Like what you've read?

On Line Opinion is the only Australian site where you get all sides of the story. We don't
charge, but we need your support. Here�s how you can help.

  • Advertise

    We have a monthly audience of 70,000 and advertising packages from $200 a month.

  • Volunteer

    We always need commissioning editors and sub-editors.

  • Contribute

    Got something to say? Submit an essay.

 The National Forum   Donate   Your Account   On Line Opinion   Forum   Blogs   Polling   About   
On Line Opinion logo ON LINE OPINION - Australia's e-journal of social and political debate


On Line Opinion is a not-for-profit publication and relies on the generosity of its sponsors, editors and contributors. If you would like to help, contact us.


RSS 2.0

Humans do not need to comfort themselves with fairy tales

By Kelly O'Connor - posted Friday, 1 February 2008

The idea that human beings universally need some form of mythological belief has been one of the mainstays of the defenders of faith for centuries. They claim that even if god doesn’t exist or religion causes violence and hatred, it’s acceptable because it makes some people feel better about the harsh realities of life. This is a multi-pronged deceptive ploy used to abdicate themselves from any responsibility for those actions and to keep people thinking that their assertion is correct.

Many people have either been raised without theistic belief or have abandoned theism and discovered even greater meaning and value for their lives. Peter Bowden assumes in his article “God, Atheism, and Human Needs” (On Line Opinion) that proponents of atheism such as Dawkins, Hitchens, Onfray, and Dennett must provide “deeper insight into ourselves, our needs as human beings, and ways to conduct our lives”.

In essence, a replacement for, rather than the elimination of, religion. Life does seem much simpler when all of the answers are handed to you on a silver platter (or aged papyri), but it eliminates the worthwhile exercise of introspection and discovery that one must engage in to formulate their own self-concepts, needs, and morals.


This makes Bowden’s claim that atheists are “[avoiding] a fundamental quest of the human race” even more absurd. Figuring these things out for oneself is infinitely more important, and difficult, than accepting an ancient dogma in its stead.

Perhaps the reason why so many are opposed to self-examination is because it is exactly as I described it - exercise. It can be excruciatingly difficult to step outside of yourself, examine your beliefs, and dissect that which lies beneath your exterior. If one has been inculcated with the notion that whatever resides in there is dirty, depraved, and evil, that urge to integrate your beliefs and behaviour will be furiously resisted and likely satiated with religion.

Being told that your worldview is incorrect and that it’s going to be a difficult process to regain your bearings once you realise that there is no grand plan for your life will often be interpreted as an attack. Even if doing nothing more than pointing out the harm that has been done under the auspices of piety, the news will not be received with accolades from the religious.

Compartmentalisation and rationalisation (as in the psychological phenomenon) are fundamental aspects of maintaining any faith-based belief in the face of contrary evidence. Despite the common perception, it is not viciousness which compels us as atheists to speak out against religion. It is with the hope that we can help those who live under the ever-looming spectre of god’s presence to stop accepting the illusion of freedom and truly experience it.

Bowden points out that one of the charges frequently levelled against religion is its bellicosity. The reason that argument is so often used is because it is true. Religion has been the impetus for more violence than any other single reason throughout history. Was the acquisition of territory, resources, and power often a corroborating justification? Of course.

Religion is unique, though, in the sense that it literally dehumanises those with different beliefs, similar to the way that racism does. The adherents of a different religion are literally inferior to their opponents, and too often the drive to appropriate their land or wealth is intensified and rationalised by the division between the two groups. Evangelism has long been used as a cover for the usurpation of power from native inhabitants. After all, god would want to civilise the savages, now wouldn’t he? Certainly, religion is not the sole force, but it is definitely a contributing factor, and one that could be eliminated.


The two arguments that can be proposed to counter the case that the hazards of religion outweigh the benefits are the comfort and meaning it supposedly provides people and that religious groups may help less fortunate people. The latter is true, but only within certain confines. Missionaries who traverse the globe “helping people” often do little more than proselytise, and their aid may depend on your acceptance of their doctrine or willingness to attend church services. In the case of the Catholic Church in Sub-Saharan Africa, it can actually be detrimental. Soup kitchens and homeless shelters may have similar prerequisites, although not all do.

Bowden asserts that “atheists are not into helping others in any organised way”. This is demonstrably false as there are more and more secular charities arising every day, but why would one expect there to be large charities funded by what essentially amounts to a non-group of people? Atheists are individuals with no churches and, until recently, little social networking. On an individual level, though, atheists are some of the world’s largest contributors to charities around the world. In fact, the number one philanthropist on Earth is an atheist. Ever hear of Bill Gates?

That being said, I would encourage people to gather together and contribute in whatever way they are able, not to promote a group or a name, but to create a better world for every person. We are all united in the sense that we are humans sharing this planet, and that is infinitely more important than allegiances to imaginary dictators.

  1. Pages:
  2. Page 1
  3. 2
  4. All

First published by the Rational Response Squad on January 24, 2008.

Discuss in our Forums

See what other readers are saying about this article!

Click here to read & post comments.

71 posts so far.

Share this:
reddit this reddit thisbookmark with Del.icio.usdigg thisseed newsvineSeed NewsvineStumbleUpon StumbleUponsubmit to propellerkwoff it

About the Author

Kelly O'Connor is one of the owners of, one of the world's largest atheist websites/communities. Kelly is a Psychology major, co-host of the RRS Radio show, and has been featured on ABC (United States) debating Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort.

Related Links
God, Atheism, and Human Needs - On Line Opinion

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

Photo of Kelly O'Connor
Article Tools
Comment 71 comments
Print Printable version
Subscribe Subscribe
Email Email a friend

About Us Search Discuss Feedback Legals Privacy