Your lover is ugly; how could you fail to see these hideous scars? And what about this appalling history of violence? The early and recurrent madness? Of course, your family, friends and neighbours are all deluded too. Finally, and worst of all, your lover, the centre of your world, is really just a figment of your imagination.
Sound familiar? It’s the standard approach taken by books extolling atheism. And we wonder why the news doesn’t go down so well!
In Breaking The Spell, Dan Dennett speculates that religious devotion is a form of love. Certain religions may be happy with this view, after all, does not God reciprocate with his love for you too? But Dennett is looking to explain the tenacious pathology of sincere unfounded belief in the non-existent, not to inspire a warm fuzzy hug-in. To an evolutionary psychologist, love’s use is as the mental character encouraging long monogamous relationships so slow-growing and vulnerable human children may be looked after by a single pair of adults. Of course, even a psychologist knows that the experience of loving another may be wonderful, mysterious and rich; evolutionary explanations add knowledge to the experiential side without subtracting from it. The ubiquitous love of imaginary beings, some argue, is just a misdirected side effect of our ability to love real people.
Whether or not a religious person is in any meaningful way truly in love with God, faith certainly shares similar deeply held features with love such as partisanship, exclusivity and comforting blindness to logic (no, your lover isn’t the most beautiful or intelligent person in the world). So it is hardly surprising that when we atheists try to break the news to religious folk that they are misguided star-struck fools we get a prickly response. Not only are we telling people that the object of their love doesn’t exist and that everything that they think is important to them is absurd and dangerous, we are also explaining that they cannot or should not ever love in this way again. Read more »