I got an email today which contained a question I receive in that medium at least a couple times a week. It was from an atheist who has a religious friend who, sadly, is having a rough go of it lately. The email contained this line...
He said he could not deal with this situation if there is no larger purpose behind it.
He concluded this way...
My question for you is if he gets strength from the belief that he has got this guy in the sky who loves and cares about him, what is the harm? He is not protesting gays or teaching creation to kids. He just thinks people need a higher purpose. What do you think?
This is what I wrote back...
What if somebody told you they needed a crutch to stand, and that without it they would just crumple to the floor? What if they told you the reality of gravity is just too much?
Would you not point out to them that lots of people live perfectly happy without the crutch? Not only are they perfectly happy, but that life is so much more full without it? Would you not tell your friend he can be stronger without the crutch?
If you were my friend, I hope you would.
Now what if some people thought their attachment to the crutch gave them the right to hit others with it? Sure, your friend doesn't feel that way, but he likely concedes their need for the crutch since he feels a similar need.
There can be no utility in a belief that isn't true, and false hope is not something we should want to give our friends - particularly when actual hope is available.
Hope it helps.
Even if faith didn't hurt anything, an idea easily disproven by a scant glance around the world, we shouldn't let the people we love (or the society we love) wallow in complacency because they are too afraid to be better. A good friend urges those they love to be stronger; to be smarter; to be better on the whole.
However, we find ourselves in a situation where the crutch is both a hindrance to our collective potential, but also a detriment to our present societal and individual well-being. What we ought to do under these circumstances seems transparently obvious to me.