The Pursuit of Happiness: A Six Step Plan and Response to Mr. Oz Atheist

The intention of the following blog is to offer a Christian response to an atheist perspective on our purpose in life. The blog begins with an atheist’s perspective and purpose without God, followed by a Christian’s response and purpose with God. The latter includes a discussion on the pursuit of happiness and joy and the predictors of same, since the underlying current in Mr. Oz Atheist’s message speaks to the pursuit of enjoyment. Mr. Oz Atheist, as he calls himself on social media, composed the following blog a couple of years ago.

Mr. Oz Atheist: Purpose without God

“I didn’t ask to be born” The catch-cry of the angsty teenager. An exclamation from a mouth that belongs to a body that’s surviving off more hormones than oxygen.

They’re right too. They didn’t ask to be born. No one does. It happens before we’re even aware of who or what we are. We are alive, and that’s our starting point.

Not asking to be born is one thing we atheists agree about with our theistic friends. However, our theistic friends seem to be of the opinion that without God our lives have no purpose. I have been asked why we, the non-believers, don’t just kill ourselves? They openly wonder what we have to live for.

I have said before that being an atheist doesn’t mean I’ve got nothing to live for, it means I’ve got nothing to die for.

Now please don’t confuse this with me saying that I *wouldn’t* die to save my children, for example. Because I would. Of course. What I mean is that for me, in death, there is nothing.

But a theist believes that when they die they’ll be forever in a world of bliss, and paradise, and, if the right flavour of belief is correct, 72 virgins. (Of course if virgins is your thing, 72 for eternity feels like being short changed. Assuming you want a virgin for the obvious reason…they’re only a virgin once. Maybe it’s one 72 year old virgin.)

For me though, life is everything. Everything I’ll ever experience will be experienced in *this* life. That’s what I mean about nothing to die for and everything to live for. I mean it literally.

Some theists though seem obsessed with having an ultimate purpose.

I don’t understand why, even if Earth is consumed by the sun in 5 billion years, I still can’t enjoy the here and now. I will die one day and that will be that. Is that enough reason to not enjoy today? I can’t see how. Why is my enjoyment today dependent upon being in heaven when I die? As I said, being alive is my starting point. Why not enjoy it?

Theists talk about having the ultimate purpose (which seems to be just getting into heaven…what then?) but they never say why it should matter. They never say why the ultimate purpose is necessary.

Matt Dillahunty has used the book example. You start reading a book, knowing it’s finite, knowing it will end. But you read it anyway. I doubt anyone avoids reading the first page of a book simply because there’s a last page.

I know the counter to this is that you remember the book. I might finish a book today, but I can remember it tomorrow. They book stays with me once it’s finished, but my life doesn’t.

But I do have tomorrow. I even have this afternoon, or later tonight. And even if I didn’t why do I need heaven later in order to enjoy NOW? Maybe I throw a blanket down on a remote beach and lie there with a friend looking up at the stars. Must I need to know I’ll one day be in heaven to enjoy that moment? Must I need belief in a deity to be glad I was doing that? Of course not.

Yes, maybe a theist has an ‘ultimate’ purpose in life and as an atheist, I don’t, but they fail to explain what it matters. They fail to convince me I need one.

I’m happy to define my life’s own purpose. I’m happy to decide for myself what I would like to achieve, where I would like to go as a human being.

A friend of my daughter would have been 14 or 15 at the time when she said ‘I would die without God in my life’. I don’t see any honour in this. I don’t see anything of which to be proud. This is a sad way for a child to be thinking. How dare someone convince this person that her life is worth something only if a god is real. How dare they convince her that her worth is tied to a fairytale?

God is unseen and unheard. Yet religion knows exactly what he wants, exactly how he feels. And it tells you how to behave and tells you that without *its* particular god, you are worthless. It’s a scam, and cruel and ridiculous scam and millions of good and otherwise intelligent people fall for it.

Why does religion try to convince people without its god, they are worthless? Because if they didn’t people might realise they can live free and happy lives without it. If that happened, where would the money come from?

Christian Apologist: Purpose with God

Mr. Oz Atheist has made a couple of assertions which merit a response. First, I note that it is a great shame that any theist has suggested to Mr. Oz Atheist that he kill himself because he does not believe in God. The theist likely believes Mr. Oz Atheist is in quicksand and instead of offering a rope, it appears she or he would rather walk away.

