The Intellectual and Emotional Emptiness at the Heart of Atheism

I read a very interesting article today that bore the same sub-title as the title of this article. You can read the full article here: The Atheist Response to Sandy Hook.

The author was offering his opinion on another piece called, The Blessing of Atheism, which was written in the wake of the Sandy Hook tragedy.

Anyhow, the author basically said that atheism offered nothing of comfort to the families left behind. Here’s what he said:

It is meant as no disrespect to this well-regarded writer that her piece provides one of the finest illustrations of the intellectual and emotional emptiness at the heart of atheism.

And:

“The dead do not suffer” is atheism’s consolation to the parents of murdered children? This sentiment can provide some consolation — though still nothing comparable to the affirmation of an afterlife — to those who lose a loved one who had been suffering from a debilitating disease. But it not only offers the parents of Sandy Hook no consolation, it actually (unintentionally) insults them: Were these children suffering before their lives were taken? Would they have suffered if they had lived on? Moreover, it is the parents who are suffering, so the fact that their child isn’t suffering while decomposing in the grave is of no relevance. And, most germane to our subject, this atheist message offers no consolation at all when compared with the religious message that we humans are not just matter, but possess eternal souls.

He then goes on to say that he understands atheism.

I’m not really sure that he does. For example, he’s basically saying that atheism means that atheists can’t believe in some sort of soul, which isn’t true. It might be true for a great many of them, but atheism is just an absence of belief in a deity. That doesn’t mean they can’t believe in other supernatural phenomenon, such as ghosts etc.

The second thing I’d like to point out about his statement is that even if the atheist position doesn’t offer consolation like an afterlife, is that really the point of atheism?

I remember when I was a child, I had a goldfish. One day I came home from school and my goldfish was dead. I began to cry and my parents came in to see what was wrong. They gave me a big hug and explained that my goldfish went to heaven and one day, I’d get to see him again.

The thought that ran through my brain was something like: well good then. It’s okay because he’s not really dead, just in heaven. I’ll miss him, but it’s no big deal.

Sure it was consolation but now that I think about it, it was consolation that minimized my loss and allowed me to dismiss the death of my goldfish.

Furthermore, lots of things might make me feel better but that doesn’t make them any truer. The thought of a supernatural jolly man named Santa bringing me gifts was a wonderful thought. It was a bit of a letdown to learn it was really my parents who put those presents under the tree. I loved the thought that when I felt a wiggly tooth, that I would have some extra cash delivered to me by a fairy. It certainly alleviated my fear and pain of losing a tooth. Was it true though?

Nope. It was my parents again.

Should I have refused to realize that there was no fairy that delivered cash because it makes me feel better? Could I make the argument that fairy-atheism offers me no consolation so I should keep on believing in it?

I couldn’t make those arguments with a straight face. The truth is that sometimes reality isn’t fuzzy and consoling. Sometimes reality sucks.

The author is also missing out on some of the philosophies that are compatible with atheism. For example, Humanism and Buddhism are both compatible philosophies with atheism and they both offer their own consolations to grieving family members.

In my own opinion, I find the idea that there is a mansion, angels and dead family members surrounded with a nimbus of light waiting for me in a supernatural realm called heaven insulting. It’s insulting my intelligence. I find it every bit as insulting as being told that I would be rewarded with 72 virgins if I only believed in Islam or that Muhammad flew to heaven on a winged horse or that there is a being named Zeus who can hurl lightning bolts.

I also find it insulting that someone should suggest that the only reason I should believe such things is because I’m too emotionally weak to look at the reality of death, and too immature to let go of the consolation offered by what I regard to be, a myth. If there were some evidence to believe such things, then I would take another look at it.

And I also find it insulting when people suggest that family members who believe will go to heaven but those who don’t will either go to hell or suffer in some way. I find it insulting to think that they think I could enjoy this place called heaven, knowing that my loved ones are supposedly suffering at the hands of a malevolent God.

While an afterlife of some kind might bring consolation, to some it brings the exact opposite. I don’t think that ‘it makes me feel fuzzy inside’ is a good argument for belief any more than it is when applied to the other childhood beliefs I mentioned above.

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