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There Is A God. So Stop Worrying and Enjoy Your Life

[Originally published in Hürriyet Daily News] My column neighbor Burak Bekdil, with whom I often disagree, had an interesting piece last month titled “I give up... No Panama hats or alcohol!” By using sharp examples and witty stories, he was basically questioning the level of acceptance that religious-freedom-seeking Turks are ready to grant to those who seek freedom from religion. “I am not an atheist, but I am very curious...,” he was asking, “...would the Istanbul Municipality agree to run ads on its buses that would read, ‘There is probably no God. Now stop worrying and enjoy life'?” That quote came from the campaign led by Oxford University biologist Richard Dawkins, the world’s foremost atheist televangelist. His followers would soon put that atheistic “good news” on London buses as a paid advertisement. And Mr. Bekdil was asking whether the same thing would be tolerated in Turkey. An obstacle to joy? Well, I can’t speak for the Istanbul Municipality, but as a theist I personally would not have any problem with seeing such ads on the streets of Istanbul. The open society I believe in should give space to the proclamations of all beliefs, including atheism. (Yes, by the way, atheism is a belief, not disbelief, as it is sometimes called mistakenly. A true disbeliever would be an agnostic, not an atheist.) Yet what interested me in all this was not just whether Turkish society has matured enough to allow such unorthodox views whether they be on God, Atatürk, or “Turkishness.” We all know that the answer is not positive. What interested me rather was the message given by the Dawkinsian atheists. From the premise that “there is probably no God,” they were concluding, “now stop worrying and enjoy life.” But why would the existence of God, rather than His nonexistence, be something that we should be worried about? At the root of this message lies a presupposition that most atheists and other seculars take for granted: Belief in God is an obstacle to enjoying life. Or, to put it differently, life is more fun when you don’t think that there is a God who gave it to you. Of course there are fun-hating, joy-destroying theists who can apparently confirm that presupposition. Extreme pietism in all religions is a problem. The Taliban, the most extreme case in Islam-dom, systematically fought against joy by banning kites, tape players and chessboards. Similar tendencies can be found in the histories of all religions. But they can also be found in the histories of atheist ideologies. The communist Khmer Rouge was actually much more barbarous than the Taliban in the way it banned and punished “deviant behavior,” which could be as simple as eating an apple from a tree or having soft hands that hinted at a lack of hard work. Yet today most of us live in open, free societies. We are, thank God, no longer forced to be theists or atheists. So the real question is whether believing in God influences one’s psychology in a negative way, as the Dawkinsians implied in their ad. Atheists, since Sigmund Freud who considered belief in God as a “neurosis” that needed to be cured, have asserted that it does. No wonder the modern science of psychology, which took Freud as its main pillar, has taken a very secularist approach. However, empirical data does not conform to the Freudian vision. Rather than being the traumatized victims of a neurosis, research has shown that religious people are actually, on average, mentally and physically healthier than secular people. As former atheist Patrick Glynn points out in his impressive book, “God: The Evidence—The Reconciliation of Faith and Reason in a Post-secular World,” studies demonstrate that religious commitment boosts overall happiness, and frees people from depression, stress, and alcohol abuse. Observant people turn out to be four times less likely to commit suicide than others. The more religious people are, on average, the more they seem merrier. From that point on, even some secular scientists have concluded that our brains are “hardwired for God.” Stop Worrying About What? Why is that? My answer is that theistic religion addresses and satisfies the existential problems of mankind: Why do we exist? What is the meaning of our lives? What happens when we die? You don’t need to be a religious believer in order to see that a there is more peace of mind in answering these questions within a godly, not a godless, paradigm. Even Richard Dawkins concedes that there is an “evolutionary advantage” to having a brain that can experience religion. One thing that might strengthen the atheist argument to “stop worrying” is that religious belief brings not just good news but also sobering responsibility. But then again, we have to ask whether man is happier when he feels free from responsibility or when he takes on responsibilities that he willingly fulfills. I would place my bet on the latter. Therefore, I have to turn down the kind suggestion to “stop worrying and enjoy life” that atheists are spreading around. If I were an atheist, I would rather sit down, reflect about the meaninglessness and the inevitable tragic end of all my existence, and descend pessimistically into nihilism. I am rather happy because I am convinced that life has a meaning and death is not the end — and that there is a God.
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