Are You Glad?

Are you glad there is no heaven?
Are you glad there is no hell?
Are you glad that God’s a fiction—
Just some stories people tell?

Are you glad we have no purpose?
Are you glad to come from chance?
Are you glad you’re just some random link
In evolution’s dance?

Are you glad there was no Adam?
Are you glad there was no Eve?
Are you glad there are so many things
In which you don’t believe?

Are you glad that what they’re selling
Isn’t something you will buy?
Are you glad you are an atheist—
And if you are, then…why?

My aggregator throws some strange stuff at me sometimes. Today, a post on a religious person’s blog, reporting on “One Question I Ask My Atheist Friends”. The author notes that this is her own experience only, and does not claim it to be anything broader than that (indeed, it is not my own experience at all, which is why I thought I’d open it up to what is likely to be a wider audience of atheists than she will get). But the question, and her usual answer, go something like this:

“Are you glad that atheism is the truth?”
Whenever I’ve asked this question, the conversation has usually gone something much like this:
“Let me ask you something totally unrelated to the evidence for God and Christianity.”
“Are you glad that atheism is the truth?”
“Of course I’m glad it’s true! Why would I argue for its truth if I wasn’t glad about it?”
“What makes you glad that it’s true?”
“Well, for one thing, it’s the only way that humans can have genuine free will. Under Christianity, there’s no free will, there’s only God’s will. Under atheism, I choose how I live my life.”
This response is psychologically revealing, theologically erroneous, completely out of step with materialism (the philosophy that nothing besides the material universe exists), and frankly, absurd.

For me, the atheist answer there is strange, twice. First, being glad atheism is true is like being glad the gravity is turned on. Glad has nothing to do with it. Second, unless you are defining “free will” vastly differently than I do, I don’t think it exists, much less exists only under an atheist view. Third (ok, I lied), we all, believer and atheist, choose how we live our lives. We don’t choose freely, but we choose.

So anyway, I am a very different atheist than those who are friends of this blogger.

But I may well be different from you as well. So… how would you answer her question?


  1. machintelligence says

    I am glad that atheism is true because I prefer a neutral and uncaring universe to a jealous and vindictive God. Of course if God is simply uncaring, what difference does it make if He exists? The whole idea of a God that was all powerful and still wanted to be worshiped always (at least from age 8 or so) struck me as absurd.

  2. grumpyoldfart says

    Atheism is not something that is true or false; it’s just a descriptive name.

    And this is just me, but I would never bring up the subject of free will because I can’t be bothered with it – too many sidetracks in that debate.

  3. david says

    I only use “true” for conclusively provable things. So I’m not “glad atheism is true” – I’m glad atheism is a choice available to me. Of the various possible choices, it seems to best fit the things that I know to be true.

    The definition of materialism used above (“the philosophy that nothing besides the material universe exists”) is essentially circular. Anything that exists is part of the material universe.

    Also, “free will” is not even a concept that makes sense to me. As I see it, “free will” can only exist if there’s a mind/soul/spirit/whetever that is separate from the mechanical workings of the brain.

  4. Ed says

    Actually, there are religious people and atheists on both sides of the free will debate.

    And is the Christian writer saying there’s something wrong with believing things you aren’t “glad” about? (Using the word “belief” in the simple sense of holding a statement or idea to be true).

    I mean, I’m not glad that I have financial problems, that smoking, which I think is fun and feels very good, is extremely dangerous, that I’m a diabetic, that my favorite dog died, and any number of unpleasant things that are true. Are Christians advocating solipsism now? The argument from gladness?

  5. HFM says

    Yes, I am glad that atheism appears to be true. That’s not why I’m an atheist, of course. If we were living in a world where the Aztec religion was true, and the sun would observably pause in the sky if the people below weren’t prompt about offering the beating hearts of various screaming prisoners to the sun god – I wouldn’t like it much, but I’d be a theist.

    But given the choice between living in this world, and passing through a looking-glass into a world that works exactly the way mainstream Christian leaders think it does, I’m 100% staying here. In the looking-glass, nothing that happens actually matters. It’s all a test. Want to advocate for policies that harm or kill millions? NBD, it’s a checkmark against you on the final roster, just like when you ran over that innocent traffic cone during your first DMV road test. Want to risk your neck treating Ebola victims? A checkmark in your favor, just like that clean parking job on your next road test. All that matters is the final pass or fail.

    As someone who identifies strongly with A+ and humanism, I don’t like this at all. To me, the whole point of this life is to join the billions of hands working to pull humanity out of the primordial ooze we came from. I don’t want to believe this was all an elaborate series of entrance exams for heaven. It seems like a sick joke.

    But again as a good rationalist, if I thought theism was true I’d suck it up and deal with it. I’m just grateful I don’t have to.

  6. bcmystery says

    I generally feel the way you do. I’m not “glad” atheism is true—the original question is nonsensical, so the answer this particular blogger claims she was given is nonsensical too.

