Hi, I'm an atheist who was raised secular, but I have attended religious services with people from many different backgrounds. Now, I don't dislike anyone who believes in God. In fact, I love to talk to people about what they believe and what inspires them to follow the God they have chosen. However, no matter how many people I talk to, the conversation almost always ends with the same argument: that, if God does not exist, then what is lost by believing in God as long as it makes life easier?
I've lost respect for many people based of this answer, since it seems to me that these people don't care if they lose their self respect in the process of making "life bearable" . Its like saying its ok to believe in Santa Claus for the rest of your life, even though he never brings you presents, because at any time he COULD bring you presents and you also have someone to blame for NOT getting gifts. And if he never brought you gifts, what does it matter? You apparently were happy about wasting you time waiting for him.
Is there another way to think of this logically? I would like to know what you think about this argument. What, if anything is wasted by believing in a God that doesn't exist. Is there any reason to compartmentalize the pain that exists in life so much that it creates a false God?
I would start by asking how would believing in a god that doesn't exist make live bearable, you explain that quite well with the Claus analogy, so i'll leave that there.
I think that the harm in believing in a non-existent god is proportional to the amount of influence we let such believe affect our lives. For example, in times of grieving someone might handle it by going out for a drink, meditating, hugging a stuffed animal given by the loved one, others undergo into personal fantasy, while others pray. would prayer be regarded as illogical or harmful compared to any of the above? My answer is depends on what are you intentions in any of such actions. And should prayer be regard as better than any of the above?
But when you consider such non-existent god the foundation of your live, your morals and decisions, and consider them superior to any other opinion or facts there can be a great damage limited only by willingness and morals of the individual or the group.
Then we have the role of religion and theology in a world where god is non-existent, Why should religion spread and maintain rules that has no source whatsoever? If they base their teaching in evidence and well reasoned arguments, why encircle them in dogma and actions that has no effect in real world? Why would it be better a theologian or a priest representing a non-existent god to a philosopher or a scientist regarding morality of a new found situation (like human cloning for perfect organ compatibility)?
So, the only thing left is the believe in an individual and personal god that doesn't exist and whose only function is soothing in times of misfortune. In that situation, why would it be better than a stuffed animal given by a loved one, go out for a drink, meditating or play a game?
In conclusion, i don't think there is a rational reason to believe in an non-existent god, any soothing action that could be achieve by having that believe can be obtain without going to the supernatural. The only thing we have to do is try and find an activity that work best for us.
The question is obviously directed at unbelievers. If you really believe, the point is moot. I can understand pretending to believe, as a great many atheists do in the deep south, or in other theocratic regions. It makes alot of sense in that situation to keep your head down and shut up if you want to have a happy live. Or any life in some cases.
As for deliberately believing, just to be happier, even when you don't really, honestly believe? I think most of us ex-Xtians went through that phase for a little while at least while we were figuring out our own thoughts on the matter. The cognitive dissonance that it engenders is profoundly uncomfortable, and I don't think anyone can live with it for an extended period & remain sane.
What is lost by compromising your inner self just to get along? How about the honesty you treat yourself & others with. That's dead, and your self-respect goes along with it. Integrity is a thing of the past. The freedom to live your life as you wish, unbounded by the strictures of some repressive cult is gone. (I think the question implies that as well. If the religion in question is liberal & open, there's probably little social pressure to join or suffer.)
If this is the question your religious friends fall back on, I'd lose respect for them too. What a sorry state of mind...
If you really believe, the point is moot. I can understand pretending to believe, as a great many atheists do in the deep south, or in other theocratic regions.
Indeed utilitarian belief isn't belief, it's oppression. So the question really becomes what is good about oppression? Well it could be good if you belong to the group who is doing the oppressing, but even then either to actively shield yourself from reality or be endowed with a natural inclination toward sadism would be helpful.
I hereby declare that, if you believe in our lord the Great Pink Unicorn, you will have any wish granted. What could be the harm in believing it?
Now tell me, what would make a belief in someone else's God somehow more believable than belief in my Great Pink Unicorn?
Here's similar absurdity. What would be the harm in believing in anything someone suggests, or anything else you may want to believe in, just to become happier?
I'm pretty sure that the biggest reason people believe in one particular supernatural being over another has to do with what their local population happens to believe in and/or from who the greatest peer pressure comes from.
I agree with you. I suppose that self delusion is everybody's individual right but we are a society. A moderate Christian who has a nice fluffy, vague belief in a good god and Heaven may well have children who will think more deeply and read more widely and already be open to believing the horrors of the bible - this was my situation and my childhood was lost to fear of Hell.
