Since Religion makes people feel good, why criticize it?

For many people, believing in a God [or gods] helps them to find meaning in their life and gives them a good feeling that there is someone looking out for them. Atheists try to disprove or debunk this, without realising that by doing so they are probably tearing some peoples’ worlds apart and destroying their feelings.


Posted: May 7th 2008

bitbutter www

You post suggests that we should avoid hurting feelings. When ex-Christians describe the pain of losing their faith, it’s the pain of realising that they have spent most of their lives believing in a falsehood. These are often feelings of betrayal and anger. Should we avoid the chance of triggering this kind of trauma at all costs? I don’t think so.

If a woman finds out that her partner is cheating on her, her feelings will be badly hurt. But in many such cases we can agree that she should know, even though the knowledge will hurt her.

Maybe we choose to share painful knowledge because we want to minimise a person’s suffering in the long-run, or perhaps we share it because we consider that knowing the truth is valuable in its own right.

My convictions align with those of the hedonists; I won’t try to convince someone about the falsehood of their religion if I think the overall quality of their life is likely to suffer badly without a compensatory improvement later on. For example, I wouldn’t try to persuade someone with a terminal illness that their belief in a god is mistaken.

Here’s a useful question to consider: How many people, after realising that a belief they held was false, express a desire to return to their state of believing it? Even if the belief was comforting, and letting go of it was traumatic, how many people do you think wish they could return to that 'innocence’? In my experience this desire is expressed extremely rarely.

In general, people don’t want to believe in falsehoods. We do a person a disservice when we humor their delusions for the sole reason of protecting their feelings in the short term.

Posted: May 13th 2008

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flagellant www

Let’s consider the possibilities: God either exists, does not exist, or is indeterminate. What one feels about it is irrelevant to the truth. You are trying to suggest that, even if God doesn’t exist, or if we can’t tell, and believing makes people feel better, then it’s all right.

We can undermine this argument by giving an example. Certain religions used to believe – perhaps they still do for all I know – that the World is flat, held up by four elephants at each corner. In their turn, the elephants are standing on the backs of turtles, one for each leg. Let us suppose that you find this thought comforting.

Modern geography has shown this idea to be total nonsense: the Earth isn’t flat – it’s an oblate spheroid, travelling in an elliptical path around the sun. There are no supporting elephants and no turtles. This is an example of how believing in something or even wanting to believe it has no connection to its truth value. Nevertheless, people believe(d) it.

It all boils down to whether or not you want the truth. The truth is that we simply do not know whether God exists. However, the more we know about cosmology, the odds against there being a god increase. All but the most confirmed atheists admit that there is a vague possibility that there is a god, but the chances are very, very small, and they are getting smaller all the time.

Again, if one looks at all the prayers offered up in the World, isn’t it funny that we only hear about the successful ones coming true? Why don’t we hear about all the unanswered prayers? Why aren’t the McCann’s, for example, raging against God for failing to bring Madeleine back? They’ve been praying for a year now, without result. It is a total waste of time: prayer is talking to yourself. Worse than that, it stops you acting effectively and from coming to terms with reality. It may be a comfort, but it’s nonsense.

The people of the bible used to have all sorts of strange beliefs e.g. the Earth-centred Universe and bodily resurrection, no longer taken seriously by modern theologians, let alone atheists. You imply that atheists are wrong to destroy people’s illusions. Isn’t it far worse to teach these illusions to children? Shouldn’t we be giving children state-of-the-art knowledge, commensurate with their comprehension?

I have always acted on the basis that it’s better to know the truth, in every sphere of life, rather than to cling to an outdated, metaphorical comfort blanket. Human beings have the ability to deal with unpalatable truths. They may have to make some adjustment but, in the end, undermining their illusions and bringing them face-to-face with reality is a kindness, not a cruelty.

Posted: May 13th 2008

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George Locke

There is simply no indication that god exists. Choosing to believe that something exists despite a complete lack of evidence just doesn’t seem like rational behavior to me.

It’s important that humans find a way to give meaning and purpose to life without having to act against our reason. Bear in mind, I don’t believe rationality is the only way to find meaning. I have experienced benefits from letting go of my critical mind. Nevertheless, if I have visions of spirits protecting me, I recognize that my visions are no kind of evidence for things happening outside of my own head.

You can pray to god and find meaning in the bible, I don’t have a problem with that. What I have a problem with is supposing that the benefits you gain from these activities are evidence for some all-powerful supernatural entity. I even acknowledge that sometimes god speaks back to you. The problem is that if you don’t realize that such replies are just your own unconscious, then you’re simply not living in the truth.

Yeah, it might be disturbing to have your fantasies debunked, but indeed god is a fantasy, and believing in it is the philosophical equivalent of sucking your thumb.

Posted: May 12th 2008

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jonecc www

Why am I responsible for their feelings? I’m debating in the world of ideas. I have ideas I’m fond of too, but I don’t carry on as if other people are under some kind of obligation to avoid criticising them. If I think they can refute my argument I adjust it, if not then I offer what I consider to be a rebuttal and wait for the comeback.

No-one would ever offer this feeble argument about any other subject. No-one says that monetarists should be left to enjoy their monetarism free of critical analysis, or that people who derive comfort from believing that JFK was murdered by the Illuminati should have their beliefs treated with kid gloves.

Obviously life throws situations at you which require a level of tact. When my sister in law told me her mother had gone to heaven after she had just died, I didn’t launch into a philosophical analysis of the statement.

But cutting someone some slack in a difficult situation is one thing. By this argument, I would then be obliged to avoid challenging those beliefs at any time. I cannot imagine being so arrogant as to demand that of anyone.

Posted: May 10th 2008

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SmartLX www

You speak as if gods, even false gods, are the only source of comfort and support in the world, and without them there is only despair.

People need only look outside themselves to see that there are friends, family, charitable people, organisations, websites, books, movies and who knows what else out there who/which make it their purpose to comfort the depressed and tragedy-stricken, support the needy and include the lonely. Some are religious and some aren’t, some have selfish ulterior motives and some simply fail in the task, but at least you know they are all really there. For some people it might actually take a loss of faith to make them look outside themselves in the first place and find some real comfort.

Yes, belief can be comforting. So can morphine. So can an outright lie. When a child’s dog dies, it’s tempting to say that it went to live on a farm or with far-off relatives. It might save a few tears but it won’t help the kid grasp the concept of death; it’ll only put off the subject, possibly until a human relative dies and no lie will hide the fact. Especially if the child never revisits the event or grieves for the dog properly, it’s a lost opportunity for emotional growth. When finally confronted unavoidably by death, the child will be less prepared.

That a god is looking out for us would be a wonderful thing to know if it were actually likely to be true. If there’s a good chance it isn’t, the things you might only do under a god’s protection, like missionary work in the Middle East, could well be much more dangerous than you realise. To say that a god is looking out for you is effectively saying that it’s willing to whip out a miracle to help you, because that’s what any direct intervention would be. Would you rely on a miracle to save your life, or even your feelings?

And if tragedy strikes, or if the world is cruel to you, and as a result you come to the realisation (right or wrong) that a god is most definitely not looking out for you, will you be better off with your normal feelings of disappointment and loss accompanied by a tremendous sense of abandonment?

Finally, isn’t it somewhat condescending to campaign on behalf of people you think can’t handle the real world without special encouragement, or an emotional crutch? Who need their faith so much more than you do?

Posted: May 9th 2008

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