The Happy Atheist
Chapman Cohen was a turn of the century freethinker who was editor of the Freethinker magazine and president of the National Secular Society in Great Britain.
The following has been excerpted and abridged from his essay, reprinted in Essays in Freethinking, Volume One. (American Atheist Press, 1987).
The Happy Atheist
by Chapman Cohen
When conditions permitted, Christians had a short and easy method of dealing with atheists. They burnt them. As human society developed, the practice of burning awakened misgivings. So, gradually Christians left off killing freethinkers. In default, they took to slandering them. They were not burned, but they deserved to be. And their being allowed to live should cause them to reflect upon the charity of their Christian neighbours.
But as the number of freethinkers increased, they became better known. And being better known, Christian slander began to lose its effectiveness. So, instead of burning atheists, or slandering them, pious souls began to pity them. If someone confessed to them that he was an atheist, they received the confession with an air of commiseration as though the atheist had lost very penny he possessed. Freethought has thus had to run the gauntlet of the biting Christian, the barking Christian, and the snivelling Christian.
The really most deplorable feature about atheists is their refusal to commit all the sins which Christians obligingly indicated they ought to commit. This added fresh fuel to Christian indignation. Wicked unbelievers the Christian could appreciate, even admire. But atheists who were not blackguards! What on earth was to be done with them?
With equal stubbornness, atheists decline to be as miserable as Christians assure them they ought to be. Instead of weeping, atheists laugh. Instead of being miserable, they are happy. Christians are not only perplexed at the sight of happy atheists, they are annoyed. If atheists are happy, it must be because they lack the fine moral development of the Christian. If they were only better, they should know how poor is the happiness they feel as atheists.
But the happiness of an atheist is neither the vacuous enjoyment of a fool, nor the short-lived pleasure of a rogue. It is rather the expression of a disposition that has ceased to torture itself with foolish fancies, or perplex itself with useless beliefs.