Let’s look a little more closely at some of Susan Jacoby’s atheistic beliefs:
It is a positive blessing, not a negation of belief, to be free of what is known as the theodicy problem.
Different strokes for different folks, I suppose. But this one doesn’t make sense to me. Yes, religious people think that “bad things happen to good people” for a reason. They don’t know for sure what the reason is, but they do believe there is some reason. Jacoby seems to think not knowing the reason is a terrible state to be in and would have us believe it is therefore a “blessing” to think “bad things happen to good people” for no reason at all.
The atheist is free to concentrate on the fate of this world — whether that means visiting a friend in a hospital or advocating for tougher gun control laws — without trying to square things with an unseen overlord in the next…..We do want our fellow citizens to respect our deeply held conviction that the absence of an afterlife lends a greater, not a lesser, moral importance to our actions on earth.
Yeah, I have heard all this before. If I had just fallen off the turnip truck, I might be willing to buy it. But the problem is that I just don’t see much evidence that atheists have some superior ability to concentrate on the fate of this world. Perhaps Jacoby is confused and thinks “fate of the world” is supposed to be the same as obsessing about what you should be called. And neither do I see much evidence to think belief in God gets in the way of concentrating on the fate of this world. Jacoby is simply parroting some stale talking point.
As for atheists holding some deeply held conviction that the absence of an afterlife lends a greater moral importance to our actions on earth, that pretty much depends on the atheist. Some atheists don’t assign any great moral importance to their actions. Others, like those who populate the A+ movement, seem to have an overly inflated sense of moral importance to their words. In religion, we recognize that as self-righteousness. And some of the most self-righteous people on the internet are atheists.
Today’s atheists would do well to emulate some of the great 19th-century American freethinkers, who insisted that reason and emotion were not opposed but complementary……. We need to demonstrate that atheism is rooted in empathy as well as intellect.
So the community that insists science and religion are incompatible is now going to embrace the notion that emotion and reason are complementary? Well, intellectual consistency has never been a strong point of atheism. What matters here is that Jacoby is acknowledging that reason alone is an insufficient guide.
He also frequently delivered secular eulogies at funerals and offered consolation that he clearly considered an important part of his mission. In 1882, at the graveside of a friend’s child, he declared: “They who stand with breaking hearts around this little grave, need have no fear. The larger and the nobler faith in all that is, and is to be, tells us that death, even at its worst, is only perfect rest … The dead do not suffer.”
I guess that sounds nice, but is it a mere coincidence that Ingersoll’s most lofty consolation is really just the same reasoning we use when we decide to euthanize our pets?