Religion is often popularly characterised by atheists as a consolation. One can turn this around and ask what are the consolations of atheism?

To answer this question correctly is to mirror the usual atheistic one. That is the worldview comprehensively takes the religious and without giving perhaps their due straight out says that why they believe is that it is the site for unconscious consolation.

This needs to be turned around and asked how the atheistic one is an unconscious consolation from a religious view (not necessarily from a Christian one).

I'm not positing that there actually is an unconscious motivation (though if one believes in Freud much of our behaviour does); it's a hypothesis to examine the suppositions of atheism and understand its contours and limitations.

It surely makes a difference if one is examining a consolation from a Christian, Islamic, Buddhist or Hindu viewpoint. Modern Atheism is not the first time a reaction has developed against a state religion: The Lokyata in Vedic India and Epicureanism in Greek antiquity. I'm sure that there will be others.

What I'm performing here is a Derridean deconstructionist move. Consolations of religion is a notion that is a traditional charge against religion from at least Epicurus's time.

closed as not constructive by Dennis, iphigenie, Annotations, Joseph Weissman Apr 12 '13 at 2:28

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    I would seriously recommend letting Christopher Hitchens answer this question. I doubt anybody here would cover it more completely and eloquently. ;) youtube.com/watch?v=HA55jGyq2C8 – David H Apr 9 '13 at 23:25
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    @David H:I've read Christopher Hitchens. I was hoping for something more substantial :). – Mozibur Ullah Apr 9 '13 at 23:45
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    It's not clear why you find Hitchins insubstantial, though I would grant that the linked video can only answer your question by omission of the features of religion (and especially Christianity) upon which he touches. – Niel de Beaudrap Apr 10 '13 at 0:07
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    A preoccupation with the next world clearly shows an inability to cope credibly with this one. If you're religious and you believe in another life somehow, that means you don't live this life to the full because you think you're going to get another life. Religion is the wish to feel that you have a kind of elder brother who will stand by you in all your troubles and disputes. Religions are a dangerous doctrine, because the more likely we are to assume that the solution comes from the outside, the less likely we are to solve our problems ourselves. – Annotations Apr 10 '13 at 0:12
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    It might be worthwhile to give some motivation for why you suspect that atheism has corresponding subconscious consolations, as those attributed to religion by atheists. What has led you to this question? – Niel de Beaudrap Apr 10 '13 at 0:27

The consolations of the atheist, according to Christian friends of mine, are self-importance (hubris) and freedom (from ultimate responsibility, from feeling the weight of sin). I had a rather lengthy conversation (about ten years ago) with a Protestant and a Catholic apologist and they both seemed to make this point, though the Protestant was much more forceful. I'm not sure whether this was personality or theology.

To expand a little bit more: to admit that God exists is (they claimed) to admit that one should hold oneself inferior to Him; one's own self-worth, importance, glory, etc., is so utterly insignificant compared to His that atheists can be driven by their own vanity to declare that he must not exist.

They also viewed atheism as the ultimate escape-from-responsibility move: since everyone sins, and any sin at all is punishable by death, the only way to escape the conclusion that one deserves death (aside from receiving Jesus' forgiveness) is to deny that God is there at all. But because God is the source of all morality (direct quote from someone else: "Why don't I steal or murder or all the rest--it's not because I love people so much, it's because God says it's wrong.") once you do away with him you never really need to feel or be responsible for anything--you can do whatever you can get away with and pretend to yourself that it's okay.

These points are not universal consolations, as they are couched strongly in Christian theology, but I was impressed that they were agreed upon by Catholic and Protestant. (Fair warning, though: sample size was one each, and they were friends, so they may not have even been independent samples (though they did receive different training in apologetics).) Also, they seem to be plausible prima facie, and I have had some atheist friends essentially confirm at least the second (i.e. what they say is logically equivalent to "I like X and the Bible says it's wrong, so I can't believe in God").

  • What a fantastically weak answer! Your reasoning goes like this. "I talked to two people, that are not atheists but theists (i.e. can be expected to be biased against atheists). They made some bare claims. I think those clams resonated well with me. So therefore I think those claims are true and present them as the answer". – MichaelK Mar 28 '18 at 12:52
  • @MichaelK - I agree it's weak, but my methodology is explained clearly, and the question postulates that you have to answer it from a religious perspective. If you have a better source of information, please post it as an answer! – Rex Kerr Mar 29 '18 at 0:10

Atheism, read in a particular way, has no consolations at all. That's nothing to say of the sort of atheism that people like Dawkins and Hitchens defend, where one posits a (perhaps Hegelian?) view of free and rational humans progressing towards an end paradise of scientifically informed harmony - you can completely see why that might be consoling to some people.

On Jean-Paul Sartre's conception, Atheism is nothing more or less than the recognition that God does not exist. God, here, is not to be understood through the lens of any particular faith or belief system, or of a personal psychological representation or theory acquired through language, social graces or instinctive defense mechanism. God, in Sartre's view, is the possibility of direction external to the unframed plane of our existence. Atheism is to be read as the understanding that Nature and Cosmology do not care about you, and that its principles and functioning are not going to be simply presented to you to follow for some positive end.

Consolation isn't found in Atheism as such. Existentialism qua Sartre is a view of human existence as theorising about what we and others do and must do to live on in spite of the truth of Atheism. This creates a space for a certain amount of "authentic" faith, that recognises the instrumental nature of the mythologies and principles of our social realities, opening up new spaces for similar constructions and organization, and yet chooses to participate in them despite their constructed or mythological nature as a way of surviving in an ambivalent reality. We're finding this a lot in ideas in post-structural Christianity, and there is an interesting argument to be made to the effect that Atheism does not necessarily conflict with the idea of religious belief, even where we recognise that it does crucially oppose both the moral normativity and the metaphysical claims of pretty much every religion or cult that currently exists.

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