Christianity (and religious belief generally) is sometimes criticized for being nothing more than an emotional crutch of some sort by its critics. Its adherents find solace in knowing an eternal reward is awaiting them for their faithful devotion. There is something comforting and fulfilling in believing you will be rewarded for your efforts, and thus only behave in hopes of reward; something that is seen as a liability. This is seen as a bit selfish, or self-serving about the process which sullies the good which has been done. Skeptics, on the other hand, don’t fashion their behavior toward the hopes of somehow benefiting in the afterlife for it. Doing good for the sake of doing good is good enough (See: For Goodness Sake). They aren’t looking for rewards on the afterlife and seek no solace from their deeds.
However, I do think Atheists seek solace in their beliefs. In the same way the Christian finds comfort in the prospects of an afterlife, the Atheist finds solace in the prospect of there being no afterlife. There is a certain consolation in believing there will be no recompense for a lifetime of transgression. A diplomatic immunity for your life’s bad deeds, so to speak. Not having to answer (or at least believing you won’t) for the misdeeds of life can be quite a relief.
All one’s undiscovered crimes and maleficence are completely free and clear. Think of the freedom. I recall back to grade school, there was this one teacher who had a nasty habit of administering pop quizzes without a moments notice. Every so often, when the class completed the test, she announced that the test was just practice — it didn’t count and our scores would not be held against our grade. There were two kinds of reactions to this news: Relieved and disappointed.
Presuming atheistic naturalism to be true, the Christians would represent the disappointed students, in that for all their efforts and self-sacrifice believing they were being piously obedient to a God they believed existed; all was in vain. All the passed up opportunities to indulge in fun things the Bible has placed on the don’t list: sex, drugs, and rock ‘n roll. Just like the students who took the time to study and focus on the test at hand, the Christians forewent life’s “sinful” distractions. But all the effort was for nothing…suckers.
On the other hand, the students who represent the Atheists weren’t prepared for the test and so is quite relieved the score will not count. They did whatever they were inclined to do, hindered only by their own conscience. Now, I wonder what would happen to the study habits of a student if he knew none of the scores on any test or assignment were going to count for anything? Studying would be optional. No more worries about failing, no more worries about discipline for non-participation, no more worries about getting sent to the principal’s office for mischief.
Of course, I am not suggesting that Atheists cannot act morally, or do good deeds. I am also not saying that Atheists will inevitably decline into moral decay and become seething miscreants either.
Atheism provides solace and comfort — in the opposite direction from Christianity — knowing (believing) there is no ultimate accountability to a Just and Holy God for moral crimes committed against Him, however inconsequential, bestows a sense of relief even if it is not the direct motivation for holding the conviction. Atheism provides (im)moral options even if those options are not explored.