Finding Meaning in Atheism
Dinesh D'Souza, in his continuing tirade against atheists in the wake of the Virginia Tech massacre, has resorted to a final couple of arguments to bolster his position, neither one of which are rational. Initially, he uses an ad hominem against atheists in general, as he says:
If you want to discover what kind of people atheists are, scroll down to my recent posts and read the responses. I am a troll. I am a cretin. I am a moron. I am a nut-job. And so on.Thus, D'Souza implies that since some atheists have called him names, atheists in general are bad people. That's sloppy enough, but he goes further to claim that:
Of course atheists have feelings and there were undoubtedly atheists among the mourners at Virginia Tech. But the Richard Dawkins philosophy--that we live in a meaningless world where there is no good and no evil--whatever its intellectual merit, seems arid and unconsoling when human beings are really hurting.In this, D'Souza appeals both to the consequences of atheism, as well as the supposed emotional benefit of theism, to support his claim. Both are fallacious arguments, and should be recognized as such, but they're also just plain wrong.
One atheist wrote to say that rather than rely on idle promises of fantasies of life after death, what atheists would say is that we need gun control laws and a better health care system. Fair enough, but is this what you tell a crying mother? "Madam, you should feel much better because new gun control laws and mental health reforms are on their way."
Theism, including Christian theism, provides the kind of comfort that Santa Claus provides young children. With unquestioning faith, a child can rest assured that its every good deed is being monitored by an old man far away, recorded with due diligence, and will result in the gift of a toy or some other pleasant thing at a prescribed time. This kind of comfort may be satisfying for youngsters, but it is not so for adults, who know the reality of the situation, including all the work that must go into parenting throughout the year, all the toil required at a job to earn money, and the frustrating chore of shopping for presents. Talking about Santa Claus may be an entertaining mythological shorthand to teach children about behavior and rewards, but no sane adult leaves cookies out in earnest, because when the reality is known, literal acceptance of a myth feels hollow.
Similarly, the nature of reality, if it results in atheism, doesn't lose anything in terms of meaning, unless you consider your realization about Santa Claus' nonexistence to be an existential tragedy that precludes you from enjoying Christmas. In fact, distancing oneself from the childlike belief in an old man who watches our deeds, records them, and will reward us for them sometime in the future, really and truly does free us to find meaning in life... the kind of meaning that is consistent with the nature of reality, not the kind of meaning which Christian theism teaches, which is the psychological equivalent of a comfort blanket, which one holds tightly to and waits to be bottle-fed by the Great Cosmological Parent.
The road to this meaning isn't laid out for us, but adults don't need theological nursery rhymes and just-so stories to make sense out of life. Instead, we have the faculties of our intellect and rational observation to arrive at this meaning. Robert Price's recent book is a wonderful example of this process, and I highly recommend it not only to those who have grown up out of the naïve acceptance of their parents' fables, but also to those who are still entranced by stories of talking animals and angry gods, and are convinced that nothing else can satisfy.