One of the most frequent complaints or objections, if you can call it that, an atheist hears is something like this: “But if there’s no God then life has no meaning.” “How can you stand to live in a world like that?” “I need to believe because it fulfills me and makes me happy.” “Believing gives me a reason to get up in the morning.” “But your life (atheist) has no worth.”
This refrain has been repeated so many times, and the believer’s sense of indignation is usually so fierce that non-believers have come to feel like they must give an answer. Lots of atheists have devoted much time and energy to an atheistic replacement such as secular humanism, or some form of community that will soften the blow of letting God go. And lots of believers seem to think that until atheism has something to offer them in these regards, then they have legitimate reasons for rejecting it. Since the life of the atheist is meaningless, it’s reasonable to continue believing in God.
But there are several serious mistakes lurking here in all of this. First, the fact that some argument, or worse, its conclusion doesn’t give you the warm fuzzies is not a legitimate reason for rejecting or criticizing it. Your feelings about the truth are beside the point. How we happen to feel about it, and the sorts of psychological and personal reactions we have to it are completely independent issues from whether or not it is true and whether or not there is justifying evidence for believing it. It may be true that an 8 year old is crushed to learn that there is no Santa, but there it is. That’s just not a good reason for adults to persist in believing something that runs so clearly against the evidence. We don’t get to exempt ourselves from the demands of reason and argument because we’re not pleased with the outcome.
Second, the fact that some cherished belief does give you the warm fuzzies is not legitimate grounds for thinking it is true. Religious beliefs aren’t subjective, harmless, internal preferences like, “I like broccoli, but I can’t stand peppermint.” Religious beliefs are claims about the world, about what is the case, about what sorts of things exist, about where the world came from, about where we are going. Those are all things that matter, and they are not subject to individual preference. Religious beliefs feed into people’s votes, their political views, their ideas about social and public policy, and what they take to be valuable in the world. We are all accountable to each other for what we believe and we’re all accountable to each other to give some grounds for believing it. That religious beliefs satisfy some psychological and emotional longings you have may be some of the motives you have for wishing they were true and wanting to believe, but those feelings aren’t reasons for believing. Those are needs, not evidence.
Third, it’s just not the burden of someone who is presenting what they take to be good reasons for believing that there is no God to also provide some emotional compensation because that conclusion is unpalatable. The truth may or may not be comfortable. The evidence may or may not take us to those conclusions that we think we want to find. It would be perverse to allow our comfort to guide this decision. It’s narcissistic to think that the ultimate truths about the nature of reality must line up with our feelings. There either is a God or there isn’t, and our feelings about the matter are completely irrelevant. Instead of being so frequently criticized for robbing people of something they enjoy, the non-believer should be praised for having the courage to follow the evidence and be willing to face it even if the results aren’t popular. So, suck it up.