Do feelings have any relevance when it comes to belief? Many theists argue that they believe what they believe because they "feel" better doing so.

A Christian says "I believe in Jesus because this belief helps me through life and comforts me and gives me strength."

Even though this is technically not a scientific argument for belief in Jesus, does this argument have any pragmatic grounds or philosophical grounds? It is true that belief in something which does not exist can have negative consequences, but this is not always the case. Belief that you can fly can have negative consequences, but what about other false beliefs which have no obvious negative consequences in people's lives?

An example: A Christian believes that God exists and that Jesus is watching over them. This person isn't too interested in the details of the bible and does nothing beyond the societal norms due to their beliefs. They simply live their lives just as anyone else would, religious or not, but have comfort in their lives created by this belief of theirs which happens to be false. In all other areas of their life they are typical and even excel.

Is there any justification in believing in something that makes you feel good, if it helps you through your life and takes the edge off of life, even though the belief does not represent reality? Why must a belief always represent reality if it serves a pragmatic purpose and has no obvious negative consequences? Why can't beliefs be used as tools, like anything else in life, to make things easier and to make the journey through life a bit less rough.

Surely, one could argue that beliefs necessairly impact the actions of people and have negative consequences, but in reality this doesn't happen a lot. In many moderate religious people in secular societies, they live their lives just like anyone else and even do work which directly contradicts their beliefs while still holding such believes. They have cognitive blocks preventing them from making the connections, but it doesn't negatively impact their lives in any obvious manner.



So what are the opinions on this? I'm not saying I agree or disagree, but just presenting an argument.

Views: 4

Tags: Belief, Dogma, Faith, Feelings, Pragmatism

Comment by MikeTheInfidel on March 8, 2009 at 10:12am
I tend to agree with this quote:
"The fact that a believer is happier than a skeptic is no more to the point than that a drunken man is happier than a sober one. The happiness of credulity is a cheap and dangerous quality."
-- George Bernard Shaw

False beliefs affect action in modern society much more than many of us would like to admit. Look at the prevalence of organic food, alternative medicine, astrology, psychics, mediums, etc. I can't think of the source at the moment, but there was a study a couple years ago detailing church donations and breaking them down into various demographics. Not surprisingly, the people who gave the largest percentage of their income to churches were those who either were least educated or received the lowest income to begin with. People spend their life savings on things that don't exist beyond magical thinking.

In the case of your hypothetical Christian who "believes that God exists and that Jesus is watching over them", the fact that their comfort is based on a false premise is dangerous. They might take unnecessary risks with their money, health, etc., thinking that God has their back. But there isn't anything there; the safety net is just smoke and mirrors.
Comment by AtypicalAtheist on March 8, 2009 at 7:05pm
Mike, What is wrong with being a happy drunken man? Is being a happy drunken man yet happy less justified than being a sober man who is not happy? Also, I think that there are countless people out there who are quite religious and don't spend their money on their church.
Most Christians that I know don't do stupid things because of their religion. If I told them to do some risky thing and not to worry because "God has their back", they would likely laugh.

True, religious dogma has hurt scientific advancement, but also religious beliefs have in a way created many scientific pursuits. Many of the early scientists only studied the heavens because they wanted to know "God's plan" more and understand God better. Their scientific inquiries were religiously motivated. This means that religious belief need not necessairly conflict with scientific study.
Comment by MightyMateo on March 8, 2009 at 7:24pm
"True, religious dogma has hurt scientific advancement, but also religious beliefs have in a way created many scientific pursuits. Many of the early scientists only studied the heavens because they wanted to know "God's plan" more and understand God better. Their scientific inquiries were religiously motivated. This means that religious belief need not necessairly conflict with scientific study."

I have to disagree with you there, I think that assertion is false. I honestly do not see a problem with people "using" religion as a crutch for life. Life is tough, we all know that things can get rough and not everyone, for whatever reason, has the tools required to deal with certain things or emotions. If thinking that a magic man in the sky will take care of them brings them comfort and allows them to function more power to them, as long as they know where to draw the line. My sister in law for instance is much like this. She feels that regurgitating all of her problems on god makes her feel better and helps her make it through the tough times. Good for her, I did tell her that if she ever needed to talk she can talk to me and I would actually answer her ;) Heres where she crosses the line though, she is a high school teacher and regularly forces her students to read through the bible. I do not agree with that, to me its like if I had a mental disorder and the only way to fix it was to take a very strong prescribed medication. Ok, thats fine right, well what if I went to a school and started passing my pills out to students because they help me so they should help them as well. Its wrong, to each his own. Point being, if you want to be medicated with god then go right ahead but keep your medication to yourself, the side effects can be harmful.
Comment by AtypicalAtheist on March 8, 2009 at 8:32pm
Yes, true.
Comment by Johnny on March 8, 2009 at 10:05pm
> Belief that you can fly can have negative consequences, but what about other false beliefs which have no obvious negative consequences in people's lives?

Your theoretical christian is very moderate, and although there are plenty who are that moderate, there are plenty who are not. It doesn't take very long on the scale of belief before those beliefs could start to have negative effects. On the less extreme end you have the person who never truly tries to better them self because they believe God will look out for them. On the extreme end you have people who refuse medicine because they believe God will heal them; some so sick and extreme they let their kids die while denying medical treatment.

> What is wrong with being a happy drunken man? Is being a happy drunken man yet happy less justified than being a sober man who is not happy?

Would you consider a man who goes through life drunk to be truly happy? I'd figure he was an alcoholic and trying to escape something. MightyMateo makes a good illustration with the crutch. Its a phantom crutch that they go through life leaning on; then one day they truly need it for something and it fails them. Unfortunately they are so sure its there that they don't even realize it was the phantom crutch that failed them, they blame it on something else and keep using the crutch. Another great analogy was Dan Snell's post on addiction. He described a friend who traded one addiction for another: alcohol for God.

I think God as a shrink for some people to talk out there problems with is pretty harmless, and probably helpful. I also think that church can build some great support systems for people. But I think that once people start to rely on God to get them through everything it makes them emotionally and mentally weak. And that dependence starts with basic belief.

I think people would be better learning to rely on themselves and their fellow man; to break them relying on gods and religion you've got to break up the basic belief (by getting them to question it).

Nice post man, very thought provoking.
Comment by AtypicalAtheist on March 9, 2009 at 2:12pm
Johnny, Yes. This person would be very moderate.


Alcoholics sometimes try to escape things. Other times they simply like drinking alcohol and the feeling of being intoxicated. Either way, is it really such a bad thing? Many try to escape things in various ways, I don't see how using a chemical is so bad.


Religion is a phantom crutch, but it works like a placebo. And for many people it "works". I think that the people who use religion only for emotional support aren't likely to experience a circumstance where their crutch will fail them. Most religious moderates won't do things to risk that. Most people who are religious that I know are in fact quite rational in all other ways, and do things just like you or I would do them in other situations. They would never give up medicine for prayer, or give up education for the bible. So there aren't many circumstances where they will lean too far and their crutch won't be there.
Comment by MightyMateo on March 9, 2009 at 2:21pm
I dunno man, I once had a problem with alcohol and it was a problem. I was drinking because I liked the feeling and because I needed to medicate and turned to booze. I lost three jobs in a months time and was actually homeless for a while, it was rough and I was unable to stop. So, I think there is a definite downside to escapism through chemical means, there are other more productive ways of dealing with your problems. If loosing your job, your friends and alienating your family is nop big deal then using a chemical is not so bad.

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