ne frequently heard argument for theism regards the desire for comfort. “If believing in God [Yahweh] brings a person comfort,” says the argument, “then what is wrong with that?”
Even if religion on balance does more harm than good, for a particular individual at a particular time in life it may do more good than harm. No one is trying to forcefully strip religion from anybody, and particularly not from the terminally ill, prison inmates, those grieving the loss of a loved one, or anyone else who seeks comfort in supernatural beliefs during difficult times. It is inappropriate to tell a religionist on her death bed that the afterlife is a delusion and she ought to accept that death is final. What she needs at that moment is kindness, understanding, and all the love she can get. I would unhesitatingly read from the Bible to a dying Christian, or sing hymns to her, or say the Lord’s Prayer with her if I thought it would help – not because I care about religion but because I care about people.
But there are two things wrong with the Argument from Comfort.
The first problem stems from the fact that the comforter is also the creator of the universe (supposedly).
Imagine your friend Janet is on a blind date and it isn’t going well. Janet’s date keeps throwing temper tantrums and making ultimatums. And he demands affection. They go to a movie and the guy keeps putting moves on Janet, and she keeps resisting. Now, Janet happens to have a terrible fear of spiders. Suddenly she sees a spider on the empty chair next to her. In her terror she jumps into the arms of her date, and he happily comforts her. He doesn’t do anything to actually remove the spider, but at least while she is in his arms Janet feels safer. The spider then crawls onto Janet’s leg, and now her need for comfort is all the greater. Her date still does nothing to remove the spider, but he grabs and holds and strokes Janet’s body, comforting away gleefully.
You are sitting a few rows back at the same movie theater. You saw something that Janet did not. When Janet wasn’t looking, her date pulled a wriggling spider by the leg from his jacket pocket, reached surreptitiously behind Janet’s back, and placed the spider on the chair next to her. He knew she didn’t like spiders and he wanted to have an excuse to comfort her.
A guy like that is a first class creep, right?
“Yahweh the Comforter” is like the creepy blind date. It is his fault we need comfort in the first place. If he were truly a decent fellow, wouldn’t he have created the world such that we wouldn’t require a comforter at all? It is odd (some might even go as far as to say monstrous) that when we suffer from disease, we turn for comfort to the unrepentant creator of the disease.
Yahweh is an unjust god who sentences his own children to suffer for eternity in Hell for mere thought crimes. He allows evil to befall his children even when they are innocent of any evil themselves. No wonder Christians are in such desperate need of comfort! But is turning to the maker of their discomfort logical? And is it really helping?
The second and larger problem with the Argument from Comfort is the utter disregard for truth and the associated costs of self-deception.
Even those Christians who employ the argument must admit it is not an argument for Yahweh in particular; the exact same argument could be used for any supernatural entity or other belief that is not founded upon reason and evidence. Thus it is totally fair to restate the argument thusly:
If believing in flying pink unicorns brings a person comfort, then what is wrong with that?
…or how about this:
If believing that the Apollo moon landing was faked brings a person comfort, then what is wrong with that?
…or even this:
If believing that she is Cleopatra and that we all must bow before her brings a person comfort, then what is wrong with that?
The argument can be used to justify any delusion whatsoever! It is therefore an argument, in actuality, not for Yahweh, but for will-full self-deception. It advocates a cowardly epistemology that places comfort above truth. And in order to choose comfort above truth, on some level you must have a sense that what you believe is untrue. You suspect the truth but push your doubts from your mind. Your sense of comfort therefore comes at a terrible cost. Whatever comfort a person feels from assigning truth value to fantasies they know are untrue is not the sort of comfort worth having.
What is so wrong with believing in the existence of flying pink unicorns? Just that there is utterly no evidence to suggest they actually exist! Are you truthfully comfortable with that?
The Argument from Comfort betrays the theist who uses it. It reveals that they harbor secret doubts. The argument is tantamount to saying, “Between you and me, I’m unsure about Yahweh but I’m afraid of the alternative, so can I please continue believing the lie?” Their belief is weak, their comfort is shallow, and the cognitive dissonance must be unbearable. Their comfort zone is a realm of stagnation, and for their own good they ought to consider stepping outside of it.
If you stand upright in the full light of truth, and if you face reality boldly as it is (instead of as you might wish it were), and if you part ways with consoling fictions, then a new sense of comfort will become available to you. This new comfort will be deeper, stronger, purer, and more profound than any comfort you ever found in self-deception. You will meet the real universe, unembellished by religious lies, for the first time, and realize it is not such a bad place; in fact it’s downright wonderful. When you have the humility to admit what you do not know, and the honesty to embrace your doubts, and the integrity to follow evidence faithfully to reasonable conclusions, then you will be ready to build a belief system free from cognitive dissonance, free from pretending, and free from self-imposed thought policing. This will bring you real comfort. And it will be a huge relief.