Thursday, May 10, 2007

The God Delusion - Passage #4 (final one)

Consolation (from chapter 10 of the God Delusion by Richard Dawkins)

It is time to face up to the important role that God plays in consoling us; and the humanitarian challenge, if he does not exist, to put something in his place. Many people who concede that God probably doesn't exist, and that he is not necessary for morality, still come back with what they often regard as a trump card: the alleged psychological or emotional need for a god. If you take religion away, people truculently ask, what are you going to put in its place: What have you to offer the dying patients, the weeping bereaved, the lonely Eleanor Rigbys for whom God is their only friend?

The first thing to say in response to this is something that should need no saying. Religion's power to console doesn't make it true. Even if we make a huge concession; even if it were conclusively demonstrated that belief in God's existence is completely essential to human psychological and emotional well-being; even if all atheists were despairing neurotics driven to suicide by relentless cosmic angst - none of this would contribute the tiniest jog or tittle of evidence that religious belief is true. It might be evidence in favour of the desirability of convincing yourself that God exists, even if he doesn't. As I've already mentioned, Dennett, in Breaking the Spell, makes the distinction between belief in God and belief in belief: the belief that it is desirable to believe, even if the belief itself is false: 'Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief' (Mark 9:24). The faithful are encouraged to profess belief, whether they are convinced by it or not. Maybe if you repeat something often enough, you will succeed in convincing yourself of its truth. I think we know people who enjoy the idea of religious faith, and resent attacks on it, while reluctantly admitting that they don't have it themselves.

Since reading of Dennett's distinction, I have found occasion to use it again and again. It is scarcely an exaggeration to say that the majority of atheists I know disguise their atheism behind a pious facade. They do not believe in anything supernatural themselves but retain a vague soft spot for irrational belief ...

Some things I take from this:
Religion's power to console doesn't make it true - It may be an important side benefit but there are many other things that offer similar consolation, most notably family and friendship. But, ultimately, it doesn't really change whether you believe in something or not. It just makes you feel better.

Secondly, there are many more atheists, agnostics, humanists, etc. out there than we know. Some hide it because of fear of the consequences of revealing it. Others, as this passage relates, hide it because they truly enjoy the pageantry and benefits of believing. And that is fine. To each his own. We all have to arrive at some kind of truth by whatever path we choose. But, hopefully, we can all be secure enough in our faith or lack of faith to profess it.

This is my last passage from Dawkins' book. As you can probably gather, I did like it. A lot of the arguments are not new, but he does a good job of bringing together all the varied justifications for and against faith and analyzes each well. Thanks to all of you for playing along and provide valuable input and comments. For each of you, there are some lovely parting gifts -- salvation, eternal damnation, wisdom -- take your pick. For me, the "despairing neurotic driven to suicide by relentless cosmic angst", I'll just plod on and try to keep learning. But not this weekend. For the next few days, my only goal is to catch a few fish and have a few beers. It's off to Kaibab Lake ('05, '06) again. Everyone have a good weekend and chat back at you on Sunday.

1 comment:

Laura said...

I've always maintained that most religions exist because we (humans) have some need to feel "special" to set us apart from other creatures. What makes us so special? Well, we were created in ____ image, and ___ gave us a soul and has a plan for our lives. We serve a real purpose in the universe and couldn't possibly be some random result of evolution, because that would make us cease to be special. We're not just another animal on the planet set apart by our cognitive abilities. It's the world's biggest ego trip...