Are religious people hiding in illusions because they cannot face the pointlessness of it all?


There is an odd quasi-argument for atheism that goes something like this:  It is true because it is terrible.  Atheists are brave and strong enough to face this horror without flinching.  Religious people can’t face it, so they hide in illusions.  Such statements are usually followed with certain calls to arms to throw away the illusions of the past and embrace the truth that life is utterly pointless and meaningless.

There are a few things to say about this.  Firstly, one could be an atheist without believing that life is pointless.  It takes a bit of theoretical work to get from atheistic naturalism to the utter pointlessness of everything.  But such arguments are relatively plausible, I think.  If one is an atheistic naturalistic, nothing really matters in the long run.  Because everyone will be dead.  The meaning of life is certainly temporally limited.

Second, these claims at least among the people that I talk to are somehow supposed to be arguments.  It is as if this person is saying something that we all know deep down inside, but cannot face.  When the atheist is brave enough to point out that nothing really matters, we intuitively see that they are right.  But I don’t find this sort of talk convincing at all (although I once did.)  The appeal seems to be entirely emotional.  A distinction is made between brave people and weak people and so then we all naturally want to be among the brave.  The intuitive appeal of the argument is just, I think, a response to the emotional desire not to be called weak.

Nevertheless, if psychologists are right about how humans really think and most reasoning really is rationalization, then these kinds of arguments might do a lot more to actually convince people than rational arguments.  This argument is also more compelling than purely rational philosophical arguments because it tells a story.  The story has heroes and villains and it fits with how humans really think.