Thursday, December 26, 2013

Psychological comfort

Oh yay, another article about the psychological benefits of religion: A Refutation of the Undergraduate Atheists by David V. Johnson. Let's ignore the fact that Johnson insults both atheists and undergraduates; there are a lot of undergraduates who are smart, capable, and on their way to graduate school. And never mind that Johnson does not cite, much less quote, a single atheist argument; we are to rely entirely on his (insulting) paraphrase. And, finally, we can ignore the circularity of his central argument:
[S]uppose that in the alternative universe, human beings would not have this tendency towards religion. They would not be quite like us. Let us call them "Dawkinsians." They would be like human beings in every respect, including their stupidity, impulsiveness and tribalism, but they would lack any tendency toward forming religious beliefs. They would certainly lack the psychological boon from religion, but they would also somehow not have the need for it. They couldn't all be like David Hume, meeting death without blinking — that would be unfair. (Of course humanity would be better off if everyone were like David Hume!) What would it be like, from the inside, to be a Dawkinsian in a world of fellow Dawkinsians? To be a human-like creature, but to be satisfied with the rational belief that there is no God, no ultimate meaning or goodness to the universe, no life after death, and so on. Would Dawkinsians dread their own deaths? Would they have any capacity for mystical feeling? Would they suffer existential angst? Would they worry about the ultimate grounds of good and evil? If they did, then they would likely be worse off, I submit, than a world of human beings with religion.
In short, a world without religion would lack religion, and religion is good, therefore religion is good. It's amazing that people get paid to write and publish this bullshit.

Instead, let's look at the notion of psychological comfort. What, precisely is religion comforting us against? Is it, as Johnson suggests, "existential angst"? I don't think so. Existential angst and the dread of death are, like atheism, luxuries of the rich. What religion comforts people from, as Chris Arnade notes (from my previous post), is oppression, exploitation, and degradation by other human beings.

Why do we have to lie to people to comfort them? That's condescending, paternalistic, and insulting. Religion is the means that the oppressors use to keep the oppressed from rising up against their oppressor. The "psychological comfort" of religion is actually more important to the oppressors: it allows them to escape the guilt of their crimes against humanity. "Sure we exploit and immiserate the mass of humanity," they might think, "but they're comforted by their delusions of god."

The notion of psychological comfort is nothing but a privileged cop out. We don't need to do anything about the actual exploitation of humanity, so long as we give them the illusion of comfort. That's not just a mistake, that's a crime.

1 comment:

  1. Your last two paragraphs says it all. I've observed the same thing in looking around the world at various theocracies. Also why are all the descendants of slaves devoutly following the religion their masters shoved up their asses??? I don't remember the source but I remember reading how one of the northern pagan kings accepted xtianity because it allowed better control of the peasants.

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