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Is There Happiness Without Jesus?

I have the freedom to freely grasp life without the restraint of religion.

By Merle Hertzler

Much of the Bible is false. God never visited this world as a man. We are on our own in this world, without direct intervention from God. So it would seem to me.

How do you react to those statements? Does it make you feel sad to think that someone would write them?

Perhaps to you, Christ is the only hope in this world. Your life is centered on him. He is your purpose in life. He is your Lord and your Redeemer. I understand. I have been there. I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior many years ago. I have read the Bible from cover to cover six times--every chapter, every verse, and every line. I have spent literally hours a week in prayer, as I grew in my personal relationship with the Lord. In college, I never drank alcohol. Instead, I attended prayer meetings and went door-to-door witnessing to get my thrills. I have taught adult Sunday school classes, sung in the choir, and worked in the children's ministry. I have been there and done that. I know what it is like to discuss all of the details of my life with the Lord, believing that he was right there in my heart listening to me. I know the excitement of doing God's work all day Sunday. And I also know the emptiness that would come on Monday. I used to wonder why a person that was so committed to the Lord would feel that way on Monday. It seemed that the more I allowed myself to get excited on Sunday, the worse I would feel on Monday.

I am no longer a Christian. I am no longer marching  in the Christian army, for I have found something different. I have learned to question, to explore, to climb, to think, to be free, to be me. I have the freedom to freely grasp life without the restraint of religion. I have found a purpose that is as good on Monday as it is on Sunday. Life without Christianity can be far more fulfilling than anything that I had ever found inside of Christianity. And there are hundreds of others who testify to the same thing. I am not a Christian, and I am happy.

Happiness links

Godless Happiness: What's Faith Got To Do With It?, by Timothy J. Madiagan (offsite)

Religious Beliefs and Societal Health, By Matthew Provonsha (offsite)

Have you found joy in Christ? I am glad that you are happy.

But tell me something, please: Why do so many Christians struggle to find that joy? Where is their peace? Why are they so discouraged? Why are they so sad?

How do I know that many Christians are sad? Here is one way that you can see the problem for yourself. Fire up your search engine and search for "sad discouraged depressed Christians." What do you find? As I write this I find 576,000 sites.[1 ] Sure, not all of  those sites are relevant, but most of the top sites are. They are written by Christians to help sad, depressed Christians. Why are all of these people trying to help discouraged Christians? It seems that there is a problem. There must be many thousands of sad, depressed Christians out there.

Let's look at the solutions offered on these sites. What are Christians depending on to give them hope? Some Christians look to Christ alone as their source of happiness. Others look to other sources also, such as psychology, to help them find their way. What do the top Christian sites propose? I found the usual smattering of Bible verses, and then I found suggestions such as these:

    • Replace negative with positive thoughts
    • Keep a journal of what you think and feel
    • Give yourself affirmations
    • Listen to relaxing music
    • Get more light or less heat
    • Change your normal routine
    • Seek professional help
    • Take St. John's Wort
    • Try cognitive therapy [2]

Therapy Links

Psychological Testimonies: Anti-Witnessing the Sufficiency of Christ A Christian makes the case that Christian counselors are forsaking the Bible to bring hope. (offsite)

Where is the good life . The humanist choice. by Paul Kurtz. (offsite)

 

We see here a variety of techniques. Can you understand why it would appear to me that these suggestions have little to do with Jesus? Can no freethinker ever listen to relaxing music? Can no atheist go into the sunlight or affirm himself? These things apply to unbelievers as well as Christians. The unbeliever is not missing out, is he?

In fact, many have found that it is easier to enjoy the good life without religion.

Does Jesus really give his followers peace and joy? Then why must Christians walk around giving themselves affirmations to avoid depression? Many unbelievers find that life is a thrill.  They do not need to constantly affirm themselves. So why must Christians do this? Why, indeed?

Do you see the problem in all of this? Non-Christians are told that they need to accept Christ to have peace and joy in their life. Yet many believers are missing peace and joy, and Christians recommend that these believers turn to therapies such as cognitive therapy, a treatment that was developed in the secular world. Is this consistent? If cognitive therapy is the cure for the troubled mind, why do evangelists tell us that Jesus is the cure?

Do you need to give yourself pep talks to avoid depression? Do you have a daily struggle trying to find peace and joy? Then you cannot tell me that I need what you have to be happy, can you? Can you see that it would be hypocritical to claim on Sunday that one has peace and joy in life, and then visit the psychiatrist to overcome depression on Monday? Wouldn't it be better to face the facts? Wouldn't it be better for one to admit that, in spite of religion, he is not really happy? Wouldn't it be better for such a person to say that his Christianity has not really satisfied him?

Perhaps you have indeed found genuine happiness in Christianity. I am glad for you. I hope you understand that others have found happiness elsewhere. You may not need what I have to be happy, and I may not need what you have.

