Gratitude is necessary for both Happiness and Decency

The always-interesting Theodore Dalrymple on the recent spate of pro-Atheist books. Though an atheist himself, he finds the books to be childish and petty. He quote with favor the insight and maturity, by contrast, of a Christian writer named Hall.

You would be correct to imagine I have complete sympathy with the good doctor; I went through a similar stage of seeing one too many of my fellow atheists as being on the wrong side of philosophic wisdom (what he called “thinness”) before my conversion. JRR Tolkien’s melancholic reflection on history as a long series of defeats (to culminate, so he faithfully believed, in a final victory at the end of days) struck me, for example, as notably more serious and mature, notably a better sense of what history was like, than, for example, the atheist authors I admired. My fellow science fiction writers seemed prone to simple utopias or equally simple dystopias, as if one solitary good would cure the world’s pain, or as if one solitary evil would inflict it. Ayn Rand’s world view, which I admire in other respects, preaches that liberty cures and redeems mankind; Robert Heinlein’s that a tolerant indulgence in fornication and incest cures and redeems mankind. The Parousia of the former is a sack of gold and a sense of a job well done; of the latter, a throbbing erection. I will not say gold, or the sense of a job well done, or the pleasures of the marriage bed are anything other than a source of joy, in their proper time and subordinate to higher goods; but to bow down to Mammon or Priapus as if these things were the sole and supreme good in life, well, that is merely simplistic. Pleasures make one happy for a time, but only a little happy, and only for little a time.Marcus Aurelius, on the other hand, taught that happiness was impossible without self-command, and self-command without justice, moderation, temperance, fortitude: Plato said the state could not endure without steadfastness in the virtues of its subject, soldiers and leaders. At the time, oddly, to me my fellow atheists seemed more alien to Marcus Aurelius in thought and precept, and far more fatuous, than the Christian writers.

Allow me to quote from the linked article:

The thinness of the new atheism is evident in its approach to our civilization, which until recently was religious to its core. To regret religion is, in fact, to regret our civilization and its monuments, its achievements, and its legacy. And in my own view, the absence of religious faith, provided that such faith is not murderously intolerant, can have a deleterious effect upon human character and personality. If you empty the world of purpose, make it one of brute fact alone, you empty it (for many people, at any rate) of reasons for gratitude, and a sense of gratitude is necessary for both happiness and decency. For what can soon, and all too easily, replace gratitude is a sense of entitlement. Without gratitude, it is hard to appreciate, or be satisfied with, what you have: and life will become an existential shopping spree that no product satisfies.