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The Seven Joys of Secularism

 article about joys of secularism
2013-10-17 11:03:16
It's impossible to count how many times secularists are told by religious folk of various faiths that we will regret our "godless" or "sinful" life sooner or later. Although I can't speak for everyone, I can honestly report that this secular writer hasn't experienced any regrets for my decision to trade in the unhappiness of traditional Catholicism for the joys of secularism. Since no regrets have surfaced in more than the twenty years that have elapsed since making the secular choice, it's rather doubtful that they will surface any time in the near or distant future.

Theists often write and speak of the wonders and happiness their religion provides. They often speak of miracles, doing good works for others, and the security in the belief that they'll ascend into a place called Heaven when their lives come to an end. I have no doubts as to their sincerity, and if this is what truly makes them happy, I don't see how any reasonable person would deny it's a good choice for them. However, what many theists tend to overlook, either by accident or by design, is that secularists are just as happy, and can find the same joy in their world without following a particular faith.

Some of us have been asked, more than once, what possible joy we can have in such a "godless" existence. What happiness can we hope to find without a particular faith or god to guide us? Only each individual can answer that question, since there's no one answer that fits each person. I can only explain the joys I personally experience, as each one's spiritual outlook is different.

Joy #1 - Choice.
Anyone who has voluntarily left Catholicism and other conservative faiths will no doubt cite the lack of freedom to make individual choices as one of their top five reasons for seeking a different path. I was no exception. Speaking from personal experience, I felt no joy in being told that I would have to remain celibate until marriage, even if for some reason I chose never to marry. I didn't see the point of having the church decide the circumstances under which I could have sex, whether it be as a single or married person. I thought it was outright intrusive that a church believed it had the right to tell me I should never use certain kinds of birth control to prevent pregnancy, and that I couldn't indulge in certain sexual acts that avoided it altogether. The Catholic church takes the position that making such individual choices in matters of sex, marriage, contraception and reproduction is not a good thing. They are half right. Leaving certain choices up to the individual is a good thing for each person. It is not a good thing for a church that wants to make those choices for us and which insists on absolute obedience to that particular church.

Joy #2 - Happiness.
What happiness would this be? It's simple; that which comes from the absence of stresses, anxieties, and worries burdening people who don't have the freedom to make their own life decisions. For example, a secular couple with no ties to a church or faith can decide for themselves whether they will become parents or not, and if they choose parenthood, how many children they can comfortably manage and afford. A traditional Catholic or conservative Christian couple generally feel they have no choice in the matters of sex and reproduction. According to their faith, sex must lead to children sooner or later, and the church usually prefers that it be sooner. If this couple is financially strapped with just the two of them working, things are probably going to get a lot worse when one or two children enter the marriage, especially if the wife's income has to be sacrificed to become a stay-home mom. The husband may have to work not just one but two jobs to make ends meet after the wife's income is lost, which means he may get to spend very little time with the children he has. All of which matters little, if anything, to the church they're members of. Obedience to the faith is the primary concern, not the physical, emotional and financial comfort of individuals. I can't imagine anything more unhappy for a married couple than having to bear more children than they can handle, both physically and financially. It makes a happy life for children born into such circumstances very difficult as well.

Joy #3 - Health.
When we are free to make our own choices in life Ė within the boundaries of secular law that is Ė we are in fact very healthy in spirit. Secularists don't have priests or pastors looking over our shoulders telling us that what we are doing is "wrong," which means we are also free from unnecessary guilt. Secularists aren't forced to attend church, since there are no civil laws on the books saying that church is a must on Sunday. Therefore, our Sundays are free to use as we choose, whether it's to stay home and read a good book, indulge in wild, unrestrained sex with our spouses or significant others, have lunch in a good restaurant, or go to the beach in the summertime. We can dress in our nicest clothes, or wear little or no clothing at all. Naturally, the last option assumes we're in the privacy of our homes at the time. There's still that bothersome little law that prohibits nudity in public, unless you happen to be at a nudist camp or resort.

Joy #4 - Knowledge.
It is well known that traditional and fundamentalist religions place certain restrictions on the kind of knowledge their members are allowed to pursue. In fact, many take the precaution of home schooling their children to make sure they don't learn certain things that may allow them to challenge their parents' religious beliefs when they become teens and adults later on. As a result, these children grow up ignorant in many things, which will severely limit them in terms of finding suitable employment when it comes time for them to look for jobs. Some extremist faiths keep their girls and women ignorant of almost everything, believing that the only suitable occupations for women are marriage and motherhood. Secularists have no such restrictions. In fact, we are free to obtain knowledge on any subject we want, to use for our benefit and often the benefit of others too.

Joy #5 - Power.
Having the freedom to control our own destiny is very powerful indeed. Whether we use that power wisely is entirely up to us. We can use it to make good choices in life to benefit ourselves and others. There are those who argue that power should only be in the hands of leaders, and we must trust them to use the power they have for our benefit. I strongly disagree. Too often in past history, leaders such as Adolf Hitler and Josef Stalin have used this power for cruel and terrible purposes. Those who trusted them paid a terrible price, many with their own lives. To surrender the power we have to others is usually a bad idea, especially when they only have their best interests at heart, not ours. Will we stumble and make bad choices sometimes? Of course we will, and we often have. But we still must keep this personal power for ourselves, rather than handing it over without question. We cannot, as Benjamin Franklin warned us against, give up our personal liberty to have a little safety. When we do, we often end up losing both.

Joy #6 - Tolerance.
One of the biggest advantages of secularism as I see it is the freedom to tolerate and accept philosophical or religious differences. Every secularist I've known is perfectly happy to allow others the liberty to practice their own faith or philosophy, as long as those others aren't insisting we must trade our beliefs for theirs. The hard-line theists insist that secularism will eventually lead to anarchy, and a few believe we already have it. If that is the case, I haven't noticed. Law breakers come in all shapes, sizes, philosophies and religions. Which means some criminals will be secularists, while others won't. Speaking for myself, I haven't had as much as a traffic ticket, let alone committed a major crime. So let's put the absurd notion that a theist is a better citizen than a secularist to rest, since there's absolutely no truth in it.

Joy #7 - Kindness.
Another common misconception that many theists labor under is the belief that the only kind people are those who follow a particular god or religion. To this, any secularist with common sense will no doubt reply "rubbish." British philosopher Bertrand Russell, a well-known secularist himself, made the following statement in his essay "The Faith of a Rationalist:" "Men tend to have the beliefs that suit their passions. Cruel men believe in a cruel god and use their belief to excuse cruelty. Only kindly men believe in a kindly god, and they would be kindly in any case." In other words, one doesn't have to believe in a god to be a kind person. As many atrocities in past history have all too clearly demonstrated, religion and kindness were far apart indeed.

Personally, I consider these seven joys of secularism to be far more effective as teaching tools than the "seven deadly sins" associated with conservative and fundamentalist religions. The words choice, happiness, health, knowledge, power, tolerance and kindness reflect a positive outlook on life. Why anyone would want to focus on the negative is a mystery I have no interest in solving.





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