his joy (happiness) from feeding the poor and another gets his joy from eating the poor. How many murderers, rapists, and thieves have escaped the consequences of their actions, what about them? The atheist has no answer for this because there is no justice in their worldview. If all human beings are, are highly capable and articulate animals, then there is nothing really good or bad with our behaviors, so whatever we do can make us happy.

Her closing paragraph demonstrates the utter incoherence and intense lack of self-reflections of her worldview, where in it she writes,

They (religious people) make people feel guilty for who they are, and how their bodies function. Fear is driven into the devout and obedience is cultivated via threats of damnation. These things are directly incompatible with joy. 

Courtney, dear heart, that’s exactly what you’re doing given the necessary presuppositions of your materialistic and atheistic worldview. Religious people cannot help being who they are and how their bodies function any more than you religious atheists—it’s who they are and you’re making them feel guilty for it. But, I want to push this just a little to demonstrate the absurdity of the logic that she’s using.

Gaystar News (caution advised if following the link) just posted a story of pedophiles using a modified “pride flag” in an attempt to co-opt themselves into the homosexual movement by giving themselves the name “Minor Attracted Persons (MAPs)”, and the author of the story writes,

Considering the long-standing trope that LGBTI people are rapists and/or child molesters, the fact those who actually have attraction to children are attempting to co-opt LGBTI spaces is disturbing.

Well, I’m certainly glad that they find this “disturbing,” but these people (MAPs) are simply using the exact same language and logic that the rest of the sexually-rebellious-alphabet-squad has used for decades to legitimize and destigmatize their behavior and desires: “it’s our nature”, “it’s who we are”. It’s refreshing to see the chickens coming home to roost and watching the back-pedaling that is occurring. I would love to see Courtney try to extract the logical ends of the argument that she has just forwarded and justify and attempt to make those people (MAPs) feel guilty for who they are and how their bodies function. I mean, does Courtney want them not to have joy?

All of this is to say that Courtney has no idea what true joy is, and she demonstrates this fact by equivocating the term with “happiness”. All that she has said is that happiness is all that she cares about and that it doesn’t matter how one gets it. There are no moral constraints on it, in fact happiness has no moral boundaries. 

However, if the Christian position is true then happiness and joy are distinct and decidedly moral categories. Joy is there when happiness is nowhere around and happiness is only truly found when one has set their joy in the person of Christ and not in mere human activities.

2 comments

  1. […] Being an apologist, I would just love for someone to show where I, in any apologetic context have appealed to Christianity being “more pleasing or happier”. However, numerous studies have linked religious involvement with well-being (here and here for example), and there may be many underlying factors for this. Given that, I would never argue that because of the correlation between religious participation and wellbeing that Christianity was true. That’s an absurd argument to make. But I will argue that Bob is setting up a straw man in an attempt to leverage his bias and front-load his conclusion. In fact, he seems to be setting up to make an argument very similar to one that I responded to a few weeks ago from Godless Mom. […]

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