A number of years back I was invited to attend a meeting in Hollywood featuring the late Dr. Paul Kurtz. We had met before. Dr. Kurtz, to my knowledge, is the key figure in the transmutation of Atheism into the more palatable Secular Humanism.You see atheism is just going against something (god), where secular humanism is being FOR something, being positive and upbeat, being for humanity. Certainly from a sales perspective this is the way to go, upbeat and positive, and I think the results (the emergence of the so-called new atheism championed by the likes of current matinee idols Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris and the late great Christopher Hitchens) are in no small measure due to the efforts of Dr. Kurtz.
In our meeting Dr. Kurtz opined that to be secular was to be free (perhaps from the chains of illusion?) and unburdened. We were in charge of our own lives. He then stated that humanism led to freedom & happiness. And the others agreed. But is this how atheists really feel? Just try looking at the faces of most atheists for an answer to your question. Alas, this is the flaw in atheism, and shall always be. The nature of evolution and the nature of people.
Diogenes once famously, in ancient Athens, walked the town, lantern in hand, trying to find one honest person. And so it is true with the topic of human happiness. As I have staggered my way around this orb of wonderment, I have found very little human happiness (when our ever-present social masks are dropped.) It has been one story after another of pain and suffering. Don't believe me? Try Buddha's 1st noble truth. Or how about the 1st page of Scott Peck's The Road Less Traveled. Or even Shakespeare's great soliloquy, "To be or not to be."
In truth, religion is just another one of humankind's 80 proof elixirs to assuage the ballbreakingness of life. But it is the easiest and cheapest. Wine, whiskey, weed, waffles and other prestidigitated woo woo all require currency, cash, dough. Our other method of mollification, our cultural myths of happiness through love, marriage, children and money all take time, effort and our ol' pal money again. Since none of these can or do work what are we left with once again?
So now you, you chipper atheist you, will endeavor to wean away the last vestiges of comfort and analgesic from somebody already roasting over the fires of life. You're not going to do it. Don't get me wrong, there are no gods and never will be. But when it comes right down to it, for many of the world's upright lungfish there is simply nothing else. A placebo yes, but a damn fine one.
Many have argued, like the late Chris Hitchens that he wouldn't want religion even if it were true. Really? Well I must demur. I'd love it. Adore it. I would guess that most of the atheists in the world would too. I don't want to disappear, simply evaporate into nothingness forever. I'd like to go on and see the show. It may be a pretty lousy show, but it's the only one in town. When I realized that religion was a fraud I felt a profound sense of loss, cheated, ripped-off. I felt like everything was now meaningless and futile. The warmth and glow of life began giving way to the barren, the dry and the devoid. And I still feel the exact same way, nothing has changed.
The truly wicked aspect of all of this is something that almost nobody knows. Humanity has and remains in pain and suffering because this is exactly how nature (evolution) wanted us. Pain, suffering, anxiety and many more are what keep us alive, on our toes and constantly moving forward. They serve as the catalyst, the driving wheel of nature. This is hard-wired into us. This is why nothing in the world works for us, for even the ones that achieve what our culture has invented, say, love, money, fame, find that those satisfactions are fleeting. As our emotional thermostat is set remarkably low by nature (our hedonic state), nothing lasts. As far as nature is concerned this is great! But alas for us, from our standpoint, we are assembled at the big monkey factory with a major design flaw that can never be overcome by anything. The fault is not within our stars, or our various man-made illusions, but within ourselves.
- Into this reality we chipper atheists stride up and say, "Afterlife, heaven, god, please, fuck you, but we bring you something better, the ability to live in reality.
- Religionist-"Yeah, but this world of reality offers us mostly just pain and misery."
- The Chipper Atheist-"Oh fuck you, get up off your knees and live like us."
- Religionist-"We're on our knees because life knocked us to our knees."
- The Chipper Atheist-"Oh fuck you, get up we say and suffer reality as we do.
- Religionist-"Umm hmm. that's what I thought."
The only viable tonic or balm that I can see for what ails humanity is something known as transhumanism. (Re-wiring our genetic codes with an eye toward ameliorating the brutality of the genetically embedded negative inhibitory feedback that drives and makes Darwinian evolution so harsh).
As nothing in our secular or natural world does or can act as a sustainable palliative to our genetically programmed suffering, I would posit that the only hope for the future is to substantially transfigure the very essence of man. until then we atheists will be endeavoring to take away the one pain-killer that is cheap, readily available and that constantly works. That's a pretty potent foe and one that you're not going to replace offering baskets full of mean reality. Not even Billy-boy Clinton is slick enough for that.