I was thinking about two end of class questions today, regarding how one could believe in god without believing that god actually exists, and whether this belief is pointless like a child’s belief in an imaginary friend. I think atheistic existentialists would very much agree with this comparison, in that they would argue the child’s imaginary friend, just like God, serves a very important function despite the fact that they do not believe either actually exist.
I think that when people are placed in situations where they have trouble accounting for what has happened, for the meaning in life, for their own purpose, as existentialism in a way requires one to do, an easy and comforting fall back is to look for something else to provide meaning. In the case of the child and imaginary friend, although the imaginary friend does not exist, it is a helpful and meaningful belief for the child. The imaginary friend allows for the child to take comfort in having a relation with another being that understands their problems, is a best friend, knows them better than anyone else and provides them with a constant source of strength, especially when they lack other real human relationships. In the same way, regardless of whether or not any god actually does in fact exist or not, the belief in god provides for many people a lot of the same comforts.
Atheistic existentialist would argue that god, like an imaginary friend, can be a source of comfort in a lonely world, allowing people to transform their anxiety into a meaningful suffering.When something bad happens, it is for some immensely comforting to say that there is a god who has a reason for this unfortunate event occurring. When hit by a feeling of anxiety about the possibilities of life, it may be comforting to believe there is a plan that will guide one safely through it. When struggling with questions of whether or not there is any meaning to life at all, it may be more comforting to assert that a god has made an absolute meaning than to believe that there is no meaning at all.
Frankl argues that all humans strive to create or to find meaningful answers to our problems, and that as a result it may be as natural for humans to find meaning and comfort in believing in god as it is for a lonely child to find meaning and comfort in their relationship with an imaginary friend. This is all good as long as every believer recognizes that they create and believe in god in the same way that a child creates and believes in an imaginary friend. According to atheistic existentialist, neither the child or the existential believer should really think that the imaginary friend or god exist in reality, while this does not mean they cannot value their beliefs as meaningful since believing in these things is an expression of their own meaning making potential.
Atheistic existentialists would view this belief as good, though, only insofar as believers do not start attributing meanings and values as existing independently of themselves. Just as parents are scared if a child begins claiming to act on the instruction of their imaginary friend, atheistic existentialists are scared by religion when believers start claiming to act in accordance to the purposes of a god.