Atheists frequently compare belief in God to childish beliefs such as Santa Claus and the Tooth Fairy or thinking the Cubs will win the pennant. They also will contend that theism is primarily motivated by a need to be comforted from the cold, harsh realities of life. Today’s On the Square feature at First Things has a short piece by Michael Novak which deals with the notion of finding comfort in faith.
Novak takes issue with the notion that it is the theist that is comforted by his beliefs, stating:
It is the believer who suffers great pain internally in coming face to face with horrid poverty in Haiti, and in the heat of swarming, overcrowded Bangladesh, and with images of human brutality and sadism, generation after generation. For the believer holds that God is good—all-seeing, all-powerful—and yet he allows so much human suffering to continue.
Now the obvious objection here is that he is only talking about the serious believer who takes such problems to heart and weighs them against the claims of his religion. The atheist can argue that the majority of believers aren’t serious believers and only believe to the point that it makes them feel better about themselves and helps them fit in with the neighbors.
However, Novak does not focus solely on the believers. He also remarks on the comfort atheists derive from their worldview.
Actually, it has sometimes seemed to me that the persistence of horrible evils in the world creates no discomfort at all for consistent atheists. Why should the world be otherwise, since everything springs from absurdity, chance, meaninglessness? For that matter, the obviousness of great evil in the world is often used by atheists to account for their atheism.
This is probably true for a large number of atheists. Some even seem to take glee in confronting theists with examples of the evil in the world. This has bothered me for a while. If it really is the case that there is too much evil in the world to render theism unlikely, doing away with theistic beliefs doesn’t eliminate those evils. You are left with a world that is filled with too much suffering for there to be a benevolant creator but which has virtually no hope for reconciling any of that evil. Regardless of your views on theism, I don’t see how one can view that as a positive state of affairs.