People who call themselves atheists often say rather strange things about people with faith—things like, “Well, if you need the comfort, go on and believe.” An odd notion, that there is “comfort” in faith. Serious believers often don’t find it so.
Actually, it has sometimes seemed to me that the persistence of horrible evils in the world creates no discomfort at all for consistent atheists. Why should the world be otherwise, since everything springs from absurdity, chance, meaninglessness? For that matter, the obviousness of great evil in the world is often used by atheists to account for their atheism.
It is the believer who suffers great pain internally in coming face to face with horrid poverty in Haiti, and in the heat of swarming, overcrowded Bangladesh, and with images of human brutality and sadism, generation after generation. For the believer holds that God is good—all-seeing, all-powerful—and yet he allows so much human suffering to continue.
Who feels in tumult internally about evil in the world—the believer or the unbeliever?
And who feels discomfited when seasons of dryness and aridity blow through the soul, when no God appears, when there is in imagination, senses, memory, and intelligence no presence of God at all, no sign, only nothingness?
If it is comfort that you seek, do not go to belief. Stay with those who take malicious pleasure in chance, meaninglessness, and nothingness “all the way down,” in what Richard Rorty calls “nihilism with a smiling face.”
And feel superior to those so weak they still need the “comforts” of belief.
Published in First Things Online August 2, 2006