But If There Is No Tooth Fairy...
By Farell Till
(The Skeptical Review)
Theists never tire of painting skepticism and atheism as philosophies of despair and doom. Immediately after publishing our belief that morality depends on neither God nor the Bible, the cries of outrage began to arrive, the strongest of which was Bill Lockwood's article "The Skeptic's Sword" which appears on pages 8-9 of this issue. The message is that it conveys is typically theistic in outlook: without the security blanket of a god, life is a condition of utter hopelessness.
The only argument the theist has to offer in support of this position appears to be, "If there is no God, then..." The then will vary from "then there is no hope for life after death" to "then there is no absolute standard of morality," but such statements are all rooted in a fallacy of wishful thinking or belief that reality can be altered by personal hopes and aspirations.
Our response to this line of reasoning is what we have already said, "So what?" If there is no life after death, so what? If there is no absolute standard of morality, then so what? No life after death doesn't mean that one cannot make this life satisfying and meaningful. No standard of absolute morality doesn't mean that we cannot use our intelligence to arrive at moral principles that will create orderly societies in which we can work to make life satisfying and meaningful. If theists disagree, then let them continue praying to the sky if it brings them the "happiness" that Lockwood speaks of in his article, but even they will will have to admit that all of the prayers uttered in this country haven't created a very orderly society. Our prisons are filled with people who, if asked, would say that they believe in the god of the Christians, who is presumably the source of the absolute morality that they have all flung down and danced upon.
Nothing is true solely because one wants it to be true. Neither is anything true because an overwhelming majority wants it to be true. If a man is arrested for murder, his mother undoubtedly wants him to be innocent, but if he isn't innocent, then he isn't innocent no matter how much the mother hopes that he is. Neither would a million people on the mother's side, wishing that her son is innocent, make him innocent if he isn't. This principle is so patently true that anyone should see it, yet millions are apparently unable to see it when the principle is applied to religion. The faithful continue to say, "But if there is no God..."
To illustrate the absurdity of such thinking, let's apply it to a child who believes in the tooth fairy. If upon hearing from an older sibling that there is no tooth fairy, what would the child prove by saying, "But if there is no tooth fairy, then when I lose my teeth after I am grown, I'll have to suffer for nothing"? The child's wish for the tooth fairy to be real would in no way make the tooth fairy real. The same is true of the Santa-Claus myth. A child hearing for the first time that there is no Santa Claus could not change reality by saying, "But if there is no Santa Claus, then I won't get any presents when I'm big."
Mormons want the Book of Mormon to be a modern-day revelation from God, but outside of the Mormon Church there are few who believe that it really is. In fact, Christian writers have published tons of literature designed to prove that the Book of Mormon couldn't possibly be a divine revelation. (Incidentally, they use arguments that, if applied to the Bible, will prove that the Bible can't possibly be a divine revelation, either.) Moslems want the Koran to be God's word, but not many Christians would agree that it is, no matter how many wishing and hoping Moslems want it to be. All religious adherents want their particular holy books to be God's word, but most Christians have enough common sense to realize that more than wanting is necessary to make them God's word.
In such matters as these, Christians can all see the absurdity in believing that wishful thinking can change reality, yet many appear unable to apply the same common sense to the religious myths that they believe in. Biblical inerrancy, for example, is an obvious myth. We have published more than ten times enough in The Skeptical Review to banish this myth to the land of fairy tales, yet its adherents stubbornly refuse to accept reality. They go on believing that the Bible is inerrant in everything that it says. They want it to be true, so they believe that it is true.
The same principle applies to the happiness-in-Jesus theme song of Christian fundamentalists. They have had it drilled into them for so long that they automatically equate lack of faith in the Jesus myth with despair and gloom. They want skeptics and atheists to be miserable, so they actually believe that they are. Our own personal experience, however, and what we hear from those who have also experienced the transition from Christian to skeptic tell us that the happiness-in-Jesus patter that rolls so effortlessly from Christian lips is just another unwarranted religious assumption. Many tell us that their faith in Jesus made their lives miserable.
A few months ago, we received a letter from a former Church-of-Christ preacher who had learned upon reading his first issue of TSR that the editor is also an ex-preacher from the same church. He said this about his present state of mind:
After several years of rationalism and realism, I am very comfortable in my beliefs, and this had led to such peace and serenity that I cannot believe it. I am so much happier in my life. Those around me, family and friends, constantly remark at how much more at ease I have become and how much less driven I seem to be. I also feel myself to be a more moral person now than I ever felt I was as a Christian.
It would appear from the reading of one issue of your newsletter, you probably know exactly of what I speak. Sorry to bore you with with the needless details, but I am so happy with who and what I now find myself to be that it's difficult not to share a little of my enthusiasm with someone who understands it.
A longer quotation from this letter, along with the writer's name and address, appears in the "Mailbag" column on page 13 if any "skeptical" Christian wants to verify its genuineness.
In addition to other letters that we could quote, we have some from writers who have asked us to respect their privacy until their prepared to cope with the problems of being avowed skeptics in an intolerant society. They all dispute the theistic claim that skepticism brings despair and gloom.
We receive frequent requests for permission to use TSR materials in computer bulletins. Anyone wishing to do this need not write for permission. Nothing in TSR is copyrighted, specifically because we want the information to be spread as much as possible. We are already receiving subscription requests from those who have seen our articles in computer bulletins. http://www.infide ls.org/library/magazines/tsr/1992/2/2comp92.html
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