Atheists love to play psychologist when trying to explain faith in God and religion. Marx explained it as a sort of drug, an opiate that numbs your senses so one need not accept the reality that there is no ultimate triumph of justice in an afterlife. Freud spoke of escapism from the realization that we are food for worms once we die. Like children, we take comfort in a tall tale of coming back to life. In other words, religion is a childish refuge for the weak.

God is a fiction of man’s imagination, a psychological construct that help us not to look at reality as it is and allowing us to escape into a world of wishful thinking. Finally, others see the power of religion in mind-control from men looking for monetary gain, leaders who see in religion a good way of making money, getting accolades, and having power over others. These atheist psychological explanations are offered as gospel, with the arrogant flair of those who think that they are superior intellectual beings, not alienated in any way from reality, perfectly secured in true knowledge; they are the “brights”! Well, if they can play psychologist, let us do the same with atheists. Let us turn the tables and place them on the spot. What is the psychological attractiveness of atheism?

In effect, some atheists have stated that they prefer a world where there is no God.  H.L. Menchen, for example, has stated  his inclination is “to hope that it is not so.”[1] In any event, why the desire for there not to be a God? It seems as they want a sort of liberation. It cannot be a liberation from a god that after all does not exist. The emancipation must be from moral constraints.

Certainly, many atheists tell us that they want to practice virtue and that moral norms can be derived from nature itself. They tell us that the atheist is not for moral corruption and that the good can be discovered and pursued without a belief in god.  But why give them the benefit of the doubt if they do not give it to theists? If even when we pursue the good and act honorably they see some fancy mythical and psychological factor at play, why not do the same to them?

Some tell us that they are atheists and yet they want to pursue a nobler world, a world where justice and goodness prevail. However, they can pursue such lofty goals without getting rid of religion! Just look at the history of how hospitals were created; they arose from the work of nuns. Look at Mother Theresa’s work for the poorest of the poor or to the incredible charitable work of Christians all over the world. Their reaction? Condemn Mother Theresa and ignore or defame the work of Christians.

There must be a different reason than pursuing lofty goals and moral goals then. Let us psychologize their pursuits. Could it be that they are stewing in anger due to early losses in life? Darwin had a very devout Christian wife, Emma. They had a daughter, Annie, who was especially loved by him. He suffered much due to the death of his ten-year old daughter.[2] Another case is that of Stephen Hawkin. Could it be that his physical condition due to contracting motor neuron disease brings about in him a hatred of God?  Isn’t it possible that the psychological reasons for unbelief have something to do with anger and a desire for revenge against a god they perceive as uncaring?

Another psychological reason might be the desire to fulfill one’s appetites and wishes without fear of retribution. Isn’t it possible that if one gets away with the notion of eternal punishment one can find an alibi for a number of lifestyles and decisions? If matter is all there is, the threat of punishment ends with the material world. In other words, by positing a purely material world, one can do as one wishes as long as one does not get caught. If you accomplish that you can get away with it.

When an atheist looks at existence he sees a world where pleasure is the only intrinsic good, all other goods being instrumental to maximize one’s ease or minimizing one’s suffering. But here come the gods telling him, “Do not do this or that.”  Moreover, Christianity says that you cannot get away with it because there is a final judgment after death! If I see pleasure as the great value and escaping pain as a pressing goal even death is relief from the quest and any idea of punishment nothing more than tyranny.

Moreover, even in the here and now we can experience psychological relief if we convince others that there is no “ought” in human nature and that traditional morality in fact detracts us from what is in effect “moral”: following the natural inclinations of the flesh. Only imagine the psychological relief that can come from the idea that there is no moral constraint. “Cool!” Imagine the relief experienced by those who think life has no ultimate meaning and you better just enjoy without any fear of retribution or mental anguish for doing something wrong. This is the ultimate case of defining deviancy down.

All these atheists tell us now that if God is dead does not mean morality is but let them destroy religion and their psychological urges will take over only to tell us, “We did not mean that. The party is on!”

I can only hear the atheists yelling that I am misrepresenting them as atheists often are so good people and have big thoughts on things. Well, if they can pseudo-babble belief in God now you know how it feels…

[1] S.T. Joshi, ed., H.L. Mencken on Religion, p. 38 cited in Dinesh D’Souza, What’s So Great About Christianity (Wahington, D.C.: Regnery, 2007) p. 263.

[2] See Robert Krulwich, “Death of Child May Have Influenced Darwin’s Work” in; Desmond & Moore, Darwin (New York: W.W. Norton, 1991) p. 387.