God calls on us to offer the rope:

“But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect” – 1 Peter 3:15

Mr. Oz Atheist additionally states that he is living for the here and now – for enjoyment in this life – and that theists are living for enjoyment in the next. This assertion is true, but he has forced a false dichotomy with the implicit assumption that theists are not also seeking happiness and joy in this life. Of course we are seeking happiness and joy! The difference for Christians is that we are seeking happiness and joy in both this life and the next.

The Pursuit of Happiness

Mr. Oz Atheist would likely agree with the following famous quote by Aristotle: “Happiness depends on ourselves.” The central purpose of human life, according to one of the greatest philosophers of all time, Aristotle, is happiness.

But what makes for happy lives? Studies of happiness over the past few decades have drawn from the seminal articles or books by Cantril (1965), Andrews and Withey (1976) and Diener (1984). The focus of these studies often includes subjective well-being (SWB), which is concerned with “how and why people experience their lives in positive ways, including cognitive judgments and affective reactions” (Diener, 1984, p. 542).

Diener (1984) distinguishes two dimensions of subjective well-being: cognitive well-being, which relates to life satisfaction, and affective well-being, which relates to happiness. Diener’s (1984) extensive review examined a variety of demographic variables impacting subjective well-being, including age (findings mixed), race (blacks lower SWB), religiosity (findings mixed) employment (unemployed least happy), education (interacts with other variables), marital status (married people higher SWB), having children (negligible or negative effects), income (income inequality lowers SWB), and gender (interacts with age). More recent studies have indicated that demographic variables are established variables of interest in quality of life studies (Vinson & Ericson, 2014). Other factors also relate positively to SWB, such as optimism, social support, and self-esteem (Quevedo & Abella, 2011). Additional positive correlates of happiness include personal income (Cummins, 2000), health (Salinas-Jiminez et al., 2010), social capital, trust (Growiec & Growiec, 2014), and financial satisfaction (Ng & Diener, 2014).

As Deiner (1984) discovered, the relationship between religiosity and happiness is mixed. One explanation relates to social conformity to prevailing country norms. As Okulicz-Kozaryn (2010) note, people who live in countries where many people believe in God are much happier than non-believers. Considering I reside in a country considered religious (the United States), while Mr. Oz Atheist resides in a country considered less religious (Australia), and we both consider ourselves happy, our happiness is partially explained by our beliefs and social conformity theory. Our happiness is further partially explained by the individual-level variables noted above. Other reasons for mixed findings with respect to religiosity include demographics. For example, women tend to be more religious (Freese, 2004).  Even so, Okulicz and Kozaryn (2010, p.  155) determined that “the major conclusion from the extant literature is that religious faith predicts happiness (it creates purpose in life) and church attendance predicts happiness (it creates a sense of belonging)”.

Within the United States, the Pew Research Center’s U.S. Religious Landscape Study (2014) differentiated respondents who identified themselves as highly religious (praying and attending religious services at least once per week) with those who don’t on several factors. Highly religious people were more likely to gather with extended family at least once per month, were very happy with life, were more likely to have volunteered, and more likely to have donated goods or time to the poor. These differences persist within a variety of religions and after controlling for age, income, education, geographic region, marital status, and parental status.

Empirical studies, such as those cited above, do not explain one hundred percent of the variation between predictors and outcome variables. Other variables (those not considered or available) account for the unexplained variance. Furthermore, we all know of people who are healthy and wealthy, yet extremely unhappy: “outliers” on a regression line.

So, what are other important predictors of happiness? Given that the above variables are primarily demographic and attitudinal, let us consider higher order variables, following Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and self-actualization.

According to Aristotle, happiness is derived from the cultivation of virtue and the fulfillment of a broad range of physical and mental conditions (http://www.pursuit-of-happiness.org/history-of-happiness/aristotle/). In other words, aside from the demographic and attitudinal variables cited above, the cultivation of virtue speaks to one’s happiness. Aristotle’s assertion is consistent with the resounding theme of Christianity.

In fact, his assertions, when coupled with Christianity, provide a pathway to achieve tremendous happiness and joy. The truth is, we can never find true joy and happiness apart from the vine which supports us: Jesus. If we try to separate from the vine, as a grape would free itself from a branch, we start to wither and become weak. We lose the strength of the love and light within us. We end up in darkness and find ourselves in a constant state of trying to find light and happiness through any means but that of the source of all light and happiness. The attempts are futile. Yet God lets us live out our desires (cf., Romans 1) and always welcomes us back with open arms as prodigal sons and daughters, or lost sheep. With all of this in mind, I offer six steps to happiness.