Christian Depression

Missionary Care  A mental health ministry for Christian missionaries.(offsite)

Missionary Care Links Page  Other sites dedicated to the mental health of missionaries. What is wrong here? (offsite)

Walking-Wounded.net  (offsite)

But not all Christians are happy. Many are very sad. Some tell me that it is only weak, carnal Christians who experience such prolonged sadness. They will tell me that mature Christians overcome and are happy. Then why is it that there are sites dedicated to helping depressed missionaries? (See sidebar.)

With so many missionaries in need of recovery from depression, it is difficult for me to see that I must listen to them in order to to have peace in my life.

There are many ways to happiness. As for me, I have found no greater joy than that of being free--free from the need to believe a religion that my mind has found to be false. I can explore the world around me and learn, without the need to force my observations into a preconceived mold.

Albert Einstein once wrote,

The important thing is to not stop questioning. Curiosity has its own reason for existing. One cannot help but be in awe when he contemplates the mysteries of eternity, of life, of the marvelous structure of reality. It is enough if one tries merely to comprehend a little of this mystery every day. Never lose a holy curiosity.

Do you have that holy curiosity? Are you free to ask questions--even about your faith? Are you free to take intellectual journeys away from the path that you have been taught? I think you will be happier if you choose to be free. Isn't that what you really want? 

We have come to the end of this series. I hope this site has helped you to ask questions, that those questions lead you to answers, and that those answers set you free.

Now What?

Where do you go from here?  We have only scratched the surface. Those that are interested in learning more may want to explore the following sources:

Many people may have found these challenges interesting, but they will not wish to continue. For many the thought of reconsidering their religion will be unacceptable. They find comfort in their traditional beliefs, and they will not want to see those beliefs seriously challenged. A brief excursion into skepticism may be interesting to them, but they will walk away from the discussion when the challenges become troubling. It is too painful for them to think of changing their minds. These people leave the debate if their side appears to be losing. If their side is winning, they  have no problem continuing this study. But if the facts seem to lead away from the religion they inherited, the thought of considering that they might be wrong is too painful to continue.

If this describes you, I can feel your pain. I have been there.  I had once been able to go just so far in examining my faith, while always retreating back to safety when the going got rough. I understand the desire to stick with one's current faith, regardless of what one learns. But is this the best way to live life?

If you cherish fundamentalist beliefs, but your life is not closely sheltered from all outside sources, you will continually find challenges to your beliefs in areas such as biology, geology, history, physics, and psychology. And you will find many sincere people who believe quite differently from you. It will be hard for you to force yourself to believe that all these people differ because they are evil, and that all these observations of others are wrong.

If you retreat from the facts, you will face a constant struggle to avoid the facts. New observations will always come, and many new thoughts will cause dissonance with the thoughts that are already  in your mind.Such congnitive dissonance can be quite uncomfortable. It is like living in an environment where folks are constantly shouting and arguing, except in this case the arguing occurs strictly within your own mind. One set of thoughts shouts at the other set of thoughts.  Is that what you want to happen in your mind? If you refuse admittance to doubts and other competing thoughts, you will find yourself constantly needing to internally outshout those competing thoughts. You must decide if that is best for you.

Others will want to stop here, because their entire social structure is based on their existing religion. It is unbearable to think about the loss of social support that would occur if you were to change your mind about religion. It is one thing to tell a friend that you changed your mind, and that you now like baseball, for instance, better than basketball. It is quite another thing to say that your views are now more infidel than Presbyterian. Many friends will change their entire view of you if you say that.

Once more, I understand. I too was once bound by the need to conform in my beliefs--or at least in my actions--to the approved doctrines of the church. Once more I would ask, is this the way you want to live? Do you want to shut your mind to new knowledge in order to maintain friendships with people who oppose new knowledge?

And besides, if your friends are true friends, will they not love you even in you change your beliefs? If their love for you depends upon your theological persuasion, perhaps they are not the best of friends to begin with.

You will only go through life once. If you choose to live your life as though you believe a creed that you no longer believe, what kind of life is that? What value is a life if you can never share what is going on inside? What good is a life if you must pretend to be something you are not? You decide: Do you think that, years down the road, you will be glad that you lived in fear of what others might say, and thus closed your mind to new ideas? If you decide to close your mind to skeptical ideas--or at least make it appear that your mind is closed--will you be able to hold your head high and walk forward with dignity?

Others will see the value of moving on in their beliefs, but the fear of hell will stop them in their tracks. They may see that their faith is implausible, but what if it is true? Will they be tormented in hell forever if they confess unbelief? Fearing hell, many will choose what they consider to be the safe path. They will stick with the faith as best they can even though they sincerely doubt it. They will try to believe, just in case belief is necessary to escape hell.

If you are going to follow your existing faith just in case, should you not also follow other faiths just in case? Should you now become a Catholic, Mormon, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist, just in case they might be right? That would be impossible, for the faiths contradict each other. So which will you choose? The one you inherited? Suppose you had grown up in another faith. Would you now be choosing that faith, just in case it might be right? If your choice is based only on the ideas you inherited, how can that choice be valid?