More frequently the children will realise in later life that this is rubbish and then be ill-equipped to deal with their own mortality. I so often see people realising in their late teens or early twenties that they are not immortal and feeling just as they would if they found out they were terminally ill. Of course they do! If you tell a child the sad truth of our mortality when they are small they will be upset but adapt their world view within weeks - as an adult this is much harder.
Also every time you get a good, loving person who believes in the god most common in their society, you have suport for the extremes of this faith - the 'ban gay marriage and gays in the military and get Christianity back in schools' brigade.
The only time a religious faith could possibly be good is in the case of a psychopath - these people do whatever they want providing they can get away with it - no conscience, no empathy - they will kill, rape, steal if they want to and can escape justice. If a psychopath really believes a god is watching them all the time and send them to Hell, they may commit less violent crime and destroy less lives. The rest of us do not need this monitoring to be good people.
Have to admit - I have worked with several psychopaths and not ever met one who believed in gods but I am in the UK where few people do - they do respond very well to constant supervision and consistent rules. I worked in a residential setting and had two people with antisocial personality disorder and their behaviour was controlled well by knowing that any breaking of the rules instantly resulted in loss of privileges. In theory, if a psychopath was to believe that they were being watched at all times by a being capable of punishing them, this should work the same way. No genuine remorse or recognition of right and wrong but a recognition of consequences and more compliant behaviour.
Of course, the rather obvious problem with...
"I worked in a residential setting and had two people with antisocial personality disorder and their behaviour was controlled well by knowing that any breaking of the rules instantly resulted in loss of privileges. In theory, if a psychopath was to believe that they were being watched at all times by a being capable of punishing them, this should work the same way. No genuine remorse or recognition of right and wrong but a recognition of consequences and more compliant behaviour."
...is that antisocial people ipso facto don't think very far down the road.
Recent cases featured on the news: A thief goes into a convenience store and beats a man close to death. Then takes two cartons of cigarettes. Anyone risking the death penalty for just a few hours of sucking smoke isn't obviously thinking of consequences in the afterlife. Another recent case: a man shot another man (an Iraq veteran recovering from roadside bomb injuries) in a dispute over a football game, rendering him a quadraplegic. The shot might just as easily have killed the veteran. Once again, I doubt if the thought crossed his mind that he might go to Hell.
Now, I don't know that either of those men is religious or has considered Pascal's Wager, but one has only to look at the behavior of priests and pastors in terms of abusing children or being unfaithful to their wives.
Yes, but that would be a disorganised personality. Psychologists estimate that as many as 10% of people in high powered careers in business are psychopaths - these people are intelligent enough never to break the law or the codes of conduct for their place of work - operating within the law and social expectations keeps them safe and in business they have an oppropriate outlet for ruthlessness and lack of compassion - it is even admired.
We also have the strange fact that people identified as psychopaths are nearly always men but there is absolutely no reason why they should be. In fact it is far more likely that there are just as many women but that they do not come to the attention of the police because they are far less likely to be criminal? They have less capability to be violent - when female psychopaths are violent - sadly it is to children who can't fight back.
In theory if a psychopath truly believed that an all-powerful deity was watching over them they could moderate their behaviour in the same way but this is just in theory because I am reaching for some way, any way, religious belief could ever be good for society. In fact I believe that a psychopath brought up with religion but never given any consequences from which to learn would,in 99% of cases, not be held back by this.
While believing in God may make life easier in terms of thinking one may go to Heaven (Christians) or the Garden of Eden (Jews), what about the baggage that comes along with it that has many believers thinking it's important to condemn homosexuals or urge the state to take control of women's reproduction? Those are just a couple examples.
Also, Christians believe that sinning is okay as long as you repent and ask for forgiveness. Atheists don't have it quite that easy and must own their ethical transgressions for their entire lifetime.
This is probably going to duplicate some responses, but here goes.
Do you not think that an all knowing god would know you were faking it?
If they're all knowing.. how could they not know you were faking it? They'd know you were being dishonest (,ie lying) . If we're talking the Christian God that would be an automatic breaking of one of the 10 Commandments before you even started. So you'd be screwed from the start.
That being said I'd have to go with.. b) The Atheist's Wager from Brian's post below.
This question is very common and as many responses have indicated Pascal's Wager and its anti-thesis is to be found on this and other forums; my own response to this question is quite simply:
a) Which god are you speaking about? (...and if the answer is something akin to "There is only one..." then ask them by what authority do they deny the existence of the thousands of Hindu gods or for that matter, any other gods)
b) The Atheists Wager states: "You should live your life and try to make the world a better place for your being in it, whether or not you believe in god. If there is no god, you have lost nothing and will be remembered fondly by those you left behind. If there is a benevolent god, he will judge you on your merits and not just on whether or not you believed in him."