    Beyond that, I find it very unlikely this conversation actually happened as reported, if at all. It reads like a typical Christian fantasy about atheists. I expect it to soon be the plot of a movie starring Kevin Sorbo.

    One thing which I admit is I sometimes think about how horrible common Christian conceptions of heaven actually are. They’re obsessed with an impossible “free will” from which the only correct choice is to completely subsume your will to a being which will then “reward” you with an eternity in which you have no choice but to worship said being. Yay?

    Given that, in a way I suppose death and oblivion are something to be glad about.

  7. nothere says

    Quote from Doctor Who “What are any of us but pond scum with ideas above it’s station”.
    Cut and paste from something I said on Pharyngula:
    “Atheism is not a philosophy. It’s simply a rejection of religion. As for my philosophy, I am a pragmatist. As for spirituality, I am a philosophical Taoist. When I realized that the Tao doesn’t give a shit whether I believed in it or not, I could follow it’s teaching without any contradiction.”
    My atheism is not simple, but is a lifelong search for meaning in the universe. Science has provided the best answers I found in that search. And I am really proud of my monkey ancestors who climbed down out of the trees to provide me with gas heat, grocery stores, and a nice (used) Ford station wagon.
    Reminds me of what my nine year old neighbor said when said when asked if her lollipop was good. She popped it out of her mouth, gave it a long look and said “good enough”.

  8. says

    Oddly, yes, I am glad. Last year I was diagnosed with a fatal disease, and my first thought was “thank fuck I’m an atheist!”. After ridiculous numbers of tests it turned out to be a non-fatal variant, but I still spent 6 months living with the prospect of death.

    So, no hell. No fear. I wasn’t frightened of death at all. You come from nothing, you go to nothing, what have you lost? Nothing! Not that I wanted to die, but I was OK with it. I’ve lived half a century and seen a lot of the world and done a lot of interesting things. More would be nice, but this is sufficient.

    No heaven? That never made sense to me anyway – Christopher Hitchens “celestial North Korea” made me laugh at how accurate it seemed. No thank you! Run away! Join the rebel alliance! Reincarnation seems daft – if you don’t remember anything how is it even still you? Nirvana is the closest I can get to a reasonable idea, and that’s a sort of mindless blissed out state of being one with the universe. But if mindless then not me, so meh, no loss.

  9. says

    It puts a limit on how bad things can get. I always thought it an exceptionally evil idea that there were gods that torture you after you’re dead – essentially unlimited downside for… whatever. Horrible. Whoever came up with that idea was a nasty piece of work indeed.

    Free will? Who needs it? I’m a robot that’s programmed to think it has free will, so, that’s fine. I’m also programmed to think I “see in 3d” and a bunch of other little lies by brain tells me all the time, and I get by OK that way.

    I do find it somewhat saddening that there’s an upper limit to what one can accomplish, but then I remember that’s also an upper limit to the nastiness that humans can do. It all balances to zero. It all balances to zero. When I realized that, what is there to fear?

  10. Seth says

    I agree with Christopher Hitchens’ general definition of anti-theism, as distinct from atheism; i.e., I not only acknowledge that the claims made by religions are false, I am positively glad that they are. That is not quite the same as being glad that “atheism” is true, whatever that actually means. Like Christopher, I do take a certain grim satisfaction in being as nearly certain that my view of the physical universe is approximately correct, though that is somewhat cold comfort in the face of those facts. Yet I recognise that the reality of those facts does not correspond to my emotional response to them, any more than the reality of an oncoming train is affected by one’s distress if one is bound upon the rails.

  11. Kate Jones says

    Yes, I’m glad that I’m an atheist, freed from the tangle of untruths and sick fantasies religions embed in people’s brains and psyches.

    To me, free will is the ability to reject bad ideas and to keep one’s mental house in order. It’s the proofreader of reality, the admin of the system, the guard at the gate, the hall monitor, the librarian. It’s the file clerk who differentiates the proven from the surmised, the first-hand knowledge from second-hand received and unverified input.

    Free will is the ability to overcome the robot conditioning that society and the dominant meme pool try to inflict as the price of co-existence. And why do they try to inflict it on individuals or to inhabit us? Because that’s what memes do. They want to live, too. They are our software, just as our symbiotic bacteria tend our hardware. They are the electro-magnetic mechanism that encodes the data of our life force.

    And like genes, memes can be helpful and move our evolution forward, or they can mutate to become sick, dysfunctional, cancerous and bad for our health and survival. I see all of human conflict–the tortures, atrocities, genocides–as instances of meme warfare: bad actions that start from bad ideas.

    We don’t have to be robots unresistingly programmed. If you can be an atheist, you can exercise your will to reject attempts at programming, whether emotional or political or commercial, and to reprogram yourself. For what is propaganda or a sales pitch but ideas seeking to infest your brain and your feelings? Freethinkers of the world, arise!

