[This is a repost of a comment I’d made on http://thephilosophyforum.com]
The Emotional argument for Atheism
This topic of discussion has piqued my interest and so I humbly attempt a contribution:
I understand an ’emotional appeal’ not to be an outburst of irrational emotion on behalf of the orator, but rather an oration intended to appeal to the audience’s emotions – that is, intended to arouse specific emotions within the listener. The manner in which this is done can vary, but a well-reasoned and logical argument, if successfully ‘appealing to the emotions’ has the benefit of being sound and able to withstand attempts to de-construct it.
In that light, one of the reasons which compels me to remain conscientiously atheistic (while admitting my unavoidable agnosticism of never being able to definitively know one way or the other), and which appeals to a hazy mix of my own emotions is the following:
For far too many centuries, Mankind (humans-as-a-species; forgive the linguistic gender bias) has appealed to a higher power to save it from its miseries – more often than not, miseries it caused on its own. Mankind has prayed and pleaded, committed sacrifices to ‘please’ that (or those) higher power(s), and invented strict rules of behaviour which were meant to appease it (them). For many of those early centuries, when Mankind was in its ‘infancy’, our invented divinities played the parental role well – consoling, ‘punishing’, and establishing limits for this infant collective.
But Mankind has had ample time in which to mature and assume responsibility for its own existence. Mankind fears many things, but prominent among them are The Unknown (such as the question of whether there is anything beyond death) and Being Alone. It is most certainly understandable then, if Mankind is Alone in the Unknown, that it has shied away from acknowledging this. It has desperately clung to this notion of a higher power, even though the collective knowledge of the species (Science and Philosophy) has diminished The Unknown considerably. This is like the ‘adult adolescent’ – the grown-up person who still lives at home, and though physically it is adult and thus is expected to assume adult responsibilities (taxes, employment, an occupation, marriage, and starting a family of its own), mentally and emotionally, the individual is stunted and immature. It would be incapable of doing (or simply would not think to do) many things, were it not for their overly-patient parents who do these things for their overgrown child. (This is not to say that ‘just as an immature adult nevertheless lives with an actual parent, so too does mankind have an actual god’ – the actual existence or not of a higher power is not the topic of discussion here.) There is also a notion of this prolonged dependence as being ‘unhealthy’: just as a ‘people-pleaser’ can never really please all people, nor can they be fulfilled or develop their own well-defined identity so long as they continue to conform to other people’s expectations and desires; so too Mankind as a whole cannot expect to please an imagined higher power nor can it fulfil its potential while it continues to defer to the power of an imaginary being over its own capacity to effect change.
So I am of the opinion that it behoves the species to finally recognize and accept that it is Alone in the Unknown. It may help, however, to recognize a crucial difference between the Individual and the Species as a whole: While the majority of individuals may feel this fear, and thus the species as a whole may be seen to suffer from this fear, the primary element of fear – that of being Alone – does not apply to the species – precisely because it is a species (i.e. a collectivity of individuals). The individual can find consolation for this fear of Being Alone in the recognition of the fact that it is not ‘alone’ – but that there are many many individuals which form our unique species. That is to say we’re not alone – we have each other. As such then, we realize that we do not need a higher power – because we have each other.
There are many benefits as a reward for such a realization:
– Mankind as a whole will find new freedom and will no longer be held back by two crippling fears – damnation (fear of displeasing a god) and solitude (see above).
– It will necessarily (though admittedly slowly, like growing pains) bring about ‘world peace’ – because if we all recognize we are ‘alone’ but that ‘we have each other’ – or that we are ‘alone together’, then we will immediately have a very deep common truth. We will all have recognized the common plight and thus we will at long last acknowledge the value every individual has in their similar plight.
– Mankind will awaken to its new responsibility as being the ‘leading’ sentient beings (sentient, with opposable thumbs, able to affect its environment and manipulate the world on a large scale) on this one planet and will thus have to adapt its collective impact upon the delicate ecology of this, our only home. The species becomes the Curator and Caretaker for Life on Earth (no longer the purview of a fictional supreme being)
– If there is no god, then there is no ‘people preferred by god’, so there is no ‘people not preferred by god’ either.
So this is an appeal to us as a species, that we see ourselves as mature and at last capable of advancing without an imagined god – for all the moral responsibility that such a conscientious decision entails. It’s time to grow up and leave home, step-out on our own and become responsible and independent. For that, we must make the conscientious decision to let go of our fears, let go of our dependence and let go of our imagined gods. We must, like all adults, face reality as it is, not how we wish it to be. It’s far more beautiful and far more empowering to actually be a part of this reality – with all of its remaining Unknowns.
I have only lightly edited the above, so I am prepared to recognize any and all weaknesses in the logic and reasoning. But as an emotional appeal, what emotions does it stir in you?