If you follow a faith without truly believing it, are you not being dishonest? If you confess to believe things you really don't believe, will God honor that? If God honors such dishonesty, what kind of a being is he? How could you trust a God who honors dishonesty? If God honors dishonesty, he might be lying to you. If God honors dishonesty, would he not also be capable of turning his back on you and damning you, even if he had promised otherwise? So I don't find much hope in dishonestly following a belief you don't really think is true. Why dishonestly "believe", in case a God who honors dishonesty might approve?

If you honor God "just in case"--dishonestly claiming to believe--which God will you choose? Will you honor the God who favors dishonest support of Protestantism? Or will you honor the God who favors dishonest support of Catholicism, Islam, or some other way? So many Gods! Which will you choose?

May I suggest one more God? Suppose a God exists who honors honesty and integrity. If such a God exists, than he will be glad that you honestly admitted your unbelief. He would want intellectual honesty. And if such a God loved honestly, he could be depended on to keep his word. So if I must pick a God to serve (just in case one exists) then I would pick this God. And I would honestly admit my unbelief of certain religious dogmas. If a God who loved honesty existed, he would love my honesty. That seems like the best approach to me.

And so if you find that neither the fear of a new viewpoint, nor the fear of the loss of friends, nor the fear of God's condemnation for disbelief should stop your intellectual journey, why not lay aside those fears? Why not boldly go where you have never gone before, enjoying the path of  discovery? Why not follow the facts wherever they lead, regardless of whether they lead away from or back to your original faith? Why not pursue truth?

As for me, I have found hope in secular humanism. Your explorations may lead you elsewhere. The important thing is not where the facts lead, but whether you are willing to accept and follow the facts. Can you commit to the facts, regardless of where they lead?

There is no experience quite like setting the mind free. Robert Green Ingersoll describes  that experience:

When I became convinced that the Universe is natural -- that all the ghosts and gods are myths, there entered into my brain, into my soul, into every drop of my blood, the sense, the feeling, the joy of freedom. The walls of my prison crumbled and fell, the dungeon was flooded with light and all the bolts, and bars, and manacles became dust. I was no longer a servant, a serf or a slave. There was for me no master in all the wide world -- not even in infinite space. I was free -- free to think, to express my thoughts -- free to live to my own ideal -- free to live for myself and those I loved -- free to use all my faculties, all my senses -- free to spread imagination's wings -- free to investigate, to guess and dream and hope -- free to judge and determine for myself -- free to reject all ignorant and cruel creeds, all the "inspired" books that savages have produced, and all the barbarous legends of the past -- free from popes and priests -- free from all the "called" and "set apart" -- free from sanctified mistakes and holy lies -- free from the fear of eternal pain -- free from the winged monsters of the night -- free from devils, ghosts and gods. For the first time I was free. There were no prohibited places in all the realms of thought -- no air, no space, where fancy could not spread her painted wings -- no chains for my limbs -- no lashes for my back -- no fires for my flesh -- no master's frown or threat -- no following another's steps -- no need to bow, or cringe, or crawl, or utter lying words. I was free. I stood erect and fearlessly, joyously, faced all worlds. (from Why I Am Agnostic - Robert Green Ingersoll, offsite)

Doesn't that sound refreshing? I think you can experience what Ingersoll experienced. But only you can decide if this is the path for you.

Rob Berry shared the thrill of discovery that occurred at his deconversion::

I felt a bit like a child, as though I was rediscovering the world. In particular, I remember a monthlong period in which I became flat-out fascinated with trees-- there was something beautiful about the way they branched out, cutting a tangled silhouette against the sky. I also became enthralled with sunsets, and to this day I still love watching sunsets. Everything seemed fresh and new. It was as if in my enthusiasm for the supernatural, I had overlooked all the beauty the natural world has to offer. Now I was playing catch-up, discovering all the neat stuff I'd missed. I also read dozens of science books during this time-- I decided it was time to find out how the universe really works, as I didn't want to ever be fooled again. (Formerly at  How I Became an Ex-Christian, by Rob Berry; offsite)

Do you want to become fascinated with the world? Do you want this joy of discovery? You must decide.

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If you need support, I suggest the following links:

Walk Away form Fundamentalism Forum (offsite) This is a support forum for those who have left or are in the process of leaving fundamentalist Christianity.

 Ex-Christian.net  (offsite) Encouraging Ex-Christians

Into the Clear Air The process of deconversion (offsite)

When You Feel Like a Loser I offer some advice to the discouraged.

 

My Story

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Links

 

Notes

1. When I originally wrote this essay in September 2002, there were 1,510 sites. In December 2004 there were 31,600 sites. Now, in April 2006 there are 576,000 sites! The growth of the Internet has been truly explosive.

2. Ronald L. Kotesky, What Missionaries Ought to Know about Depression, at  Missionary Care web site.

Copyright Merle Hertzler 2002, 2004, 2006. All rights reserved.

 

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