Do Godly Men Act Happier Than the Non-Religious?

“Hap­pi­ness” by Guil­herme Oliveira
A good friend of mine, Stephanie, went to a pot­tery class ear­li­er today with her son; her son, 8½-year-old Carter, sat between two pas­tors,* and remarked that he wished all men could be as hap­py as them. It occurred to Stephanie that “God­ly men ACT hap­pi­er than non-reli­gion men,” and she asked me why.

As a bit of back­ground, i first encoun­tered the idea that Chris­tians are hap­pi­er back in the ear­ly 00s when i was first start­ing out as a Chris­t­ian. I ran a mod­er­ate­ly-suc­cess­ful mes­sage board called The Fel­low­ship Hall, and a user by the name of Mik­eR, whom i’m still in con­tact with via Face­book, men­tioned that i sure­ly had a shine or a glow in my eyes. I for­get the exact way he phrased it, but he spoke of it as an actu­al phys­i­cal dif­fer­ence between Chris­tians & non-Christians. 

As time went on, i received a lot of com­ments from folks i worked with as well about how hap­py i always seemed, that i nev­er seemed to have a bad day. Dur­ing the ear­li­est cou­ple of years, i often wore a wood­en cross pin on my work uni­form as well, and it was obvi­ous from the com­ments i received that folks asso­ci­at­ed my pos­i­tive atti­tude with my religion.

When i was a Chris­t­ian, i believed that i should­n’t com­plain. I took to heart what Philip­pi­ans 4:11 taught: to be con­tent in all things. What­ev­er trou­ble i may have been fac­ing, what­ev­er stress i may have had in my life, i did my best not to allow that to effect me. I believed there were big prob­lems in the world than my own per­son­al issues, and so i wore a smile, per­fect­ly con­tent. I won’t lie: the belief that my small­est cares fell into the prov­i­dence of a lov­ing God cer­tain­ly made me feel good and added to my happiness.

One thing i noticed, though, is that most oth­er Chris­tians i knew did­n’t seem any­where near­ly as con­tent or hap­py as i was. I know that’s entire­ly sub­jec­tive and does­n’t mean any­thing to any­body else but me, yet it was an obser­va­tion of mine over sev­er­al years.

To the point of Stephanie’s ques­tion, though, if it does seem as though Chris­t­ian men are hap­pi­er than non-Chris­t­ian men, why would that be so?

I offer the fol­low­ing suggestions:

“Hope” by DieselDe­mon
Chris­tian­i­ty offers hope. A world with­out the super­nat­ur­al is depress­ing for many; hell, i’ll be the first to admit that nat­u­ral­is­tic death scares the shit out of me. I’ve been try­ing to wrap my mind around the con­cept of the ces­sa­tion of exis­tence since my grand­moth­er died near­ly two decades ago, and any­time i think about it, i feel ter­ror. Crip­pling, par­a­lyz­ing, mind-chill­ing ter­ror at the thought that some day, i’m going to no longer be.

Chris­tian­i­ty, like most reli­gions, offers hope in that area. Chris­tians need not think about depress­ing things like that: For them, all of the worst aspects of life on the plan­et are han­dled hap­pi­ly by a lov­ing God. That’s a load off of their shoul­ders and cer­tain­ly could make them seem happier.**

“Innocence/Guilt” by ~fyr­fli~
Chris­tian­i­ty offers abso­lu­tion of guilt. Human­ists, athe­ists, adher­ents of karmic reli­gions, and so forth have to live with the guilt of any wrong they may do; Chris­tians, how­ev­er, believe that the guilt for all of their wrong­do­ings was tak­en up by Jesus and that his blood pro­vides the pro­pi­ti­a­tion and abso­lu­tion for their sins. While they may feel guilt, it’s a guilt tem­pered by the knowl­edge that they are secured a place in Heav­en, which is sure to make them feel tons bet­ter. That may cer­tain­ly account for any extra hap­pi­ness seen in Christians.

“Chris­t­ian Stu­dent Fel­low­ship” by Jere­my Wilburn
Chris­tian­i­ty offers fel­low­ship. Anoth­er big­gie here is that Chris­tian­i­ty is very com­mu­nal. Spend­ing time with like-mind­ed indi­vid­u­als is a boon for hap­pi­ness, whether it be at church, a Super­bowl par­ty, or a World of War­craft raid. Spend­ing time with oth­ers doing what you love is a great cure for bad atti­tudes. Chris­tians believe their fel­low­ship is glob­al, and they may exhib­it their enjoy­ment of that any­where where they may run into oth­ers with whom they share faith.

All of that said, i don’t believe that the hap­pi­ness lev­el of Chris­tians is any sort of proof that Chris­tian­i­ty has any sort of mer­it. If hap­pi­ness was proof of mer­it, then why are a vari­ety of recre­ation­al drugs still ille­gal? What about adher­ents of oth­er reli­gions who find joy? What about the hap­pi­ness, peace, and joy i’ve found since free­ing myself from the yoke of Christianity?

Today, i have friends who are hap­py. I have friends who are unhap­py. I have friends who seek to uplift those around them. I have friends who spend their time focused on neg­a­tiv­i­ty, espe­cial­ly in regards to politics.

