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Why do people believe in God? Some solid reasons for religiosity.
Why do so many people believe in God?
Across the world, religion causes problems. In the name of Allah, some Muslims commit atrocities. In the name of some Hindu deity, some Shiva follower murders his sister or daughter for marrying the wrong man, and in some fundamentalist Christian belief system, some women are made second class citizens in the name of their god. But religion does good as well some would argue. The riposte to that is that atheists do good as well. Religion is not the sole repository of good in the world.
People believe in god for six reasons: fear, indoctrination, loss, difficulty, hope, and a need to make sense of their lives and the universe.
When we are frightened and there is no help, we have no one to turn to but god. In the hope that calling on god would change their current situation, many pray to god in moments and times of great desperation. I recall some years ago, a woman calling out to Jesus to help her as she was falling from a hot air balloon to her death. Naturally, she continued to fall. Gravity does not change its nature because we call out to god. Sometimes we are lucky and events turn out in our favour. For those who called out to god in those moments, this seems to be an answer to prayer and so they believe for the rest of their lives. For atheists who did not call out to god and where events turned out well, they simply thank Lady Luck and realize that it was a fortuitous meeting of cause and effect.
Sometimes an illness comes along and people grow frightened of their own passing. It is combined with a feeling of loss for all they know. In that case, they turn to god in prayer, hoping for healing. Sometimes it comes through the medication applied by doctors and others, and then this is attributed to the miraculous hand of god. Those of a great education would accept that modern science has its advantages.
It is no coincidence that, for the most part, people believe in the god of their culture, the god of their parents, the god of their nation, the god of their people. This is because there is a silent indoctrination from an early age. Indoctrination is a sort of subtle education, a way of absorbing information through hearing it over and over again without any effort on our part.
So, for instance, when we consistently hear that we will be admired by our friends if we drive a particular brand of motor car, and if we want admiration, then we will be driven towards buying that car. We might say that we bought it because we liked it, but in the unconscious mind, the true reason lurks. Advertising indoctrinates. That is why it is so effective.
So does attending religious services. The more we hear something, the more we believe it, and we believe it regardless of whether it is true or not.
Many years ago, while living in London, I attended some courses at the University of London. The lecturer was speaking to us about advertising in the media. She referred quite frequently to the red walls of the room we were in. The lecture was forty five minutes or thereabouts. At the end of her talk, she asked us not to look around but close our eyes and put our heads on our desks. We did so. She then asked for a showing of hands as to the colour of the walls. Was the wall red? Ninety Of the forty three people attending, forty said yes. Was the wall green? Two said yes. Was the wall yellow? One said so. The truth? The wall was green.
Indoctrination is powerful. While some think they weren’t influenced by early conditioning, the fact is that people growing up in religious households or in an environment where there is frequent exposure to religious thinking are more likely than not to believe in a god.
We all experience loss in our lives, and for all of us, it seems unbearable at times. So some of us turn to god. In some way, we hope that a god would return that loss to us. Perhaps we lost someone whom we greatly loved and the thought that we will never see that person again, that they are gone for good, is beyond our ability to cope. So we turn to god, because god promises life after death, and we believe we will see our loved ones again.
Atheists accept that there is no life after death, and because they do, they cherish people and life more. They know that there are no second chances. They look after their health better, take fewer chances, are more calculated in their choices. After all, they can only rely on themselves and humanity.
There are other types of loss as well – the loss of income, the loss of our homes, the loss of possessions that meant much to us. All of this can make us seek out a god who can somehow recompense us.
Perhaps the most common reason so many turn to god is the difficulties they face in life. It is difficult to find a job. It is difficult to find a mate. It is difficult to understand why no one likes us. It is difficult to earn enough to pay the rent. It is difficult to get along with family. It is difficult to live in the country we live in. Life is always difficult for most people. And it is, therefore, no coincidence that most people believe in god. There is the hope that god will rescue them from their difficulty.
It’s also true that the more educated people are, the less they believe in god. Much belief in god can be circumvented simply through teaching them how to attain the things they want – provided they are not within the realm of miraculous. But how to find a job, how to earn more money, how to maintain health, etc. These are all questions that can be answered through sufficient education.
Unsurprisingly, there is little believe in god in those countries which provide good social services for those who cannot manage and where there is a high level of education. This is also why there is a high correlation between greater education and atheism.
A need for answers
We are all human, and because we are, we are curious. Monkeys are curious. Did you notice? So we ask questions, and a lot of those questions are unanswerable. Where do we come from? Who made the earth, the stars, life and death? What comes after death?
Again, the more educated people are, the more of these questions they can answer. Unhappily, not everybody has the capacity to understand evolution, the theory of relativity, the complexity of cause and effect, and even more unfortunately, many simply do not want to have accurate answers because that would interfered with their magical world view. Loss of their magical world view would mean that there is no hope for life after death, no magic potion for a love affair gone wrong, or no help when interviewing for a job.
Of course, there are questions that none of us can answer. Those who cannot live with that use the concept of ‘god’ as prime cause. Those who can say, “I don’t know the answer to that” can live quite uncomfortably without knowing all the answers.
Do you agree or disagree with the above article?
Hope - magical thinking
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for” was always a weird concept for me. Essentially it means that when hope reaches the point of the delusional belief that something exists when it clearly does not, we have reached a point of faith. Many pride themselves on having strong faith. It is actually more accurately described as strong delusion.
Yet so many religious people hope for things that they have not been able to attain and which they think, through belief in their deity, will somehow come into being. This is called magical thinking. It’s the belief that one’s thoughts will bring something into existence – Harry Potter style. Some know this as the Law of Attraction or The Secret. Unsurprisingly, people who believe in gods have no issue with accepting these magical belief systems.
Faith is a disaster for civilization because civilization dependent is on objective and accurate observation and measurement (science). Without those tools, we cannot invent, innovate, heal, repair, reach for the stars, or provide for all the people of this earth. The problem with faith is that if one is willing to be delusional in one aspect of one’s life, it quickly overtakes all one’s thinking. There is a reason that most scientists are atheists. Science calls for an ability to face reality, regardless of how harsh it is. That is the only way that they can make the discoveries that they do. They see where the evidence leads, not where the evidence must lead.
All in all, religious people look for something that doesn’t exist in a place where it can’t be found. They do so, because they so desperately want the thing that doesn’t exist and they look for it where no man has gone, because that way it can’t be proven that the place doesn’t exist.
© 2015 Tessa Schlesinger