Atheism provides an emotional crutch too

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 and evil doers are punished.  There is something comforting and fulfilling in believing you will be rewarded for your efforts, and thus only behave in hopes of reward.  I don’t know any Christians who reason this way, but there might be.  This is seen as self-serving and the good is sullied by the motive.  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.  They aren’t looking for rewards on the afterlife and seek no solace from their deeds.  This makes them morally noble.

However, I do think there is a comfort in believing a God who will hold us accountable for our moral misgivings.  In the same way the Christian may find comfort in the prospects of an afterlife, the Atheist finds solace in the prospect of there being no judgement after death.  There is a certain consolation in believing there will be no recompense for a lifetime of transgression.  Even if the Atheist were held to his own moral compass, I think it would be safe to say he has done something he knew to be wrong.  I have violated my conscience.  I’ve done wrong even by my own standard.  Not having to answer (or at least believing you won’t) for the misdeeds of life can be quite a relief.

All of your 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: Relief and disappointment.

Presuming atheistic naturalism to be true, the Christians would represent the disappointed students.  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.

Those relieved by the news the test doesn’t count, the Atheists, they weren’t prepared for the test and it’s great news 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.  I also don’t think Atheists will inevitably decline into moral decay and become seething miscreants either. Atheism does provide solace and comfort, even if subconsciously in the opposite direction from Christianity.  Knowing or 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’s not a direct motivation for being an Atheist.  Believing in a Godless universe provides (im)moral options even if those options are not explored.

Comments

  1. I find this to be a weak criticism of either Christianity or Atheism. While these may be subconscious sources of relief or comfort depending on which way you lean, these in and of themselves, are not reasons to believe or disbelieve. If you only believe for reasons of reward, from my understanding, that wouldn’t be TrueBelief. And if you only disbelieve to escape judgement, well, that wouldn’t make disbelief correct either. In fact that would just make you a believer who is on the run.

    While my Christian friends do find comfort in there being a hereafter in which they will be rewarded I don’t view it as an emotional crutch in the sense that that’s not why they’re Christian. I don’t know anyone who I believe to be a Christian for that reason. All of the Christians I know would say they are Christians because they find the gospel compelling. And why shouldn’t you find comfort in some aspect of what you believe anyway? That’s a real head scratcher to me…why anyone should be criticized for finding comfort in their belief.

    I can also say that I don’t really sense a comfort or discomfort in thinking there isn’t a hereafter, but I can only speak for myself. I view it as something that just is. I have no recollection of before I was born and will have no knowledge of when I am gone. I will just cease to be.

  2. vincedeporter says:

    I do not agree that as an Atheist I have no moral accountability! This is just the usual cliché.

    In fact, knowing that this is my only shot at life in the ongoing course of our Evolution COMPELS me to leave this life in a better state than when I came in — if only for my children or other new generations.
    The moral quality of my atheist friends is something very noble — especially since there is no punishment nor recompense for being good.

    This is also evident when Christians refer to Social Darwinism as if atheists think this would be in any way a good thing. It’s not because evolution is the law of the fittest that we haven’t grown a conscience as we have evolved. Today, we are at a point where we do not have to act like animals anymore.

    I find social Darwinism repugnant. I sharpen my conscience all the time.
    To think atheism is in any way an escape to any consequence is to totally misunderstand the humanity that drives us.

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