I've tried various ways of looking at the situation, taking hints from popular atheist authors such as Carl Sagan and Richard Dawkins. Sagan, for instance, once wrote,
How is it that hardly any major religion has looked and science and concluded, "This is better than we thought! The Universe is much bigger than our prophets said, grander, more subtle, more elegant?" Instead they say, "No, no, no! My god is a little god, and I want him to stay that way." A religion, old or new, that stressed the magnificence of the Universe as revealed by modern science might be able to draw forth reserves of reverence and awe hardly tapped by the conventional faiths (Pale Blue Dot, p50).
Dawkins echoes his sentiments:
...the universe is genuinely mysterious, grand, beautiful, awe inspiring. The kinds of views of the universe which religious people have traditionally embraced have been puny, pathetic, and measly in comparison to the way the universe actually is. The universe presented by organized religions is a poky little medieval universe, and extremely limited ("A Survival Machine").
I cannot disagree more with this kind of assessment. To be sure, the universe is a grand and mysterious place, and sparks our imaginations to wonder and awe. However, as marvelous as is the real world, the human stories told by religions such as Christianity and Judaism touch us in a far more personal way. Instead of nontheism's mysterious and mindless sea of stars, black holes and quantum fluctuations, Abrahamic religion offers to enrich our cultural history by weaving into it a sympathetic creator who has designed us in his image, and who cares about our well-being and shelters us from evil. And speaking of good and evil, religion tries to paint these concepts as monolithic forces vying for supremacy in this world---a romantic struggle in which we may take an active role. And on top of all this, theism still retains almost all the wondrous mystery of the physical universe!
I'm tempted to write that none of this means I wish I was a theist. But it wouldn't be true. Sure, I want to be satisfied by the truth, and by epistemic responsibility, but that doesn't mean I am. I may well be better off as a Christian, even if God doesn't exist. In fact, I'm inclined to think that I would be a much happier person.
I was recently reminded of this while reading George MacDonald's Phantastes. It's about a young man named Anodos who discovers he has fairy ancestry, and embarks on a journey through "Fairy Land," where he encounters all manner of wild and exotic fairy beings and elements. But after having been tricked by an ogre-woman, he is haunted by his "shadow," which follows him through Fairy Land and disenchants all upon which it falls. At one point, for example, he meets a wonderful little fairy child with magical fairy trinkets; but when the shadow wraps around him, Anodos suddenly sees only an ordinary boy with a straw hat and unremarkable toys. This sort of thing happens several times, whereupon Anodos begins to reflect on his situation. From the novel:
But the most dreadful thing of all was, that I now began to feel something like satisfaction in the presence of the shadow. I began to be rather vain of my attendant, saying to myself; "In a land like this, with so many illusions everywhere, I need his aid to disenchant the things around me. He does away with all appearances, and shows me things in their true colour and form. And I am not one to be fooled with the vanities of the common crowd. I will not see beauty where there is none. I will dare to behold things as they are. And if I live in a waste instead of a paradise, I will live knowing where I live" (pp103-104).
This passage struck me rather hard. What a lamentable position has nontheism put us in! On one hand, we value the truth, and knowing our place in the world. But this does nothing to mitigate the terrible absence of higher purpose, or of grand design.
What then, is left for us? Shall we accept Pascal's wager, as it were, and drown ourselves in Christian culture and influence in order that we might have a better chance of one day finding ourselves duped or seduced into believing the unbelievable? I think not. As wonderful as that might be for each of us individually, we have a moral responsibility to promote truth for the sake of those others who would benefit from it. But neither can I approve of those propagating the evidently false notion that religion is somehow smaller in imagination than nontheism. Honesty will not permit it.