Why do people believe in religions? Why do Christians believe the dogma? Why do people retain a faith that flies in the face of reason and rational thought and critical thinking and skepticism? Isn’t faith a belief in what is unseen, not belief in what is absurd and irrational? Isn’t that delusion?
Here I am going to be expressing my opinions for why I think people believe in religions and delusional faith. (I make that distinction, because I don’t think “faith” itself is wrong or should not be believed in. I have faith in my daughter growing up to be an upstanding, moral woman. I have faith in the love of my wife. I have faith in the future progress of humanity. I have faith in the existence of a God that created the universe. This is different than a belief in something that is utterly false and disproved.) In any case, these are my opinions. I’m not a philosopher, a theologian, a scientist — I’m just an ordinary, average Web designer living a middle-class life with undergrad degrees in English and Theatre. So, take my opinions for what they’re worth. If I make you mad, fine. If I offend you, well, to be honest, I’m probably not sorry about it. Much of what I’m about to say is going to be full of “I’m right, you’re wrong” statements, but it’s my opinion (which I will likely present as being fact. Right or wrong.) Part of the purpose is to simply express my thoughts and beliefs, as is the purpose of any journal, online or not. I happen to be allowing the world to view these thoughts if it so wishes. Part of it is because I want you to question what you believe. While most of what I say here will be to the Christian dogma, but I think it is applicable not to just any and all religions, but atheism as well. Any belief system, any belief of faith. Faith unquestioned is delusion, even if it happens to be correct. A paranoid may be psychotic, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that “they’re” NOT out to get him.
So if anyone who stumbles upon this, please read it, and see if it doesn’t spark something in you. Maybe just ire and contempt, and that’s OK. Unfortunate, but OK. I can deal with that. But I’m more hoping it sparks a desire for you to question what you believe. To truly examine it, analyze it, ask questions of yourself. And if you can really, truly, honestly question what you believe and look for answers skeptically and rationally, and you STILL come to believe what you believed before, well, OK then. Because I’m arrogantly certain of what I will say in a moment is correct, I’m still going to question any belief in a religion, but at least you believe it through personal discovery and review of the evidence and not because of dogma. (But I’d still doubt if you truly and honestly and sincerely questioned and scrutinized your “faith”.)
I’m not going to try to disprove religion; my focus is on my belief in why people believe. I’ve already blogged many times my and others’ collection of facts and evidence to show Biblical fallacies and contradictions and whatnot. And at the end of this I’ll just link to some of those entries. But for now, I’m going to try to stick to just the topic of faith and belief itself, and not get too much into the faiths or beliefs themselves.
Like any good High School level paper or oratory, I shall start with definitions:
1. Confident belief in the truth, value, or trustworthiness of a person, idea, or thing.
2. Belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence. See Synonyms at belief. See Synonyms at trust.
3. Loyalty to a person or thing; allegiance: keeping faith with one's supporters.
4. often Faith Christianity. The theological virtue defined as secure belief in God and a trusting acceptance of God's will.
5. The body of dogma of a religion: the Muslim faith.
6. A set of principles or beliefs.
Huh, little did I know until a moment ago that the definition for “faith” includes the idea of dogma. But I think the core definition of belief in a thing without proof or material evidence is the most important and accepted one. And note, that’s WITHOUT proof or evidence, not DESPITE proof or evidence of the contrary.
1. a. The act or process of deluding.
b. The state of being deluded.
2. A false belief or opinion: e.g.: labored under the delusion that success was at hand.
3. ([in]Psychiatry): A false belief strongly held in spite of invalidating evidence, especially as a symptom of mental illness: delusions of persecution.
When and why does faith become delusion?
One of the reasons is because that’s how a person was raised. Very rarely does a person go away from the religion they were brought up into. If you were brought up in a Christian home, you’ll likely be Christian. Not only that, but usually even the same denomination. Behavior psychologists believe that much of our behavior development get firmly established by the time we’re four. That is, the foundation of how we behave and what kind of temperament we’ll have. Not to say it’s not changeable later on in life! But that that is when the foundation is set. It’s true that most of us end up acting much like our parents when we become adults — we do much of the same things, say much of the same things, tend to have much the same outlook in values and politics. Spending your first 18 years around the same environment, being raised and indoctrinated with certain attitudes and outlooks, it’s no wonder that even though we tend to go through some amount of rebellion during those later years, we tend to come back to the behaviors and beliefs we were raised with. Those first 18 years are very influential in determining who we are.
