Atheism and Sensuality

SECOND UPDATE: The link is working again. You can finally read this post!

UPDATE: Sorry. Something went wrong with the Free Inquiry website since I scheduled this piece for posting, and the link to this piece is broken. I’m trying to find out what happened. I’ll post again here as soon as it’s fixed. Thanks for your patience.

Let’s talk about a pleasant topic for once. The most pleasant topic of all, in fact. Let’s talk about pleasure.

The atheist view of sensuality, of pure physical pleasure and joy in our bodies, is about eleven billion times better than any traditional religious view. Our view—or rather, our views—of physical pleasure are more coherent, more ethical, way the hell more appealing, and fun. We don’t believe in a supernatural soul that’s finer than our bodies, more important than our bodies, or superior to our bodies in every way. We don’t think that we have a soul separate from our bodies, period. We sure as heck don’t believe in an immaterial god who thinks that our bodies are icky—even though he, you know, created them—and who makes up endless, arbitrary, unfathomably nitpicky rules about what we may and may not do with them. We understand that the physical world is all there is. We understand that our bodies, and the lives we live in them, are all we have. And as a result, we are entirely free—within the constraints of basic ethics, obviously—to enjoy these bodies and these mortal, physical lives. As atheists, we’re free to celebrate our bodies and the pleasures they can bring us as thoroughly and exuberantly as we can.

So why don’t we?

Why isn’t atheist culture more physical? Why isn’t it more focused on sensuality and sensual joy? Why is it so cerebral so much of the time? As atheists, we’ve flatly rejected the idea that there’s a higher, finer world than the physical one. Why does it so often seem that we’ve bought into it instead?


Thus begins my latest piece for Free Inquiry, Atheism and Sensuality. To find out more about why I think atheist culture is commonly so cerebral — and what I think we should do about it — read the rest of the piece. Enjoy!

Atheism and Sensuality
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8 thoughts on “Atheism and Sensuality

  1. 3

    People don’t have sex based on what they think about the supernatural. People have sex the way their own instinctual desires drive them, then they either come to terms with their own behavior or they wrap themselves in guilt and project that guilt on others. Atheism doesn’t change what kind of sex we can have, it just changes how we deal with it.

    Sex is one of the most basic of biological activities. For as much as we think about it and worry over it, our conscious brains have very little to do with it. To ask what the connection is between atheism and sensuality is a little like what the connection is between atheism and eating or atheism and going to the bathroom. The religious assign meaning to it that is beyond what actually exists (like they do with eating) or put restrictions on how you do it (like they do with eating), but those restrictions and embellishments really have little effect on our behavior.

  2. 4

    Well, sex isn’t JUST about instinct – it’s very much “in the head,” insofar as our ideas and beliefs and desires influence sexual desire and enjoyment. Besides, there’s no question that our attitude toward something – say, an attitude toward cultivating sensual pleasure – can affect our experience of it. Greta’s got a good question here (for the record, I couldn’t get to the article, either): if we think that this is all their is, why aren’t we focusing on getting more out of this?

    Me, I’m with what I take to be Greta’s position and explicitly because of my atheism. I get why many atheists are not, however. Many people come to unbelief for less-than-philosophically-pure reasons, and among those reasons one often finds a kind of curmudgeonly crustiness. To the extent that the believers (not Beliebers) own the mainstream culture, atheism is a way of snarling and giving it the finger. That some atheists may have come to atheism from a general sense of misanthropy might skew the numbers somewhat. Likewise for the fact that many atheists have come to atheism as the result of a particular sort of highly intellectual and incidentally somewhat ascetic personality.

    I have no numbers for these wild speculations, of course. But still. Me, I’d be happy to see a convergence of three of my most important self-identifiers in the form of an Atheist Feminist Kink group. I always seem to be able to find, at most, two out of three. Don’t even get me started on the number of dumbass gender-essentialists in the BDSM crowd… grr.

  3. 5

    Daryl Branson @ #3: Why are you commenting on e piece you haven’t read? The link is broken. (Sorry about that, everyone! Something went wrong with the Free Inquiry website after I scheduled this piece for publication. I’m trying to find out what happened.)

    Back to Daryl Branson @ #3: As it happens, while the specific kinds of sex people have are not particularly affected by our religion or lack thereof, our attitudes towards sex are significantly affected — and our attitudes have a strong impact on how we experience our sex lives. However, this piece isn’t about sexuality particularly. It’s about sensuality. I would really, really appreciate it if you would read my complete pieces before commenting on them. Thank you.

  4. 6

    I was commenting on this blog post in the light of your previous one about a podcast that asked if atheists have better sex. I’m sorry I didn’t respond to your post in the manner you found most appropriate. Unsubscribing.

  5. 8

    I have often seen atheists debating (or been one of them myself) with a believer about the various arguments for/against God, and the believer essentially says “you’re just saying that so you can be a hedonist.” IE- that our conclusion for the non-existence of a deity is just a rationalization of our desire to live with unlimited pleasure. The atheist takes a defensive stance rather than pointing out that one can be both hedonistic, AND come to the conclusion of atheism based on the merits of evidence. They also want to fight the erroneous stereotype that atheists only care about pleasure for the simple fact that creating and spreading negative stereotypes is still a very common (and effective) tactic used by the faithful to try to keep the field unbalanced in the court of popular opinion.

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