Happiness and Religion

Religion has been described as the opiate of the masses. A recent study finds that religious people are much happier than others. Those “others” are all of us non-believers not going to church and not talking to a powerful imaginary friend. Are we missing out on a good opiate that increases happiness in our lives?

The study doesn’t give a clear answer:

The correlation between religiosity and happiness is clear, but explanations of the connection and possible causal relationship are less clear. One theory suggests that the social support that religious communities can provide may be a key factor contributing to increased happiness, since “religious Americans are more apt to be involved in their communities.” Yet even here, the study found “that those who attend religious services often are happier than their peers with similar levels of involvement in the community.”

I always assumed it was the common bond and support of a community that added to their happiness. The study has been repeated and still holds true so there must be something to it. It obviously doesn’t prove religion is right but it does show religion provides an extra something to people’s happiness that simply not being religious doesn’t replace. It’s something to think about during religious holidays with our secular observances. The article ends with:

One could almost predict that many of those celebrating Christmas will be merry, those observing Hanukkah will be happy, but those only recognizing the “holidays” will have a little less cause for rejoicing.

I’d like to see a study that delves into those that simply drop religion and ground themselves in humanity and atheism. I like to think I’m not just that kind of person. I still live in awe of the universe and the mystery of our existence.

Where atheism tears downs the wonder and miracle of it all, agnosticism simply says we don’t understand it. The human described gods aren’t the answer but no god at all isn’t necessarily the answer either. I just don’t know. Freethought should allow for all of us to believe as we choose as we’re all just trying to figure it out.

I marvel at the mystery of it all during winter solstice, Yule, Christmas, or whatever this season is to me. I’m thankful to be alive and have my family and friends. I hope that whatever makes you happy with religions or no religions isn’t hurting anyone else and that you all are free to be yourselves. I wish for freethought and joy for everyone during this winter season!

winter happiness

The Secret Life of Walter Mitty – Purpose of Life

To see the world, things dangerous to come to, to see behind walls, to draw closer, to find each other and to feel. That is the purpose of Life.

This is the fictional motto of Life magazine in the movie The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. It was a feel good movie that advocates for making the most out of the lives we have. One key ingredient I think it misses is laughter, but otherwise it’s good advice for freethinkers. It applies to everyone that understands this moment in time, this one physical existence, is all we truly know we have.

Anything beyond this universe is wishful thinking and fantasy. Walter Mitty often zoned out and lived in fantasies beyond his mundane existence. He didn’t fully live and feel his most alive until he went beyond his fantasies and went on true adventures that rivaled the fictions he created for himself. The real moments were so much more vivid, impressive, and satisfying because they were real.

The Sean Penn character of Sean O’Connell really captures the truth about the beauty of life and our existence when he said, “beautiful things don’t ask for attention.” I think that aspect of the movie speaks to the human relationship with religions which don’t just beg for our attention; they practically demand it.

You Were Planned for God’s Pleasure (Worship), You Were Formed for God’s Family (Fellowship), You Were Created to Become Like Christ (Discipleship), You Were Shaped for Serving God (Ministry), You Were Made for a Mission (Mission)

The quote above is Rick Warren’s religious view of a Purpose Driven Life. It really sucks. It distracts people from their reality and tries to refocus them on fantasies outside our universe and wishful thinking outside our actual lives.

Yes, a Heaven and eternal life might be nice. However, it’s the type of thing nobody can give you a guarantee for its existence. It makes little sense that a god would pluck you out of an eternal Heaven to live one little blip of a human life in this universe and reward you with going back to your eternal existence. It makes even less sense that our purpose is to worship an egotistical god and spread a religion among the same souls that were also momentarily pushed into human existence. If we’re really eternal souls, then why bother with this human life?

If that weird fantasy is real then I could also imagine the same god pushing us into a million lives in a million different beings and universes beyond our comprehension. Why not keep doing it to us for the worship and entertainment value? If so, then maybe we’re more entertaining if we don’t blindly worship such a god and the real test is how gullible we are to believe religious nonsense. Maybe “human” isn’t an important form in our eternal existence. Maybe a selfish and jealous god isn’t worthy of our worship… but that would assume such a god is believable.

I really believe that the religions that appear to be an invention of primitive imagination simply are what they appear to be. Each religion is a fiction that proves all others are false and ends up making the whole mess of them false. What we do have is this life and the real moments we live. You may choose to keep to your zoned out fantasies like the early Walter Mitty, but I’d prefer to be the man he became at the end when he really started to live his life to the fullest.

Emotions, Sins, and Virtues

A Christian view of ethics defines a set of thought crimes claimed to be the seven deadly sins. This ultimate list of the most evil emotions have seven virtues to counter them and guide Christian lives. Here’s the apparent do’s and don’ts for being emotionally right:

Vice : Virtue
Lust : Chastity
Gluttony : Temperance
Greed : Charity
Sloth : Diligence
Wrath : Patience
Envy : Kindness
Pride : Humility

Religions oversimplify their fictional guidance and it’s usually easy for me to see huge flaws in their charlatan sales pitches now that my mind isn’t clouded by blind faith. Hidden underneath this obvious attempt at controlling human behavior are some of our most basic emotions. These real emotions are as much a part of our humanity as the molecules that make up our bodies. Where’s the love, laughter, and overall happiness in this scheme? Where’s the healthy fear of dangerous situations that kicks in for the self-preservation and continuation of our species? Where’s the positive side of feeling anger at perceived injustices that drives us to act in defense of others?