There are sayings, “None of us are born racists,” and “all of us are born atheists.” (I prefer the term “agnostic” to “atheist”, personally.) And it’s true that as children we’re colorblind as to “value” of a person based on appearance. Young children, while of course they recognize that a friend of theirs might have a different color of skin than them, they treat it the same as different hair color or eye color. Parents and environment infuse upon children stereotypes and discriminatory beliefs. Likewise, children have no concept of God. They have no knowledge of God or Bibles or scrolls or prophets until adults tell them about it. Teach it to them and indoctrinate them with knowledge that is limited to what they and their particular church believe in. A child may not ever come in contact with the countless other differences in beliefs, from simply other denominations to different religions altogether, until they’re in middle school. Grade school at the earliest, and if they’re home schooled, perhaps not even until they’re young adults depending how sheltered they were growing up. By the time a child is at an age in which they can start questioning the answers they were given to the questions they asked growing up, they are already firmly ensconced in a culture, an environment of a particular set of beliefs. They are not only expected to maintain those beliefs, but are admonished for questioning them. They may be allowed to question government, question science, question anything except their religion. Parents, who were also raised similarly, pastors, Sunday School teachers, tend to not appreciate questioning of the doctrine they too were brought up in and look down upon the skepticism, usually.
So is it any wonder that by the time a person is an adult, the mere thought of questioning their religion is unthinkable? That any questioning of it is met with automatic knee jerk rejection? The idea of questioning doctrine and beliefs that are so deeply entrenched in one’s psyche and memories and behavior, can fill someone with perhaps fear and anxiety which gets converted into anger. How dare you question God! How dare you question the very foundation of so many memories of beatific images of a smiling Daniel in a lion’s den, a smiling Jesus with children on his lap, a smiling Mary holding her baby Jesus, a majestic Moses parting the sea, and all the other coloring book pages we filled in at Sunday School. An indoctrination that starts with all the lovely and loving and beautiful and caring images culled from the Bible that fills us as children with the belief of God as a wonderful and fatherly and caring old man watching us and protecting us and preparing a special path for each of us. What a wonderful and compelling message to have as children! And that takes root in our young psyche’s in such a strong way, that once you build upon that with the more adult themes of rules and regulations that this all-knowing, all-powerful, all-loving God demands of us, you have a cocktail of obedience and devotion that is nearly impossible to overcome.
Of course, I’m mainly talking from a moderate Christian perspective. After all, I grew up in a moderate, Methodist environment with happy-happy feel good Sunday Schools and children’s services. I assume that moderate and liberal Jewish and Muslim early upbringing within the faith are pretty similar. I’d be very interested to find out, though. The more extreme ends of the respective religions of Abraham likely skip a lot of the early upbringing aspects discussed above and focus from the beginning on….
(It just occurred to me that most terrorists are from the extreme ends of Christianity (KKK, White Supremacists, abortion center bombers,) and Islam. You don’t hear about Buddhist terrorists and Shintoist jihads and Hindu crusades and Wiccan inquisitionors.)
Fear is a very strong motivator. Depending on the person, it can be as strong or stronger than love — but if not, it’s a close second. We learn to love, but we’re hardwired from the beginning to fear. Fear pain, fear being alone, fear death, fear the unknown. It’s a survival instinct that has helped keep us, our species, alive for millennia. Keeps ALL species alive. It’s a biological imperative that we fear what can harm us. And so fear is a powerful motivator to do what will remove us from fear, and not do what is fearful.
The most obvious of the several ways in which fear plays a role in faith, is fear of hell. Fear of punishment, fear of pain, fear of eternal damnation. Who wants to risk eternal pain and torment?! First you establish what hell is like, you fold it into the more fell-good doctrines so it’s unquestioned that this afterlife destination exists, and establish rules and regulations for avoiding that place. It’s the stick of the “carrot and stick” way of getting people to do and behave how you want en masse. That possibility of eternal damnation, which didn’t really take hold until the early Christians as the Hebrews did not believe in such an afterlife meant for humans, has so stubbornly taken root, that any thought of questioning the nature and purpose and validity of one’s faith instantly sparks feelings of guilt and doubt tied to the fear of hell.