And what i’ve noticed is that it does­n’t mat­ter whether these peo­ple are Chris­t­ian or athe­ist, guy or girl, gay or straight, which leads me to believe that there isn’t one right way to find ful­fill­ment or hap­pi­ness in life. Every­one’s path is going to be dif­fer­ent. Obvi­ous­ly, i encour­age oth­ers to give up the false hope of reli­gion in favor of intel­lec­tu­al free­dom, but at the end of the day, so long as their super­sti­tions aren’t being turned into laws to gov­ern me, they are free to believe what they want.

I wish we could all be a lit­tle bet­ter about giv­ing the world a smile, though. We need more joy. Per­haps desperately.

* My opin­ions of reli­gion notwith­stand­ing, i think every pas­tor should take pot­tery class­es, if only to ful­ly appre­ci­ate the potter/clay sym­bol­ism used in the Bible on an expe­ri­en­tial level.

** It is my opin­ion that hon­est Chris­tians ought to be most mis­er­able: How can the live joy­ful­ly at all with the thought that the major­i­ty of folks whom they know and love are going to die and burn for an eter­ni­ty in Hell? In one book i read which dealt specif­i­cal­ly with how folks would be able to find joy at all in Heav­en in light of that, the author sug­gest­ed that in Heav­en, there will be no mem­o­ry of those in Hell! What a farce!


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3 responses to “Do Godly Men Act Happier Than the Non-Religious?”

  1. Bill Uhrich Avatar
    Bill Uhrich

    Rick,

    I found your blog again after sev­er­al years and see with some sur­prise that you are an atheist.

    Did you write a spe­cif­ic blog entry about the tip­ping point away that occurred in favor of athe­ism? I’d like to read about that journey.

    Bill

  2. i aint judgin nobody confused just tryna keep my head up Avatar
    i aint judgin nobody confused just tryna keep my head up

    yeah rick what it do? you seemed so gung ho on the jesus train now YOU the pilot dri­vin in anotha lane.…. some might say the broad­er lane.….. that we’re taught leads to eter­nal pain.…..what gives ? u no longer believe He lives? how u went from marchin on the prop­er route to satan pimpin and turnin you out???? i can relate let me make that clear.….done fell for that brim­stone breath game in my ear.…as for moi i thought i was blind and could see.…but the more i saw the less God made sense to me.….

  3. Michael Wong Avatar

    Hi, Rick! It’s been a few years since our phpBB debates, and I was curi­ous to see the new athe­ist ver­sion of you. I have to say that I pre­fer the new you over the old Bible thump­ing version :)

    As for the actu­al con­tent of this post, I have some ideas to offer:

    1) Regard­ing death, Chris­tian­i­ty does offer hope. But what’s the dif­fer­ence between the false joy of the “ecsta­sy” drug and the false hope of an imag­i­nary after­life? Is it not bet­ter to accept that the uni­verse is capa­ble of get­ting along just fine after we’re gone?

    2) Chris­tian­i­ty does offer abso­lu­tion of guilt. But is it real abso­lu­tion? Chris­tian­i­ty says “you are utter­ly irre­deemable, but I for­give you any­way”. Is that real­ly as good as the kind of abso­lu­tion you get when you actu­al­ly make up for the bad things you’ve done? Frankly, I think the abso­lu­tion offered by Chris­tian­i­ty is not even remote­ly sat­is­fy­ing, and that Chris­tians in fact feel per­pet­u­al­ly inad­e­quate, because they’re always com­par­ing them­selves to an ide­al­ized super-altru­ist. In many ways, Chris­tians are taught to despise their own humanity.

    3) Chris­t­ian fel­low­ship can make some peo­ple very hap­py. But it can also make some peo­ple very unhap­py. The flip-side of a tight-knit com­mu­ni­ty is that if you’re on the outs with that com­mu­ni­ty, you have nowhere to turn. It feels like the whole world is against you. So there is a pow­er­ful pres­sure to con­form, agree with every­one else, do what they say, etc. Con­sid­er how the evan­gel­i­cal com­mu­ni­ty in the 1970s was over­whelm­ing­ly lib­er­al, and sup­port­ed pro­grams for the poor. And today, that SAME com­mu­ni­ty has almost entire­ly shift­ed to right-wing pol­i­tics, hat­ing wel­fare, dis­cour­ag­ing immi­gra­tion, etc. How can mil­lions of peo­ple all change their minds at the same time, in the same way? The answer is sim­ple: the “fel­low­ship” of the Chris­t­ian com­mu­ni­ty is NOT free; it comes with a price tag, and the price tag is conformity.

    Let me just leave with one final thought: if Chris­tians are so hap­py, why do so many of them rant so angri­ly about “fam­i­ly val­ues”? And let’s face it, the way they use it, “fam­i­ly val­ues” is a won­der­ful­ly clever term for “let’s man­u­fac­ture an excuse to treat cer­tain peo­ple like crap even if they’ve nev­er hurt any­one”. Any group which tries so hard to harm the inter­ests of oth­er peo­ple can’t be con­sid­ered col­lec­tive­ly “hap­py”.

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Rick Beckman