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The celebration of Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in June 1897 marked the high point of British imperial history. It was a supreme moment of national self-confidence and congratulation. The British had created an empire on which the sun never set, and much of its colorful diversity was on display in the streets of London that summer.

But Earth's proud empires fade away. The same process of growth and decay can be seen in the empires of the mind. There comes a point when their attraction pales and their credibility falters. To wit: Atheism is in trouble. Its future seems increasingly to lie in the private beliefs of individuals rather than in the great public domain it once regarded as its natural habitat.

Pathology No Longer


Atheism was once new, exciting, and liberating, and for those reasons held to be devoid of the vices of the faiths it displaced. With time, it turned out to have just as many frauds, psychopaths, and careerists as religion does. Many have now concluded that these personality types are endemic to all human groups, rather than being the peculiar preserve of religious folks. With Stalin and Madalyn Murray O'Hair, atheism seems to have ended up mimicking the vices of the Spanish Inquisition and the worst televangelists, respectively.

One of the most important criticisms that Sigmund Freud directed against religion was that it encourages unhealthy and dysfunctional outlooks on life. Having dismissed religion as an illusion, Freud went on to argue that it is a negative factor in personal development. At times, Freud's influence has been such that the elimination of a person's religious beliefs has been seen as a precondition for mental health.

Freud is now a fallen idol, the fall having been all the heavier ...

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In the Magazine

March 2005

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