Friday, March 23, 2012
The previous post here, "I need some help with a logical fallacy", brought some interesting comments. And they got me to thinking about why otherwise smart and rational people choose to abandon reason and reality when it comes to their religion.
As I pointed out in one of my reply comments, reason and science work in the real world. They've given us cures for diseases that used to decimate entire populations, technological wonders that enable us to travel long distances by air, communicate over the entire globe instantaneously and feed billions of people, if not yet all of them. The scientific method, with its dogged reliance on the natural world, its unsleeping demand for evidence, objectivity and consistency and its openness to new ideas and explanations has proven to be a reliable prescription for arriving at the best answers possible at any given time.
So why do people who benefit by all these wonders continue to throw reason and reality out the window and seek "revealed" truth from ancient texts alleged to be divinely inspired, but pretty obviously created and written by ordinary mortals that are full of contradictory statements and sanction, nay, demand patently immoral behavior from its adherents?
From talking with religious friends, the thing that seems to attract people to religion and faith that keeps coming up has to do with feelings like inspiration, hope and comfort. This I kind of get. When things are going badly, we can certainly get ourselves in a rut. Discouragement, adversity and pain are all parts of our existence as humans on this little blue planet. We need ways to deal with them. Imagining a magical revelation of an answer, or deliverance to a time when the worries have passed or relief from either physical or mental pain may often get one through a rough patch.
From this point of view, religion is a coping mechanism. When there seems to be no hope in the real world, the possibility of a power beyond reality that offers solace is powerfully attractive. And in fact, there's a strong correlation between hardship and religiousness and conversely between economic and intellectual richness and atheism.
But none of my religious friends that I've talked to are in any serious hardship situation. I think this is where the "inspirational" part of the equation comes to bear. Imagining an omnipotent, omniscient force in the universe that "has a plan for you" might inspire someone to things they wouldn't try otherwise. A "leap of faith" is a common theme. You can't be sure, but you have "faith" based on virtually nothing that things will work out.
What do you think? If you're a person of faith, what does it give you that you don't get from the real world? I'll save the tougher questions for later.