I can look at this list and see some right in the vices and wrong in the virtues because emotions aren’t this simple. Would it really be bad if my desire for my wife or any woman is on the lustful end of the spectrum? Unleashing wrath against people that are screwing over others usually improves the situation. The religious didn’t stick to patience in World War II. Too much charity can promote dependency on the givers and isn’t a virtuous situation in the long term. The caregiver could abuse people’s dependency and that might be the real motivation for religions to promote charity. The thought often crosses my mind every time I see religions spreading their message through charitable acts.

The Christian sins and virtues try to tell us how much of an emotion we should have and where on the scale we should have them. Emotions aren’t this simple and the main flaw here is thinking they come from some higher order act of creation instead of from our most basic biology. Ekman’s list of six basic emotions is: anger, disgust, fear, happiness, sadness, and surprise. A newer classification list from Plutchik lists eight primary bipolar emotions which blend into additional emotions on a wheel of emotions: joy versus sadness; anger versus fear; trust versus disgust; and surprise versus anticipation.

Love and awe are emotions built from the more basic animal emotions I see in my cat and dog. You would think our most basic desire is to keep experiencing good emotions and avoid the bad ones. However, doesn’t it sometimes feel good in our core to experience some of the generally bad emotions? Having just come out of Halloween it’s easy to point out that we do seek out the excitement of fear and sometimes find humor in disgust. I can find good and bad in each emotion depending on the situations we experience them in considering the full spectrum of human emotions and life situations.

The seven deadly sins aren’t deadly and they aren’t as clearly negative as the label of sin might suggest. The same holds true for the supposed virtues. Our emotions are complex and we each have to struggle with how we feel them and what we do with those feelings. The only thing I know is that each emotion isn’t permanent as they come and go. I think we can change how we feel and how they impact our overall moods because what we do helps impact which emotions we encounter. I think love and joy can be emotions we choose to build up in ourselves from our more basic emotions coming from the choices we make. Happiness has nothing to do with religions and gods and has everything to do with what we do with our own bodies and minds.

I may not know exactly how or why existence came to be, but it’s obvious from my observations that we’re naturally emotional creatures lacking any specific natural disposition for our emotions. Agnosticism should lead you to question the guidance and motives of anybody claiming special knowledge that we were created as sinners and their beliefs are needed to become virtuous.

The Free Will to Make Changes

“Life move’s pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in awhile, you can miss it.” -Ferris Bueller

It’s been a busy month and next year looks like it will be even busier as something I’m working on for a big career change appears to be working out. I’ll get to work abroad if it does. We’ll get to experience more of this “pale blue dot” and do more to enjoy the variety of life that is available to us humans on this planet as it slowly spins in this little corner of this vast universe. Life is for living and we intend on living it up as much as we can. Otherwise I fear for falling into the ever present cycle of work and home. It begins to wear a rut in our existence as we move through repeated patterns of the same activities and experiences over and over. Every now and then when I notice it happening again, I shake myself awake and take a look at pictures of far away lands and remind myself of my place and perspective in the universe. As far as I know, we only have this one life and I know I have the free will to make changes to how and where I live it.

pale blue dot

I recently read some articles about Sam Harris’ interesting view on Free Will that he put in a very short book. Basically he says that free will is an illusion. When it comes down to it I believe you either act or you don’t and it is a free will choice to make changes or stay with the status quo. Even if the environment around me and the structure and chemicals of my mind really adds up to my choices just being derived from all of that instead of from “me”… well, I still think the choice between “do” or “wait” is the free will we can exercise. Even if we are predetermined to the actions we take when we act, we still have to choose to act. Maybe I was already destined to seek to change jobs but I feel like I had to actively take my recent actions for this path instead of passively waiting for something to happen to me.

In contrast, my religious brother seems to be a bit more passive with life and I often wonder how much he sits back and prays for good things to come to him instead of seeking them out. I believe he can change his path in life simply by doing something, anything, instead of wishing with prayers for the universe to bend to his will through an imagined god. He looks to a mythological super being instead of using whatever free will we have to move within the universe to achieve whatever he wants. I think it’s pretty self-centered and egotistical to expect any aspect of the universe to do anything for us since there’s no true evidence or knowledge that it does or should.

On a final note of changes, my oldest child is 19 and has decided he doesn’t want to continue with college at this point after a lackluster first year of it. He now plans to move to another state with a cheaper cost of living to start his life now. Fortunately he has a pretty good head on his shoulders, a good bit of money saved up, and I think he’ll do fine taking care of himself. He’s given his 2 weeks notice at work here and plans to move out after Labor Day. Yep, it’s been a busy month so far and it probably won’t slow down anytime soon as my little family with our nomadic spirit acts upon that trait. I’ll try to post things about agnosticism as I see it when I have a chance. You may hear more crickets than mumblings as we ramble on through our lives without knowledge of gods. Such things are beyond us and ultimately unimportant for us to live good and meaningful lives on this planet.

Led Zeppelin – Ramble On

Leaves are falling all around
It’s time i was on my way.
Thanks to you i’m much obliged
For such a pleasant stay.
But now it’s time for me to go
The autumn moon lights my way.
For now i smell the rain
And with it pain
And it’s headed my way.
Ah sometimes i grow so tired
But i know i’ve got one thing i got to do

ramble on
And now’s the time the time is now
To sing my song.
I’m goin’ ’round the world,
I got to find my girl, on my way.
I’ve been this way ten years to the day, ramble on,
Gotta find the queen of all my dreams.

Got no time to for spreadin’ roots,
The time has come to be gone.
And tho’ our health we drank a thousand times,
It’s time to ramble on…..