Atheism is the outcome of success, the result of man's triumph against both his superstition and his deadly surroundings. When enlightenment is achieved through the strained and hindered efforts of the brave and brilliant, then are the chains of religion broken, the tyranny of absolutism undone, and the glorious adventure of life revealed in all its undimmed splendor. But it may be that this light burns by the power of borrowed fuel and that all effort is vain. It may very likely be that even the greatest testaments to the victories of man are fleeting shadows before the crushing maw of eventuality. Were the worst to come, in the event of utter ruin of everything man has amassed and built, can atheism survive? A better question would be, "Can the ideals of courage and self-possession survive the brunt of a baser, more brutal reality, or would they inevitably give way to the sometimes illogical yet seductive notion of survival at any cost?"
If logic is placed conveniently to one side, then god is the mightiest and most valuable protector in a dangerous world. If one is able to perform the necessary self-deception, then it is possible to pray for deliverance from a plague which must have originated in the all-powerful mind of the deity. What greater comfort could there be in a world filled with bigotry, violence, and the dominance of those driven to impose their own will on others? When a child is born to a father whose older offspring have been wiped out disease, how can the father not cry out against the terrible injustice of reality? How can such a man not hope that beyond everything, including his own common sense, there is a god who, althought he won't necessarily save the child from pestilence, will at least preserve and glorify him in a life beyond the misery into which he was born? As affluence and comfortability in the material world increases, the need for a protector lessens. Although every individual must face that final test of courage before passing on to uncharted vistas beyond the sight of men, there is now real opportunity to achieve greatness in life, or at least live a long life with the joys of loved ones. Earthly life begins to seem worthy in itself.
Were the worst to come to pass though, and were civilization to experience an immense and unprecedented regression, who can tell if the values of the enlightenment could endure? If the lifespan of man were lessened from an average of 70 for men and around 80 for women back to the natural 30 years, would it be too tempting to give into the seduction of an afterlife, despite all justified revulsion and even evidence to the contrary? Impossible to say, only the situation itself would yield the answer. That answer would be determined, as they always are, in the hearts and minds of the individuals. By both sheer probablity and personal admiration for humanity in general, I would have to guess that courage and honesty would not lose out entirely to resignation and doublethink. It is true, after all, that throughout history, there has always been at least one lonesome spirit with the courage not to shirk from truth, but to embrace it regardless of the outcome, to embrace it purely out of love.