Harvard psychologist Daniel Gilbert, popularized on the three-part NOVA series, This Emotional Life, said, "Churchgoers are happier than non-churchgoers, but not for the reasons people expect. Our best indication is that it's not the religion part that makes people happy. It's the going-to-church part. It's the community part. It's the holding hands and singing. It's the knowing-folks-who-would-bring-you-soup-if-you-got-sick part. Odds seem to me pretty good that you could also get all the benefits out of a really tight stamp-collecting club." What do YOU think?
Considering that we are a social species, it's certainly plausible. I know that I am more cheerful and energetic after attending one of the local atheist meetups and spending a few hours happily chatting away with people.
I agree, I enjoy being around other atheists and having the opportunity to speak honestly without having to censor what I say. Perhaps atheism would be more appealing to 'fence-sitters' if we were more like church groups! LOL! ...That doesn't sound like any of the atheists I know! We aren't really a 'touchy, feely' group. I wonder why that is? I know I have had to hide my atheism for years, so I didn't let people get close enough to me that they felt they could ask personal questions. Are most atheists like that?
All I have to say is, don't think church members speak honestly and don't censor themselves. Trust me, there's a lot of "hush, hush" happening. There are probably thousands upon thousands that keep things about their selves bottled up. Are there gay Christians? Yup. Are there alcoholic Christians? Yup. Are there Christians who are cheating on their spouses with other church members? Yup. Are there Christians who doubt what they're being told? Yup. If churches say you can be open and honest in their congregations, it's a bold-faced lie.
Really, I probably sound super-pessimistic. In any case, I've attended many, many churches in my lifetime. The scandle is overwhelming, and being "yourself" isn't really a top priority when your self is trying to integrate into the "Body of Christ" as a collective and uniform mass.
Zak, where do you live? Have you looked for local meet-up groups? Meet-up.com has lists of atheist, free-thinker, humanist groups. The internet has lots of resources for finding like-minded people if you search hard enough. Most groups let you protect your identity if that is your wish.
That's an interesting point. Atheism starts at Jonah, and is confirmed at the resurrection story for me as child. But I'm also someone that isn't going to hold your hand if I don't feel close to you. I hate choir music and to sing in public. I've never felt like I wanted to be on a team and work for myself by myself. Does all of that speak to how differently I feel as a human and how my brain is wired? Is there more of a biological/behavioral impetus to my rejection of God early on? Of course I believe that there is life experience to direct people, but are a certain percentage of us drawn one way or the other on a more base level than we normally look? Take a Francis Collins or Kenneth Miller. Professionally no need for God, certain aspects challenge them intellectually, yet they still choose a god. Hmmm...
I dunno, for me personally it was quite the opposite. From the time I was required to go to Sunday School, up until my last church service at 24, I dreaded getting up early on a Sunday morning to go listen to someone ramble on about God, Jesus and why I should feel like an ass hole. After the service was nice, sure (when friends would get together for lunch or what-have-you... but you can do that without going to church first).
But, in general, I was very depressed because I never felt I measured up; I wasn't even supposed to feel like I would ever measure up... everyone knows it's a constant struggle to maintain a "good" relationship with God. Now I only sometimes feel discouraged due to circumstances; in general, I'm happy and much happier than I ever was as a church-goer. I feel much better about myself; more calm and less anxious about such things as The End Times.
Of course, I could just be a bit of a cynic. I never got off on the singing and holding hands; it all felt very contrived to me. I would always just stare around at the congregation, wondering if they could possibly be feeling as amazing as their body language tried to convey. Watching the "worship team" get all wrapped up in the music and worship God felt like a big act... and it was. Talk to any former worship leader and they'll tell you there's a science behind stirring people's emotion with musical intervals and crescendos. They close their eyes and face the ceiling; they sway to and fro, grumbling "Yes, Lord... oh yes, Jesus... yes, yes... oh Heavenly Father, come into this place... " and I couldn't help but suspect they were putting on. And nothing will ever convince me they're not putting on.
There's so much competition in church, you wouldn't believe it. One choir lady against another to get the lead role in the play; one worship leader trying to be that much more "in touch" with God than the other so they can be THE leader; one person praying that much louder or crying that much harder; one person wearing the most expensive outfit... C'mon, it's just one big drama. I don't buy for one second that people are happier. If they say they are, it's pretty much an act; for everyone else's sake and their own. If you don't have "the joy of the Lord", maybe you're not really "saved". So just SMILE and BE POSITIVE; give thanks even when you have nothing to give thanks for... because if you don't, well... you're a bad Christian.
I just think the difference between atheists/non religious people and Christians/religious people is that atheists/non religious people are not afraid to be honest... even in a survey.
I don't think people are being deliberately deceptive. Many religions teach that you can't be happy without Christ, so they see that they are happy and attribute that to the fact that they go to church, rather than it being because of the close social setting that a church can provide. Here in Utah, many of the peope I know are LDS, and pretty much everyone is connected in some way through church. They all know eachother, and they socialize mainly through church events. Its like they're all one big extended family (and maybe they are, it is Utah after all).
But then I look at Christian Fundamentalists and all their fire & brimstone ranting and I can't imagine those people being happier than the average american, especially since they tend to be the most easily enraged people in the country.