The essence of this claim seems to be that the good of religion outweighs the bad. I suspect that most theists use this claim strategically in order to force the atheist into a defensive posture rather than because they genuinely believe it.
That people desire joy, consolation, or hope is a point which we can concede. Of course we desire it! But how is it supposed to follow that this makes religion a good thing?
- P1: Humans desire consolation.
- P2: Religion can be a source of consolation.
- C: Religion is a good thing.
Regardless, the desired conclusion (C) does not follow from the premises. But even if the logic was not flawed, all you have to do is substitute "religion" with "drugs" or anything else that can provide consolation to some. Just because something can bring happiness to some does not make it a good thing. Sexual sadists receive pleasure from the infliction of pain and suffering on others. Surely there are few who would argue that this necessarily makes their torturous acts morally acceptable.
Even if we grant that religion can sometimes provide comfort to those in need, this does not change the fact that it is false comfort. Lying to a child may make him or her feel better temporarily, but this does not make the lie either true or morally justifiable.
But isn't the suffering caused by religion what we atheists should oppose rather than the beliefs themselves? We do oppose what religion leads people to do, but we also oppose it because it is irrational. Religion requires the believer to suspend rational judgment and to accept things as true without evidence that they are true. On this basis, I would oppose religion even if I could be convinced that it did far less harm in the world than it does.
Tags: religion, hope, faith, belief, reason, atheism