Six Steps to Happiness

  1. Seek Jesus through prayer and study.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and it will be opened for you” (Luke 11:9).

Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free”  John 8:32

  1. Take delight in the Lord.

 Take delight in the Lord, and He will give you the desires of your heart” (Psalm 37:4).

  1. Find and achieve your purpose in life by identifying and capitalizing on your spiritual gifts. What do you do really well? What are you passionate about? How can these gifts be used to help others? If we all do our part, a greater collective happiness will follow.

Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” 1 Corinthians 12:7

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in various forms” 1 Peter 4:10

  1. Listen to and obey the Lord. Expect the Lord’s discipline. We all have room for improvement, and as we grow closer to Jesus, we begin to see the areas in which we need to improve the most. The plan is to strive for perfection and to be as Christ-like as possible. Jesus came to set the example. He is the reason for our very existence and our ultimate purpose is to emulate our servant leader.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and; Love your neighbor as yourself” Luke 10:27

Blessed is the one whom God corrects; so do not despise the discipline of the Almighty” Job 5:17.

  1. Build in a pattern of continuous improvement. Once you’re on the path and your eyes have been opened to the love and the light of the Lord, there is no stopping you. Your passion will be ignited and prosperity will come your way.

“And let us run with perseverance the race that is marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before Him He endured on the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” Hebrews 12:1-3

  1. Expect and embrace adversity. Of course, challenges will come your way as well. God uses challenges to build and shape us spiritually. He promised adversity. The very fact no one is immune demonstrates God’s fulfillment of His promise.

“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” John 16:33

“Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer” Revelation 2:10

“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love Him” James 1:12

With that, I offer a quote from C.S. Lewis’ book Mere Christianity, which he attributed to George MacDonald:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself.”

In conclusion, the pursuit of happiness is achieved when we learn about, acknowledge, and embrace our spiritual calling.  Fulfilling our purpose with God brings love, light, happiness and joy. It opens our eyes to an array of colors on the planet never realized before. It is as if a rainbow, which once appeared dim and shadowy, is suddenly unveiled in brighter and more spectacular hues than we could have possibly imagined. The sky seems bluer, the roses redder, and the grasses greener.  Our path to heaven is set – and we have cast all fears and doubts into the deep sea.

Joy is the serious business of heaven” – CS Lewis

Thank you for your time.

Mr. Oz Atheist’s blog can be accessed here: http://mrozatheist.blogspot.com/2015/10/

References

Andrews, F. M., & Withey, S. B. (1976). Social indicators of well-being. New York: Plenum.

Cantril, H. (1965). The pattern of human concerns. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.

Cummins, R.A. (2000). Personal income and subjective well-being: A review. Journal of Happiness Studies, 1, 133-158.

Diener, E. (1984). Subjective well-being. Psychological Bulletin, 95(3), 542–575.

Freese, J. (2004). Risk preferences and gender differences in religiousness: Evidence from the World Values Survey. Review of Religious Research, 46(1), 88-91.

Greenfield, E.A., Marks, N.F., (2007). Religious social identity as an explanatory factor for associations between more frequent formal religious participation and psychological well-being. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 17, 245–259.

Growiec, K. & Growiec, J. (2014). Trusting only whom you know, knowing only whom you trust: The joint impact of social capital and trust in CEE countries. Journal of Happiness Studies, 15(5), 1015-1040.

Ng, W. & Diener, E. (2014). What matters to the rich and poor? Subjective well-being, financial satisfaction, and post-materialistic needs across the world. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 107(2), 326-338.

Okulicz-Kozaryn, A. (2010). Religiosity and life satisfaction across nations. Mental Health, Religion, and Culture, 13(2), 165-179.

Pargament, K., 2002. Is religion nothing but. . .? Explaining religion versus explaining religion away. Psychological Inquiry 13, 239–244.

Quevedo, R.J.M. & Abella, M.C. (2011). Well-being and personality: Facet-level analysis. Personality and Individual Differences, 50, 206-211.

Salinas-Jiminez, M., Artes, J., & Salines-Jiminez, J. (2010). Income, motivation, and satisfaction with life: An empirical analysis. Journal of Happiness Studies, 11, 779-793.

Vinson, T. & Ericson, M. (2014). The social dimensions of happiness and life satisfaction of Australians: Evidence from the World Values Survey. International Journal of Social Welfare, 23, 240-253.

 

 

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