People have a lot of different reasons for being religious or believing in God. Since I was raised in a secular household, I have to admit I don’t really understand most of them – I’ve never had the experience of being religious. But there’s one argument that I always have conflicting thoughts about: “Wanting to believe.”
I was hanging out/on a pseudo-date with a friend/guy/whatever you want to call him (it’s complicated, take that however you wish). He was raised religious, but now is one of those wishy washy deist/Buddhist/spiritual types. He’s totally cool with my atheism, but he was telling me a story about a priest he saw give a talk. The priest said he witnessed an exorcism where the girl was floating a foot above the ground. I gave him one of my Uh Huh, Sure looks.
Guy: But the way he told the story with such conviction…it made me want to believe, you know?
Me: Wanting to believe in something and that something being true are two entirely different things.
Guy: Does it matter if it’s true if it gives you something good to believe in?
Me: *gives him the I Don’t Want to Debate Religion While Snuggling look*
Guy: *shuts up*
That’s the argument that always gets me. Does it matter? My mom is the same way. I’d call her an agnostic theist/deist – she doesn’t believe in the more supernatural stuff like virgin birth and walking on water and all that, but she wants to believe in something. “What does it hurt?” she’ll say, and I know it’s true that it comforts her. When her friend passed away unexpectedly a couple years ago, she took comfort in the idea that she was in “a better place.”
She’s also pretty superstitious, which she gets from my Greek grandparents. She told me how a couple months after said friend’s passing, she was watching the news and the pick three lotto numbers were her friend’s birthday. “It’s a sign!” she said. I paused, wondering if I should say anything and risk upsetting her. “It’s not that unlikely that those three numbers would come up together. This looks special, but you don’t remember the hundreds of other lottos where the numbers meant nothing to you.” She rolled her eyes. “Whatever, let me believe what I want to believe. I think it’s a sign!” I left it at that.
Don’t get me wrong, I think we’d have a lot less worries if the religious population was dominated by deists and agnostic theists. Most of them seem benign enough that I’m not inclined to debate them – I mean, they’re not the ones flying planes into buildings and trying to pass religious laws, right? But at the same time, the idea of believing in something just to comfort yourself, even if you have no reason to believe it’s true, bothers me. I like being a scientific thinker. I need evidence for what I believe to be true, and when better evidence comes along, I’m willing to admit that I was wrong and adjust my views. So do you let people go on believing in something you see as a delusion, just so they can be happier? If your friend was convinced their beat up clunker was actually a red hot Porsche and that made them the happiest guy alive, would you point out that he’s wrong? Or do you just bite your tongue? Is it okay if he keeps it to himself, but once he starts bragging you should tell him what you think?