Valerie Tarico Interviews Chris Johnson, Creator of Atheist-Themed Book and Documentary Film, A Better Life

I hadn't run across the name Chris Johnson before reading this article from Alternet/Salon, but Johnson published A Better Life last year, a coffee table book in which he details the lives of various atheists. This year he released a film with the same title and it's being shown around the world.

The whole article is here.

Some high points:

“Our public conversation about atheism is two dimensional,” says Johnson. “It’s time to open the next phase. For ten years we’ve talked about what we don’t believe in. The dialogue kicked off by the New Atheist movement was much needed, but after we strip away gods and superstition, what is left? How do we see ourselves and our lives and our relationships? That’s what we need to talk about next.”


. . . he is keenly aware of the stereotypes that make atheists one of America’s least electable minorities: male, white, hyper-intellectual, hedonistic, untrustworthy, and living empty lives devoid of purpose and meaning. By contrast with the common image, Johnson’s documentary reveals a diverse tapestry of people who live in “a world without gods.”


. . . Religion makes you worry about things for no reason–the concept of sin, etc. Or like all the money that gets put into opposing same sex marriage–and for what? To stop two consenting adults from being happy? It’s just crazy that people waste so much time on things that don’t affect them. When you strip away all of the unnecessary rules and worries, you can focus more on the things that really do matter in the short time that we have to be alive.


. . . Letting go of gods is just a starting point. A better life means embracing our sense of awe and wonder, our place in the universe and creating a new understanding of our most profound experiences—whether that is a glimpse of the night sky or an intimate relationship.

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Replies to This Discussion

The trouble with a book directed at atheists is that it misses the point. It's religious dogma that causes the problem not atheistic procrastination. Absent ascetic moralism and there would be no need to contemplate a world free of it.

A better life means embracing our sense of awe and wonder, our place in the universe and creating a new understanding of our most profound experiences- whether that is a glimpse of the night sky or an intimate relationship.

That could so easily have been expressed by a religious fanatic as by a naturalist. Awe and wonder are expletives used as descriptive proofs of both world-views, ones take on it being ones personal interpretation. As long as it's a common assumption that supernatural fancies are acceptable as rational points of view, every statement for or against can be interpreted for or against.

After we strip away gods and superstition, what is left?

What's left is a world stripped of gods and superstition.

Gerald, I don't think the book's directed solely at atheists. Its whole point (at least as I read the interview, without having seen the book) is for believers to realize that atheists do have morals and grounds for appreciating life in a positive way and reasons to treat other people decently. While to me one of the most reprehensible things about the modern world is that public policy issues are settled via popularity contest, that's a reality we have to live with and I don't see much of a down side to efforts at improving the general "image" of atheists in the public mind. I wouldn't waste my own time doing it, but I welcome any efforts on that behalf.

It seems you might be feeling a bit peevish today.

Your right Bert.

Join you in a virtual bottle of beer toast to absurdity? I have a lovely 8 Ball Stout by Left Coast Brewery and a Big Leaf Maple Red Amber by Anchor Brewing I'm contemplating.

letting go of gods is just a starting point.

Where do we go from here? Must we invent another worldview? Do we always need an ideological ambition to function? It seems to me a world without ideologies is overdue.

>It seems to me a world without ideologies is overdue.

I agree to an extent, although an ideology is just a set of shared beliefs. Life would be rather interesting if no one shared any beliefs at all. I didn't see an indication that Johnson is trying to sell any ideologies, new or outworn. 

That's the trouble with ideologies Bert their subjective not objective.

You use "subjective" like it's something bad. Eliminate subjectivity and you eliminate yourself. Trying to build a system on strict objectivity is the pipe dream that's led philosophy down several garden paths that turn out to be populated only by triffids. I can't claim any expertise here, but I thought physics was a long way toward proving that it ain't that simple. The act of observation perturbing measurements and all that.

The measurement problem has moved on from observational interference Bert. Human subjectivity brought people to imagine it, the anthropic principle.

Subjectivity is the root cause of religious delusion, it always has been and it always will be. If Hitler had been able to formulate an objective view of the reasons for Germany's problems post 1918 the holocaust would never have happened.  Subjective ideas are the reasons for religious belief, and yes subjective analysing is the cause of problems, objective analysing is the resolution of problems.

Not really worldviews.  More like modes of evaluating reality.  I've always said that skepticism is the more important component of the atheist/skeptic ‘worldview’.

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