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20 Atheist Quotes About Joy and Meaning That Crush ‘Angry, Empty’ Stereotype

When asked about their moral values or what motivates them in life, atheists use words that sound downright spiritual.

Recently an “educational” pamphlet designed for Christian children made its way around Facebook. It warned God’s little lambs to avoid sour unhappy people called “atheists.” A private school curriculum called Accelerated Christian Education includes  cartoons in which the atheist characters are rude, mean and drunk; and bad things happen to them.

Stereotypes like these get echoed sometimes even in Christian books and lectures that are targeted at adults. I once attended a successful megachurch on the  Sunday before Easter. The pastor wanted his audience to be clear that the resurrection of Jesus wasn’t merely some spiritual metaphor. “If the resurrection didn’t literally happen,” he shouted, “there is no reason for us to be here! If the resurrection didn’t literally happen—there are parties to be had! There are women to be had! There are guns to shoot! There are people to shoot!”

You caught the subtext?  Atheists (and even liberal Christians) have no basis for morality. Nothing—and I mean nothing!—stands between a godless person and debauchery or lechery or even violence.

Population demographics suggest otherwise, of course. Atheism is far more common among elite scientists and some of the most peaceful and equitable societies on earth are also  the least religious. But believers persist in fearing that godless people are amoral, that unfettered by religion the world would descend into the anarchy and bloodbath depicted in the  Left Behind movies.

In reality, when asked about their moral values or what motivates them in life, atheists use words that sound downright spiritual, very much like the words religious people use in fact, with a few noteworthy differences. To create his book,  A better LifePhotographer Chris Johnson asked 100 atheists about what gives their lives joy and meaning. To some Christians the question is equivalent to asking an elephant where he gets his chocolate ice cream. The answers might surprise them even more. Themes include love and connection, compassion and service, legacy (leaving the world a little better), creativity and discovery, gratitude, transcendence, and wonder—all heightened by a sense that this one life is fleetingly transient and precious.

Here are 20 short quotes from Johnson’s assemblage, each of which is crushingly at odds with the standard stereotype of the angry, selfish godless scrooge.

·         Knowing there is a world that will outlive you, there are people whose well-being depends on how you live your life, affects the way you live your life, whether or not you directly experience those effects. You want to be the kind of person who has the larger view, who takes other people’s interests into account, who’s dedicated to the principles that you can justify, like justice, knowledge, truth, beauty and morality.  – Steven Pinker, cognitive scientist

·         In the theater you create a moment, but in that moment, there is a touch, a twinkle of eternity. And not just eternity, but community. . . . That connection is a sense of life for me.  – Teller, illusionist

·         We are all given a gift of existence and of being sentient beings, and I think true happiness lies in love and compassion. – Adam Pascal, musician and actor

·         Being engaged in some way for the good of the community, whatever that community, is a factor in a meaningful life. We long to belong, and belonging and caring anchors our sense of place in the universe.  – Patricia S. Churchland, neurophilosopher

·         For me the meaning of life, or the meaning  in life, is helping people and loving people . . . The real joy for me is when someone comes up to me and they want to just sit down and share their struggle.  –Teresa MacBain, former minister

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