Recently PZ Myers was considering a question from an atheist who wondered whether it would be better to hold false beliefs if those beliefs led to a more peaceful and fulfilling world. PZ answered that such a scenario would not be better, reminding me why I consider him to be one of the most honest atheists out there. As he explains:
“You see, living a lie is nearly universally considered a bad thing. Even the people who most devoutly believe in the most wacky fundybeliefs, or scientologists, or Mormons, do not argue that their ideas are falsebut that they believe in them anyway — they all argue that they are literallytrue. The truth of Christianity or Islam or Hinduism or whatever is consideredvery important, but they’ve simply deluded themselves into believing that they
are true (and we know that they can’t all be true, since they’re mutuallycontradictory).”
The problem with this answer is that almost all atheists do live a lie; they have to or they couldn’t live. As I have pointed out elsewhere there is no reason for atheists to believe they can choose their beliefs, or that human rights exist, or human equality has any basis in reality, or that they should be concerned with the suffering of strangers. In fact PZ’s statement contains a lie he himself apparently holds; namely that it should be considered bad to ‘live a lie’. There is in fact nothing in atheism that would lead one to that conclusion. For the most part atheists conform to the morality of the society around them because it is comfortable to do so, not because such conformity proceeds from beliefs they hold to be true.
And that is one of the primary differences between atheism and Christianity – atheists must live a lie in order to operate in ordinary society. Christians on the other hand can act consistently with their beliefs to the betterment of society.
So whether or not atheists consider it bad to live a lie, they all do.