At best, it creates an attitude of “well, why take the chance? Might as well do what the Church says just in case.” Which, if that were a valid sentiment, why not apply that across the board? “Why take the chance that the Islam idea of hell doesn’t exist? Better do what Muhammad said.” “Why take the chance of reincarnation into an insect? Better do what the Bagavagita says.” “Why take the chance that Gehenna doesn’t exist? Better do what Zeus says.” The philosophy of “why take the chance” is not only morally bankrupt, if that’s what one basis their values on (avoidance of eternal punishment,) but opens the door for questioning the validity of the Christian hell when there are so many various negative afterlives to chose from.
But at worst, the fear of hell creates a cage, an enslavement to what you are told is “right.” By itself, or even as a significant component in one’s belief system, the fear of hell creates a joyless adherence to the letter of the law. A desire to do the minimum of what is required to keep you from damnation. Always looking for loopholes, justifications, rationals, ways to make sure your tote marks weigh heavier on the side of the balance sheet that’s opposite the lake of fire. In that kind of mindset, how easy do you think it would be to question God and his rules (or what the church SAYS are his rules) when the fear of eternal punishment always lingers? It’s a terrible irony, that a person with the fear of retribution always somewhere in their belief system would love nothing more than to be rid of that fear, but to do that would mean questioning that very belief of hell…which is something they think will lead them there…and around and around it goes.
Of course some faithful people of a particular ilk would explain that a person who fears hell is not truly “saved.” Does not have God in their heart, as God saves them from hell and fear in general. But I hazard to suppose that half of those faithful somewhere in the back of their subconscious mind do have that nagging fear. It’s simply overshadowed by the more happy-happy feel good components of the doctrine. An arrogant belief in their own spiritual and moral superiority to those who have not been either “good enough” or favored enough to be able to rise above the fear, or worse, over those who don’t believe their version of doctrine at all. Those poor souls doomed for eternity without the salvation of their particular and exclusive moral doctrine.
I mentioned earlier that I’m just an average, unimportant guy — not a philosopher or theologian. Well, what IS a philosopher and theologian anyway?
1. A student of or specialist in philosophy.
2. A person who lives and thinks according to a particular philosophy.
3. A person who is calm and rational under any circumstances.
One who is learned in theology.
1. The study of the nature of God and religious truth; rational inquiry into religious questions.
2. A system or school of opinions concerning God and religious questions: e.g.: Protestant theology; Jewish theology.
3. A course of specialized religious study usually at a college or seminary.
Wow, it doesn’t look like any particular skills or experience or certifications are necessary to be a philosopher or theologian. Just the ability to read what other’s have thought and said on the subject, and the ability to think upon it yourself. Pretty much anyone could be a philosopher or theologian. So, maybe I am both. Why not? I think and write constantly on philosophical matters and am familiar with the works of Nietzsche, Calvin, Schopenhauer, Kierkegaard, and Socrates. I am quite familiar with the Christian Bible and a lot of what other people have written about it. I can feel like I’m near expert on such matters!
Ah, but being a scientist takes a whole other set of requirements. It doesn’t just take the ability to read, to ponder, and perhaps write — it requires years of study and research and practical usage. You can’t be considered a “scientist” until you have some graduate degree at least and a career in a hard science which takes a lot of work and dedication. Am I jealous of scientists? Sure. I wanted to be a physicist or chemical engineer throughout high school. But I just don’t have the mathematical acumen, nor the analytical mind, nor the better than average memory and the applicable abilities to be a practitioner of a hard science.
What’s the result of this specialized profession that’s difficult to enter? From those who aren’t scientists will generally come feelings of admiration and respect or jealousy and envy. And if what scientists do in some way infringes upon some aspect of one’s religion or belief system, a position of righteous indignation, anger, outright hostility at times, and a blanket dismissal of all science and white frocked scientists as belonging to some anti-religion cult full of invalid claptrap and opposing version of dogma. This is despite the fact that science and its mumbo-jumbo theories full of massive holes has given us space flight, medicines from aspirin to chemotherapy, fertility enhancements, the ability to allow pre-term babies to survive younger and younger, food crops that can yield greater harvests and grow in more regions feeding more people, safer cars and air flight, and the list can go on endlessly.
