The idea that we "need" religion is insulting. The majority of Britons are now free to look elsewhere for their sense of values, meaning and communityby Julian Baggini / September 8, 2017 / Leave a comment
“When a man stops believing in God,” said GK Chesterton, “he doesn’t then believe in nothing, he believes anything.” If he’s right, we must tremble now that data from the National Centre for Social Research published on Monday suggests the majority of Britons (53 per cent) say they have no religion. Responding to this in the Times, Daniel Finkelstein worried that “the decline of religion will leave a hole that will be filled by something worse” like extreme nationalism, just as both fascism and Bolshevism emerged as alternative religions.
Chesterton and Finkelstein belong to a long line of Jeremiahs who have warned of the dangers of abandoning religion. As an atheist I find these insulting, both to me and the supposedly credulous masses who can’t possibly be trusted to behave themselves without a God to scare the crap out of them.
The argument doesn’t survive its first encounter with the facts. Nationalism and populism are much more rife in God-fearing countries like Russia, Poland and the USA than they are in the more secular Nordic counties or the Czech Republic, where the religious have been the minority for decades. But then it seems that advocates of the atheism as nihilism theory are more interested with what rings true to them than what is true for all. They happily repeat the Chesterton aphorism even though there is no evidence that he ever said it.
The heart of the error is revealed in the vacuum metaphor so often employed. The assumption is that religion has some kind of natural place in the human psyche and so if it is removed, it leaves an empty space that must be filled. The fact that many people are atheists who feel no void doesn’t seem to bother people who peddle this myth. They insist either that atheists are yearning for something deep inside but they just don’t realise it, or that they have made a kind of religion of their humanism or science.
For sure, there are some who believe religiously in their lack of religion, but to insist all or most atheists are like this is implausible to say the least. The insistence that atheists are somehow insincere when they…