Sunday, November 16, 2008

American Christians Are Responsible For the Unhappiness of American Atheists?

Paul Bloom's thesis is that American atheists are less happy than American religious people because the latter exclude the former from community. It's community that makes us happy, not religion. Bloom argues that, e.g., Danes and Swedes are happy even though they are atheists precisely because they call themselves "Christians," "they get married in church, have their babies baptized, give some of their income to the church, and feel attached to their religious community—they just don't believe in God... Scandinavian Christians are a lot like American Jews, who are also highly secularized in belief and practice, have strong communal feelings, and tend to be well-behaved."

I find Bloom a bit unclear about this, since he's reviewing Phil Zuckerman's new book Society Without God. "Zuckerman looks at the Danes and the Swedes—probably the most godless people on Earth. They don't go to church or pray in the privacy of their own homes; they don't believe in God or heaven or hell. But, by any reasonable standard, they're nice to one another."

OK - Danes and Swedes: 1) don't go to church: and 2) get married in church, have their babies baptized in church, give some of their income to the church, and feel attached to their religious community." Since, biblically, "religious community" = "church" (and does not equal "a building"), it sounds like Danes and Swedes aren't part of the church and are part of the church. I just need more help from Bloom here, since he's arguing that Danes and Swedes are non-religious and happy but are attached to a religious community.

Does religion make a person happy and non-religion make an atheist not happy? Who cares? I'm reminded of something I read from C.S. Lewis years ago (in I believe, God In the Dock). Lewis was asked if he converted from atheism to Christianity because it made him happy. Lewis responded that if his goal was happiness he would have popped open a bottle of wine instead of converting to Christianity. He became a Christian because he thought it was the truth. Me too. Believing that one is on to the truth could produce inner joy if that truth gave one meaning in life.