Last Sunday, the New York Times featured a piece by Susan Jacoby on “The Blessings of Atheism.” It marks yet another milestone in what seems like a concerted effort by non-believers to publicize and validate their beliefs. Yet (like most such pieces) especially in two particulars, I found it far from convincing.
First, like many atheists, Jacoby dates the advent of her rejection of God to experiencing a terribly sad tragedy befalling a good, innocent person. But isn’t basing disbelief in the divine on such a circumstance really insisting on a pretty narrow, circumscribed view of God as some sort of cosmic Superman — who must prove His existence by acting in conformity with Susan Jacoby’s view of how He should behave? And by insisting that a real God would act in accordance with her standards, isn’t Jacoby sort of setting herself up as God? (This last is a problem with any attempt to establish a non-religious “moral code.” Whose morals or standards are to prevail and why?)
Second, Jacoby argues that secular humanists can and should offer a meaningful alternative to religion, by showing up to offer comfort at times of deepest human suffering. She notes that at the death of a child, an atheist could observe that the child is at rest and will never suffer again. But it strikes me this is actually cold comfort to grieving parents. After all, presumably the child was not suffering in their care — and at the core of their grief is the loss of their child’s companionship. Belief in an afterlife and reunion with loved ones therefore provides a sense of hope and solace that atheism simply cannot.
Atheists are certainly entitled to their beliefs. But it seems to strain a notch to characterize those beliefs as a “blessing.” Am I missing something?