What do atheists do in a crisis?

I was watching this video posted on a popular blog. It is about what atheists do when faced with a crisis warning? David Silverman brought up a point during the discussion(well, sort of!!) which is one that I use often but haven’t up until now witnessed being used in a debate.

A lot of people argue for religion saying that the prayers and rituals are a great source of comfort for a great many people. A last hope, an ultimate consolation it seems. This is one argument that I have never been able to stomach and for all its superficial appearance of being one that a kind and understanding person would espouse, I feel that at a deeper level it is sad, pathetic and cruel. The strength of the argument lies merely in its wording and it’s use of the words comfort, solace etc. along with the condescending tone of the voice that makes the argument. It could be restated this way.

“Hey, people are really stupid and some people don’t know how to deal with their problems and even if they do, they needlessly worry about whether the measures they have taken are adequate. In such situations a little lying to oneself is helpful. There is a tsunami coming? Tell him that the God who didn’t care about stopping it is going to protect him from it. There, now he is relaxed and peaceful! See? Religion is so beautiful.” If a person is indeed helpless, then how is it kind to him/her to ask him to turn for help to non-existent things? What if there are still things that you need to/can do? Why is it that most people have such a low opinion of other’s coping capacity? If the uncertainty is unbearable, is irrational hope the only answer? What would you think of a grown up guy believing in Santa Claus? Sad or beautiful? Why think differently of someone who believes that someone up there is waiting for the right moment to jump in and help him?

Of course you could say that there is no harm in a little solace. Yes, no harm! But, then, what is the problem with heroin, marijuana or alcohol? All of them give some level of comfort and make one forget his/her troubles for a while. Some of them are cheaper than religion. They don’t degrade your intellect, cause you to become judgmental or lead to you making decisions not based on fact when you are not under their influence.  At least, not to the extent that religion does. So, you should encourage their use by people for comfort, right? Well, no! We have an innate sense of what is right and wrong and somehow artificial reduction of anxiety and pain which is usually the sign of some deeper malaise doesn’t sit well with our conscience. One would feel that same way about prayer only if we can firmly remind ourselves that it doesn’t work. Once that concept is completely grasped, we will feel that same revulsion for prayer and religion that one would feel for drugs and drinking.