The point is, despite the fact that science has no interest in proving or disproving God, the supernatural, faith — unless someone claims something supernatural has a scientific basis — there is no war between science and faith beyond what the religious create. All science strives to do is solve problems regarding the natural world, find explanations for natural phenomena, and improve the lives of all living on the planet through natural means. Science has no desire to prove or disprove the Bible or Koran or Taoism. But in the natural course of scientific discovery, it may come up with answers of the natural world that conflicts with religious teachings.
It’s not the intent of science to purposefully refute or disprove religious doctrine, but it has no choice but to defend itself when religious people try to attack and invalidate science that has presented evidence that contradicts dogma. And when that happens, the people attacking science tend to heedlessly attack all of science as some voodoo cult with ivory tower arrogance trying to destroy the souls of faithful Christians, despite the blatant fallacy that presents and in the face of the countless benefits those fundamentalists take advantage of that science has provided: Quality clothing, long lasting and flame retardant paper for Bibles, the Internet, television and radio, credit cards, medicine and food and health care today’s missionaries provide poor countries not to mention they and their families use, safe transportation, weather resistant houses and churches and shelters, are just a few of the things that science has provided. And yet so many religious people group science as an ineffectual dogma itself that provides no purpose but to heathenize their children and destroy faith. Can we talk about hypocrisy?
They somehow feel that by pointing up “holes” in scientific theories (well, one theory in particular, although they don’t seem to have a problem with the theories of gravity or plate tectonics,) somehow the whole of the “religion of science” will be exposed for what it is (whatever it is they think that is) and the “truth” of religious dogma will take over. They hang their hats on the idea that if A is composed of x, y, and z, and z is proven false, that completely invalidates A and thus B must be true. Too bad it doesn’t work that way. Even if z IS false, it doesn’t necessarily follow that A is false, and even if it is, C or D or E could be valid while B is still not.
In any case, this opinion as to why religious “faithful” buck logic and reason and hang on with death grips to certain religious dogma can PARTIALLY be explained by the concept of “sour grapes.” Because anyone can be an expert of the Bible or faith or a religion (or UFO’s or ghosts or crystal healing for that matter,) and it takes a certain amount of higher intelligence and dedication to very difficult subject matter to become an “arrogant and elitist” scientist, it’s not hard to reason that some people who have put so much of their faith in a dogma that children can understand project their jealousy or envy of scientists into anger and resentment, irrationally dismissing all of science despite their dependence on all that science has given them.
PEER PRESSURE / BELONGING
This, perhaps second to “Upbringing,” is likely the strongest, most powerful aspect of belief and faith. In addition to being a very xenophobic species, we’re also a social species. We fear what is not like us but need companionship of those who are. We gain self-esteem, motivation, approval from social groups that have similar beliefs as our own. From childhood on we strive to be accepted into groups we like and are like, and then work to become fully belonging to that group while excluding those who are different or don’t fit in, defending the exclusivity of the group which heightens our value of self-worth for being a member of this group.
Religions and faith-based social groups tend to be very exclusive and defensive organizations. Not that that is wrong, necessarily. The belonging/xenophobic nature of humans has kept us alive and evolving for millenia. And psychologically there’s nothing wrong with belonging to a group of people that share similar interests and beliefs. But because of the often dichotomous nature of religious dogma (we’re right and you’re wrong, there’s a right way and all else is the wrong way, you either belong or you’re discarded, sheep or goat…) belonging to a religious group (for example “Christianity” in general or “Baptist” in specific or even “Rose Street 1st Methodist Church” more specific,) simply heightens and exacerbates the core feeling of “belong or be discarded” which drives people to want to be that much more ensconced, rooted, entrenched in that group.
It’s one thing to feel good about belonging to a book club or making fun of the drama club, but when your belonging to a group involves your very soul and demands complete adherence mentally and behaviorally, the costs and benefits of being an accepted member of that group are that much more amplified and extreme. And who in the world wants to question an organization that you have grown up becoming a member of when your every word and deed is scrutinized and evaluated and compared to the benchmarks that will determine your eternal afterlife?! That’s a very serious business.
