Not all unbelievers are militant atheists. George Santayana was naturalist, materialist, and atheist, yet he thought well of religion. In an essay entitled “Whether Naturalism is Irreligious,” he defended his views of the matter as follows:
Materialism is not itself a theology, as are some forms of idealism. Its inspiration and temper are purely scientific and intellectual. But why should so pleasant a thing as science and so vital a thing as intelligence be angry with the world they explore? And they spoil their own work if, with a vehemence which is not naturalistic but political and moral, they inveigh against religion, in the manner of Lucretius or of modern anticlericals. The materialist in his ethics and politics should be a humanist, an anthropologist, and a philanthropist; and is it love of man that prompts the hatred of religion? No: it is insensibility to the plight of man and to all that which man most deeply loves. Modern materialists, I must confess, have usually had vulgar and jejune minds; but not so the ancients who were materialists by nature, and not foolishly hostile to popular religion or without religion in their hearts. And they were the only normal materialists, harbouring towards politics, morals, and religion the sentiments proper to a naturalist. They were not deceived by these human passions and inspirations, but understood them and knew the place and the need of images in the world; and when they were poets they sang the praises of the gods with a tender emotion.
So much benevolence may be shown to religion by the intelligent materialist; it is the same benevolence that he feels towards the senses, in both cases delighting in the image without mistaking it for a substance. The substance of both, in his view, will be ultimately the same: namely the Power that brings these images and feelings before the spirit in this order and with this irresistible force. So much he may consistently feel and say without transcending the natural sphere, but still taking the imagination only for a system of signs, to be interpreted as effects produced in the animal psyche by the revolutions of matter within and without that animal….
Now what materialists have always abhorred in religion is its pretense to be a practical art, its magic, its false miracles, its appeals to animal thrift, prudence, and fear. With the spiritual side of religion they have had little acquaintance. On the spiritual side religion is not a false science but an ideal affection. It does not misrepresent the facts but transcends them. Often where this question touches politics the materialist, being a realist, may feel a natural aversion from the waste, as he thinks it, of faith, sacrifice, and money in keeping up official religions. The natural limitations of human taste and faculty will probably hold him back from developing a religious life in himself. But there would be nothing inconsistent with his materialism if he became a poet, a musician, or a hermit; and his judgments upon existence and the direction of his affection and invention in the ideal sphere might be those of an ancient prophet, as they might be those of a pure artist, without any departure from materialism in his natural philosophy. He might live in moral harmony with the power, the order, and the spirit in the whole universe, and cherish nothing but friendliness towards the traditional religion prevailing in his time and country.
Any philosophy whose temper is purely scientific and unbiased will harbor sentiments similar to those of Santayana’s toward religion. To regard religion with hatred or contempt is to regard it without any depth or wisdom. The militant atheist is animated, not by a disinterested love for truth and wisdom, but by the fanaticism of party spirit. He attacks religion because he sees it as a rival to be destroyed, rather than as a phenomenon to be appreciated and understood. Objectivism, as will be made clear in the ensuing series of posts, has no real insight into religion. It has no idea what religion means in practical terms, nor does it have a clue about the role that religion plays in the lives of individuals or society at large. Objectivism does not view religion as a scientist or naturalist would view it; rather, it regards religion as one brand of fundamentalism regards all other fundamentalisms: with suspicion and hostility.