  12. brucegee1962 says

    Back when I was a theist, I felt as if I was constantly having to force my brain into making uncomfortable contortions and gymnastics in order to maintain my beliefs. It took constant effort, as if I was walking around trying to keep my elbows touching behind my back.

    So yes, it felt great when I was able to stop doing that.

  13. brucegee1962 says

    @14 Kate Jones,

    Actually, my take on memes is a bit different from yours. I don’t think that memes go bad from mutating — I think the main difference between a helpful meme and a destructive meme is that the destructive meme has outlived its usefulness. I mean, back when the standard way to deal with defeated enemies was to kill every last man, woman, and child, Slavery was actually a progressive institution. It just stuck around for centuries after it was no longer beneficial to the societies that used it.

    Another example is the European aristocracy. When that meme developed, the need for a landed aristocracy was overwhelming — because that was the basis of state-of-the-art military, so if you didn’t have it, you’d be conquered by someone else who did.

    Then military techniques moved on, and the aristocracy (naturally) didn’t want to give up its power. In the seventeenth through nineteenth centuries, it tried to justify its existence by its monopoly on education and, thus, government. But that justification became increasingly transparent as the monopoly vanished, so that what had once been a beneficial meme that benefited its host society turned into a bad meme without essentially changing its nature.

  14. Randomfactor says

    Happy arbitrary pearly new growth chamber, DC. Your e-mail spam filter is apparently blocking me again. The game’s afoot. (myname) at

  15. says

    I’m indeed glad that there is no heaven. I am rather bitter that there is no hell, for that could have been the only way some of the most despicable of humans could be made to account for their atrocities. Yes, it is a revenge fantasy, and while it’d never correct wrong, there is satisfaction that they suffered for it.

  16. says

    The pleasantness or unpleasantness of a proposition is independent of its truth, and while I will argue a position that is unpleasant but true, I would never argue a position I believe to be false no matter how pleasant it might make me feel. I suppose it is this deep concern with what is true above all else that separates scientists from non-scientists.

    That said, there are some consequences of my lack of belief that I appreciate, and at least one consequence I dislike — I don’t appreciate the fact that one day I’ll cease to exist, I would rather be tortured in hell for all eternity than simply cease to exist, (but I am at least glad to know the truth of the matter in any case). I am glad that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are mythology, I’m glad that there is no supernatural agent punishing people for deviating from a bronze-age morality, or rewarding people for adhering to those mad and obsolete superstitions.

    I guess it’s also worth noting that my lack of belief is not a choice, it’s a consequence of overwhelming evidence, and so I shouldn’t even say, “…consequences of my lack of belief that I appreciate [or] dislike,” because these facts about the universe are not consequences of my beliefs (or lack thereof), but consequences of the overwhelming evidence about how reality actually is.

    In fact I think a lifetime obsession with science has made it hard to even empathize with basing arguments on my emotional stake. (Though I’m sure I am still vulnerable to making that type of error, I try to do my damnedest not to.)

  17. Joe Knapka says

    I’m glad that there are no gods we have to please. Life is a lot more enjoyable when one can, for example, do what one wishes with one’s own body (amazing how many religious restrictions are focused around sex).

    Also, I think we have something that comports reasonably well with the naive meaning of the phrase “free will”. We’re self-modeling, self-modifying computational systems, and as such we (A) are responsible for the outputs (behavior) we compute from our inputs and programming (genes, environment, experience); and (B) have the innate potential for novel and surprising behavior.

  18. brucegorton says

    I am glad that there is no God.

    Look, if you look at any god concept, it is something that some human made up – and generally that human isn’t a nice one.

    The Christian God for example, if he existed, is a violent psychopath who expects you to be grateful that he killed his own son, who was blameless in his eyes. When a state kills an innocent stranger, we call it a miscarriage of justice and reason to reason to oppose the death penalty, when God kills his innocent son, it is praised as infinite mercy.

    The main priority with any God concept is to give ultimate power and authority over others – and it isn’t nice people who want to do that. A nice person doesn’t want the kind of authority that tells others which consenting adults they can have sex with, they don’t want the kind of authority that says “Because I don’t like shellfish, they’re unclean for anybody else.”

    So whenever anybody comes up with a God, a divine authority on all things, it is invariably awful because that is the kind of person who wants that sort of divine authority.

    So yeah, I am glad none of it is true.

  19. Kevin Kehres says

    I’m not sure I’m “glad” to be an atheist.

    It’s just that the opposite proposition is so mind-bogglingly stupid, I feel like there’s no other choice. State of happiness/unhappiness has nothing to do with it. It just “is”.

    I cannot find one single coherent thing about the concept of god(s) — whether or not it interferes with our lives (theism), merely shoved the world into being and then left (deism), is a manifestation of the natural world (pantheism)…and on and on. None of it is coherent. None of it.

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