The fear aspect come back into play when dealing with the effects of questioning such a serious and righteous social group. Not just the fear of one’s immortal soul, but fear of rejection, fear of abandonment, fear of persecution, fear of not belonging. A member of the group grows up seeing how those outside the group are treated, how those who question the group are often ridiculed, attacked, admonished. The fear of being the target of such behavior alone is a powerful motivator to not question the dogma that defines the boundaries of what makes you part of the group or “against” the group (which tends to be the only alternative to not belonging. “You’re either with us or against us.”) Add the “carrot” of self-importance, self-esteem, a sense of purpose and acceptance, the positive reinforcement of social fellowship, and you have a galvanized subconscious abhorrence to questioning your faith that is so deep and so basic to your very makeup, that even the remote possibility of questioning the faith is prevented from even entering the mind. It’s simply not conceivable.
I come at this subcomponent of “belonging” from personal experience. One of the last barriers I faced before I could fully state that I am an anti-religion non-Christian was my sense of responsibility to my wife, in addition to the fear of rejection and removal of belonging I thought would happen once I fully came to terms with my skepticism — which had actually been 15 years in the making. Even though my wife is anti-religion and non-Biblical, she’s still “Christian” and holds a strong belief in a personal God and the probable divinity of Jesus. (Two things I’m not convinced are NOT at all possible, just not at all probable, and in my opinion not at all in the way any religion of Abraham would want you to believe.) The fear of rejection and loss of belonging I thought I would experience with her was quite extreme and delayed my acceptance of rational skepticism for probably years. Anyone who has established a family and relationship within the context of a belief system to then have to face the possibility of a significant change to that belief system, would naturally refuse to want to entertain rational and skeptical criticism of that system.
Within the Christian belief system, the pressure of the husband and father being the head of the family in a religious context is heavily encouraged both Biblically and within the social structure supported by the religion. So in addition to the pressure belonging to a religious group creates, it’s that much increased in the person who also fears the loss of some aspect of their personal relationships that once shared that belief-system bond. (Fortunately, in my case, my wife is a similarly intelligent and skeptical person who comes to her faith beliefs through personal experience and not through dogmatic teachings, which we respect in each other.)
There are perhaps more aspects, certainly ones that may be more unique to individuals and different systems than the Christian one which has been my experience. But I feel the above topics are pretty universal enough to apply to most people who as adults fail to question their beliefs and continue to adhere to beliefs that have moved from being faithful to delusional. Or at least blatantly hypocritical and illogical.
Faith, belief in something absent proof, is by no means a bad thing. Faith, in that way, is necessary for humanity to develop and explore and discover and evolve! We need faith to live our lives, find love and happiness, and help spread happiness to others. But the belief of something despite and in contrary to what facts and experience have proved, is dangerous and detrimental. To the self and to humanity in general. It leads to arrogance and hubris, hatred and intolerance, stagnation and divisiveness. I feel that we as a species can’t afford, in the extraordinarily interconnected and rapidly changing world, to accept ideas and beliefs that hold us back from improving our understanding of the universe and our human condition. Faith that is rooted in dogma and the stories and fables and laws and mythologies of ancient peoples will do nothing but continue the ideological battles that we can’t afford any more. If we have any hope of reaching our potential individually and as a uniquely amazing species, we must rid ourselves of faith in human created scrolls and tablets, and have faith in our own development, our own accomplishments, our own future.
As promised, here are some additional thoughts to help you question and scrutinize. Within these additional blogs are links to others’ sites that explore the topic further, and probably sparked my blog in the first place.
(I’ll probably add additional links as they develop.)
On Evolution and Creationism (and ID):
- Lament for Ignorance (Creation and Evolution)
God’s Too Stupid to be Complex?
The Final Words (for me) on Creationsm vs. Evolution
Objective morality, Biblical morality, humanism:
- God Given Morality = Hell Insurance = Hypocracy and Inhumanity
Iâ€™m Certainly Uncertain
Must be Christian to be Moral?
Science and Religion, Canâ€™t We All Just Get Along?
Christian Problem With Being Gay
That Shirt Is So Gay!
Biblical logical fallacy and absurdities:
- Irreducible Complexity Pulls Out Its Own Rug
Daily Biblical Reality Check
10, no 12, no 20 Commandmentsâ€¦What are they?
Immorality in the Bible