Bruce Sheiman recently published a book descriptively entitled "An Atheist Defends Religion: Why Humanity Is Better Off With Religion Than Without It".

A blog written by a self-professed fence-sitting agnostic gave it a
positive reivew and provided a lot of nice HL Mencken quotes.

Bruce Sheiman issued this poorly considered response:


Given that Mencken famously made up the history of the bathtub, only to see it propagated in encyclopedias for decades thereafter, he knows a few things about making things up. And he had little use for the made-up stories of religion. Neither do I.

But as I say in my book, religion is more about meaning and purpose than facts and events. And I want to congratulate you on offering the best interpretation of my book’s reason for being compared to other reviewers.

Religion has value despite its being scientifically false. And after living more than half a lifetime, I would rather live the “inauthentic life” of a believer than in the stark, naked atheistic reality that we are all “food for worms” and that the universe cares not for my existence. That makes me an “unhappy atheist.” And I assert that most atheists are unhappy with their creedless belief system.

It is so much more fulfilling to believe in something than nothing – or, worse — to believe in an anti-belief, i.e., to base my existence on the antithesis of someone else’s belief. Atheists can try to make that into a virtue (“free-thinkers living life courageously”). But as Dr. Phil asks, Would you rather be right or happy?

Given the choice, I would choose the latter. But as I make clear in my book, it is rarely a choice. Atheism or theism is what one is; it is not what one chooses. And that is precisely why the “debate” is a useless exercise: if belief or unbelief is not a choice, then all the argumentation in the world cannot change one’s position.

Alas, I remain an atheist.

Bruce Sheiman

What do you think of that? Has anyone read Bruce's book?

My response to Bruce Sheiman is in the comments below.

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My mom and I recently talked about this sort of thing. I said that devout Christians are more concerned with their ideals than reality, and that's why it's so dangerous to put them into political offices. That's where it started, and traveled back to atheists and the religious in general. She said that there was a necessity for religion in a world full of desperate people. When I said that desperation hardly seemed like a good reason to believe something, she told me that I am an idealist. And then, we talked about "God is Dead."

I suppose she's right, because I hate to think that most people don't have minds of their own. Is it such a romantic thing to care about the state of humanity? Why on earth would someone rather be happy than right?
God cleans up after you if you're wrong.
Being happy means I get to have everything, and everyone else can go suck it! Being right, means everyone gets a piece of that happiness.
Or you could believe in the beauty of nature and real things within the Universe...? I'm sorry that he's an unhappy atheist, but maybe he could work on finding joy in his life rather than manufacturing it through myth and happy, shiny delusions? Happiness is a state of mind, not a given set of beliefs, thoughts, or life circumstances.

"I would rather live the 'inauthentic life' of a believer..." - instead you're living an inauthentic life as a non-believer since you still seek the pacifier of making up reality? Acceptance of reality is a big step, but that doesn't mean you can't be happy with it.

"...than in the stark, naked atheistic reality that we are all 'food for worms' and that the universe cares not for my existence. That makes me an 'unhappy atheist.' And I assert that most atheists are unhappy with their creedless belief system." That's an interesting conglomeration of ideas, but I don't think you can apply it to atheism. The only requirement for the title of "atheist" is lack of belief in gods. You don't have to believe we are all nothing but worm food or that you have no value in the universe, or even that there's no afterlife or other non-god related concepts.

It is only the weak that would ever be unhappy with what is, only those who feel cheated that their fantasyland isn't real who would want to go back to living the "inauthentic life of a believer." People who are glad that their realityland is awesome are perfectly happy with the Universe as it is.

Isn't it enough to see that a garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it too?
Douglas Adams

We can be happy AND right.
This reminds me of Penn Jillette's essay for NPR's "This I Believe" series.

Many of you have probably already heard it but if not, you should. I think it's a classic.

You can listen to it here:

But I also really like the annotated version of the transcript here:
A good friend of mine does not believe in god, he is a priest, actually a monsignor now. He told me that he was going to live his life as if God does exist because he thought that maybe god was testing him by not giving him faith, so he would live as though he did believe, and prove himself worthy of faith.
Doug, that is some extremely high-qualify cognitive dissonance going on there.
I bet it would be hard to take such a big step. If you went through so much religious training and dedicated your life to it, to that extent... it must be very hard to admit that it's all BS, even after you realize it rationally.

Maybe in time he'll be ready to take the next step. Then again, how else do you make a living if the only training and job experience you have is as a cult leader!?
He told me this before he entered seminary.
You know, I'll admit something. Sometimes I catch myself thinking that maybe this is really a big test. Like, one I day, I'll stand before God and he'll say I passed because I didn't accept that bullshit he scrawled in the Bible.

Have you ever seen Pan's Labyrinth? After the girl completes all these tasks Pan has set out for her, her last mission is to allow him to cut her little brother with a knife just for "a little" blood. Pan and his underground kingdom are this girl's last hope, but she refuses to let him hurt the baby. In the last scene, the girl is rewarded for passing the last test because she refused to shed the blood of an "innocent", even to save herself. Although Pan had been adamant that she always do as he says and not question him, she still followed her gut instinct of what was right.

In the Bible, Abraham was poised to shed the blood of an "innocent" and was commended for his faith and obedience. WTF? And then there are other child-sacrifices, not to mention animal sacrifices. I think what this sort of thing should REALLY be a test of is how far is one willing to go. There should be a limit and, of course, God (or whomever) would command unquestioned obedience. Once the person followed through on the command, then their character should be judged: You're willing to slay your own child to prove your faith? FAIL!

So, I still have this tiny, lingering fear that there is a god, and I hope its actually good and not evil; that he/she will appreciate my innate sense of justice as opposed to my blind obedience.

But, then I come to my senses and realize it's all just a cleverly assembled set of fables meant to control the masses.
Yeah, I know, it's the most convoluted logic I've ever encountered, but he's a good guy, he's honest, and he's serious.
"I would rather live the 'inauthentic life' of a believer..."

wow that seems whack....just saying


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