Believers' Reasons for Religion, Theism[REPRINT]
By Austin Cline, About.com Guide
Some religious theists think it is appropriate to presume to inform atheists about why they really don't believe in any gods rather than simply listen to atheists in order to learn something. Perhaps atheists should instruct theists why they actually believe in gods. Theists offer all sorts of reasons for why they believe in a god but the only respectable reason is one which, if proven false, would at the very least cause them to seriously reconsider their belief and perhaps drop it entirely. I've never seen a religious theist do this, perhaps because the reasons below are more true than they would like to admit.
1. Indoctrination into Religion
Is it coincidence that people tend to stay with whatever religion they were raised in, and this religion tends to be whatever religion is dominant in the community/nation where they live? If people were genuinely convinced by the arguments which apologists offered, shouldn't the distribution of religions around the globe be a bit more even? The high and consistent degree of religious concentrations suggests that people believe their religion because that's the one they were indoctrinated into and which is consistently reinforced around them. People acquire a religion before critical thinking skills and that religion is promoted without most people noticing. That's really not a very good reason to believe that a religion is true, is it?
2. Indoctrination into Anti-Atheist Bigotry
If you keep being told that people who don't believe in your god are evil, immoral, and a threat to the stable social order, then you would never dream of dropping your theistic religion. Who wants to be immoral or simply regarded by the rest of society as immoral? This is very much what atheists face, especially in America, and it's hard not to see the constant indoctrination into anti-atheist bigotry as a reason why people stick to their religions. Children learn in public schools that America is a nation for people who believe in God and this message is reinforced throughout their lives by preachers, politicians, and community leaders of all sorts.
3. Peer & Family Pressure
Religion can be enormously important to families and communities, creating a tremendous amount of pressure to conform to religious expectations. People who step outside those expectations are not simply choosing a different way of life, but can in fact be perceived as rejecting one of the most important bonds which keep a family or community together. Even if this is never communicated in so many words, people do learn that certain ideas, ideologies, and practices should be treated as vital to communal bonds and should therefore not be questioned. The role of peer pressure and familial pressure in maintaining at least a veneer of religiosity for many people cannot be denied.
4. Fear of Death
Many religious theists try to argue atheists into believing in a god through the fear of what will happen after dying — either going to hell or simply ceasing to exist. This arguably reveals something very important about the believers themselves: they, too, must fear death as the cessation of existence and believe not because there are any good reasons to think there is an afterlife, but rather out of wishful thinking. People don't want to think that physical death is the end of all experiences, emotions, and thoughts so they insist on believing that somehow their "mind" will continue to exist without any physical brain in an eternity of sustained bliss — or even will be reincarnated in a new form.
5. Wishful Thinking
The wish that physical death isn't the end of life probably isn't the only example of wishful thinking behind religious and theistic belief. There are a number of other ways in which people profess beliefs that appear to be more about what they wish were true than what they can support through good evidence and logic. Many Christians, for example, seem to wish quite strongly that there exists a place of eternal punishment awaiting all those who dare to deny them political and cultural dominion in America. Many conservative believers from many religions seem to wish that there is a god which wants them to exercise unchecked power over women and minorities.
6. Fear of Freedom & Responsibility
One of the most disturbing aspects of many people's religious beliefs is the manner in which these beliefs make it possible for believers to avoid taking personal responsibility for what's going on. They don't have to be responsible for ensuring that justice is done because God will provide that. They don't have to be responsible for solving environmental problems because God will do that. They don't have to be responsible for developing strong moral rules because God has done that. They don't have to be responsible for developing sound arguments in defense of their positions because God has done that. Believers deny their own freedom because freedom means responsibility and responsibility means that if we fail, no one will rescue us.
7. Lack of Basic Skills in Logic & Reasoning
Most people don't learn nearly as much about logic, reason, and constructing sound arguments as they should. Even so, the quality of arguments typically offered by believers as justification for their religious and theistic beliefs are remarkable for just how atrocious they are. If only one basic logical fallacy is committed, it can be considered an achievement. Given how important believers claim the existence of their god and truth of their religion are, you'd think that they would invest a lot of effort into constructing the best possible arguments and finding the best possible evidence. Instead, they invest a lot of effort into constructing circular rationalizations and finding anything that sounds even remotely plausible.
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