Is Theistic Religion A Consolation?
by Francois Tremblay
Syllogisms and arguments are all very well and good, but one has to realize also that, in the end, most people believe for purely emotional reasons. Being shown as intellectually bankrupt will embarrass a Christian apologist but won’t make him convert.
Theistic thought has nothing to offer to the individual, it is fundamentally immoral, and it cannot explain anything. This we know for a fact, as much as we know the Earth turns around the Sun once a year. But your opponent doesn’t know that, otherwise he wouldn’t be a theist. He’s liable to ask you all sorts of questions about your lack of consolation in the face of a sad, cruel universe, or portray you as a cold-hearted monster.
Yet these attacks can easily be used as springboards for evidential strong-atheistic replies. The term “evidential” is used in many ways, most of them vague. Theologians call “evidential arguments” those arguments which use the Bible or its properties as evidence for God’s existence. Some atheologians differentiate the “evidential problem of evil” as referring to gratuitous evil specifically, instead of evil in general.
I use the term “evidential argument” to designate those arguments which are based not on syllogisms but on examining the fake emotional appeal of religion, and comparing it with the noble emotional appeal of atheism and atheistic systems such as science. For instance, I classify Occam’s Razor as an evidential argument because it appeals to the power of science as an explanatory system.
In this article, I will examine a number of theistic emotional appeals, and a strong-atheistic response to those appeals, reversing the theist’s underlying premise.
1. Bad Things Happen.
Behind this simplistic whining, we note truth: happy people do not need religion! But more seriously, we have to ask the believer in this case what he means when he says that “God is there for him”. Or if he only invokes the need for comfort, we must ask him how belief in a god gives him any comfort at all.
From there, the believer has only three alternatives. He can tell us that he is comforted by material changes in this life, that he is comforted by a “fuzzy feeling” about God, or that he is comforted because he will be happy in Heaven. I will get to the last one in a moment. As for the other two, we’d have to answer that there is no evidence that believers are in any better shape than non-believers, fuzzy feelings or not.
We can then ask him, what answer does the theist have for Bad Things Happening? We have two answers for them: Bad Things happen because of natural law (and by corollary, human nature also), and we can help solve them by science and technology. We have managed to double our lifespans and invent mass communications, mass transport, and mass energy production, in a single century! What can the theist do? Pray? This impotence of theistic beliefs is a major argument for strong-atheism.
2. And Then We Die.
This seems to be a common delusion, but how does the believer think that “he” will live forever in Heaven? What I mean by this is, we all know that the body decomposes and rots, and can be blown to bits. Christians, and most theists, believe in a spooky monster called “soul” that lives in their brain and flies away at death to go to Heaven. But given that the brain already contains everything that makes us who we are – memories, personality, emotions – how is this “soul” anything like “me”?
Some reincarnationists admit the problem and posit that the “soul” is a different thing entirely than the individual, but this only makes the problem clearer. How can I* go to Heaven if what *I am dies and something completely unrelated to me goes up there? The answer, of course, is that it makes no sense at all. As in the first point, only science and technology is able to push back the frontiers of death and suffering. Not religion!
3. But What Does It All Mean?
Such a common question, but such a nonsensical one. How can the atheist life have any more or less meaning than the theistic one? We both live in the same universe, in the same kind of bodies, and do the same kind of things all over the world. If the atheist’s life cannot have meaning, then what happens to the theist’s? If it is the afterlife that brings that meaning, then point 2 above answers it.
But most importantly, how can belief in a god bring any meaning or purpose? All that a god adds in the equation of one’s life is a divine plan that no one understands or can even explain. Belief in this divine plan is based on belief in Scriptures or plain delusional fantasy. If the theist relies exclusively on his belief to give himself meaning, then it is his life that has no meaning at all!
Finally, materialist apologetics tells us that any such meaning would have to be subjective to God’s will. Since God created the universe, the theist cannot be assured at all that the meaning he thinks his life has, if any, will in any way be true tomorrow! To such a mysterious and shaky basis, we have to oppose the determinism of natural law, which permits the atheist to place himself within the greater context of his own world and make his own meaning and purpose.
4. Is That All There Is?
There’s got to be more than our daily lives, yes, but where you look is more important than whether you do. A good analogy here is that of curious people who, not having received a scientific education, turn to pseudo-science to satiate their curiosity. Religion is nothing more than a form of pseudo-science, and the same thing is true here.
How completely deprived of wonder the theist is! What wonder is there in believing that an infinite being created anything? After all, an infinite being could do anything, and we have to be surprised that such a being would create a universe with so much imperfection.
But on the other hand, science opens the doors of wonder by helping us understand how everything works and interacts. That everything is composed of particles that existed at the Big Bang, for more than 14 billion years, and is made of the interactions of these particles, is in itself a most exciting truth. That we can analyze how the interactions of particles and objects gives rise to phenomena and events is even more exciting. Who hasn’t wondered about the rainbow, the colour of the sky, or how light works? Scientists don’t just wonder, they answer questions. Who amongst theists can answer those questions without science?
5. We Need Faith!
This kind of statement is interesting, especially in their effort to convince you that you have faith in something – as if you needed their opinion to know whether you actually do!
Now, faith is a belief in something regardless of – and most often against – the objective evidence. When reality tells you something, the believer turns his head away and shouts that he does not want to hear it, that what he believes must be the truth! This is a supreme arrogance. Who is superior, the man who defies the entire universe for his little delusion, or the man who humbles himself to listen?
Faith may be comfortable or consoling, but many other things are comfortable or consoling, most of which your opponent would not accept. I imagine that the idea of killing yourself, or, to be less drastic, erasing memories, may take away mental pain, but few people would accept this as a sensible alternative!
Likewise, taking drugs can bring comfort. So could the Pleasure Box – an apparatus in which you enclose yourself forever and only experience comfort and pleasure. Would the believer enclose himself in such a device, and refuse to live a full life? I would wager that most wouldn’t, and yet they accept the comfort excuse for having beliefs.
Could it be, rather, that comfort and consolation are only moral if they do not make us lose our grip on reality? If this argument can be made, then we must reject religion, since losing one’s grip on reality is exactly what religion demands. How else can we label the idea that a sky-fairy existed in an immaterial world, popped the universe out of nothing, made it imperfect and look perfectly naturalistic, and then send people to eternal suffering if they don’t believe?
Believers sometimes also use arguments against specific areas of reasoning to justify their reliance on faith. For articles against some of these, I would recommend the Against section of this web site.
If you have more emotional appeals from Christians that you would like me to add here, just send me an email. Happy debating!
Last updated: October 14, 2004