View Full Version : Really, why are people religious?

08-21-2005, 06:54 PM
That's basically it. What causes people to hold such beliefs and why is it so effective? What are the differences that motivate some to believe, and others to disbelieve? The question is moreover directed towards atheists. Answer to the best of your abilities, I'd love to hear what everyone has to say...:)

I'm hoping for a somewhat deep response as opposed to "they're all stupid imbeciles", or "I hate them all", etc...

08-21-2005, 07:05 PM
Well, this is what I said in the "[Insert Creative Descriptive Title Here]" topic...

"I think that one of the main reasons for people staying theist is because it makes them feel better- there in God's hands, we will see our loved ones, we don't die, etc. The "smart" theists wan't to stay theist because there (I don't mean to be mean here) weak and can't handle the things named above. We've all heard theists same them before-

"God give me strength"
"He/she will be in a better place"
"Accept jesus and you will never die"
"Becoming Christian has changed my life"
"Were in God's hands"
"Jesus loves and cares for everyone"

What else is there..."

08-21-2005, 07:28 PM
I would say the notion of absolute meaning. That gives the idea of us having our own divine destinies to attempt to fulfill. Relative meanings just doesn't seem to have the same oomph for people.

08-21-2005, 07:35 PM
It is probably why some people keep a gun in their homes, sort of a comfort to know if anything goes wrong you could always fall back upon it.....

08-21-2005, 07:40 PM
Loneliness. I think a lot of people participate to be part of a community.

08-21-2005, 08:46 PM
This is something that has always interested me. I'm sure someone here must also be a fan of Michael Shermer. He wrote a very good book called "How We Believe" on what he calls The Belief Engine.

In chapter 4 of his book (I'm looking at it right now), he talks about a survey he did asking theists why they believe in god, and why they think others believe in god. When they looked at all the responses, they lumped the responses into two categories: rational reasons for believing (such as "apparently intelligent design of the universe") and emotional reasons (i.e. faith, emotional comfort, etc.).

The most overwhelming correlation was that women tend to believe for emotional reasons and men for rational reasons. (Don't yell at me for being sexist, this is a scientific survey)

Another interesting thing was that as the level of education increased, rational reasons increased. People with weak educational backgrounds (mostly science) tended to have more emotional reasons than rational ones.

However, the most interesting thing about the survey was what Dr Shermer found when he compared 'Why do you believe" with "Why do you think others believe?"

Rational reasons were actually the highest ranking responses for why people believed. However, theists tend to think that other theists believe for emotional reasons. Shermer calls this a 'bias in attributions': "We might attribute our own good fortune to hard work and intelligence, whereas the other person's good fortune is attributed to luck and circumstance."

I've noticed that most of the responses on here think that others have emotional reasons:

Loneliness. I think a lot of people participate to be part of a community.
"I think that one of the main reasons for people staying theist is because it makes them feel better- there in God's hands, we will see our loved ones, we don't die, etc. The "smart" theists wan't to stay theist because there (I don't mean to be mean here) weak and can't handle the things named above.
Shermers survey shows its natural for us to think that other people think this way but more than half the time its not the case.

(sorry, this is getting long, but I love this stuff)

So Shermer had to explain why, contrary to popular belief, rational reasons were more common than emotional ones. He talks to some experts and one of his major hypotheses is that humans are pattern seeking animals. They did an experiment with people who played a videogame where they had to go through a maze. The control group was awarded points as they progressed through the maze correctly, the other group got points randomly as they walked through doorways. Everyone in the control group correctly described how the points were awarded. In the experimental group, most gave an explanation and thought there was a tricky but rational method of awarding points to them.

So, they found a pattern which really isn't there. Itís understandable that our early ancestors, not knowing of evolution, had to believe in god. Our bodies and minds are so complex, there is no way they could imagine how we worked or how something such as us could come to be. Also note that most creationists, who defend their beliefs with random things they've read in books or on the internet (they don't do their own research, usually) don't know evolutionary theory very well. Their rational responses are thus justified: they are thinking with the best of their ability using the information that they are willing to learn.

There's a professional baseball player who needs to eat chicken before every game and has to sprint over all the bases before the game begins. And then everyone and their Mom has a lucky pair of socks or piece of jewelry. They have good fortune a few times with these articles and see a pattern; they immediately accept that they must continue to have these (harmless) superstitions in order to avoid bad fortune, when in reality they're just being ridiculous (oh well). I think God is the same way. They really see evidence for God's existence, they just don't think deeply enough to see through an illusion.

A christian I know very well (I mentioned her in another post) once said "God's existence is plainly obvious to me everyday, I don't understand how you can't see that." She sees illusionary evidence, not concrete scientific evidence.

A simple example of this is something called the Kanizsa-square illusion. It fools the mind into thinking thereís a square there by suggesting its corners, but there is no square. Similarly, people see patterns in the world that suggest design, and conclude there is a designer, when in fact this designer is an illusion. God is the imaginary square =)


08-21-2005, 09:05 PM
Ok Blue (I was a Spartan by the way), I agree with the idea that people are pattern seeking entities, but I don't buy that those around us that "see beauty" are the ones that believe in a designer. I realize that my experience does not comprise a study - , but the people that I know that became Fundies where all "bottoming out" when some good salesman or saleswoman came along.

I see what you are saying about attributing logical reasons to oursleves and emotional reasons to others. We do it here.

08-21-2005, 09:11 PM
Yeah, I know. Most conversion stories tend to be deeply emotional...

Then again, most conversion stories that I've read were written by women. There are plenty by men too, of course.

I'm sure that we can't attribute it down to any particular factor... its got to be a combination of several things, perhaps a lot of reasons we've never even thought of.

EDIT: I thought of this just as I clicked the post button. Perhaps these people have a deep emotional need, and by satisfying it, they feel good. They then use this good feeling in a rational manner and mix it up with all the rest of that pattern recognition for superstitious thought to see God. So yeah, combination of both =)

08-21-2005, 10:45 PM
I think the main factor in belief is familiarity. Most people are raised with it. Now in making this observation I am open to the criticism that I allow myself more freedom of thought as an atheist than theists. I am, it appears on the surface, saying that theists have been duped, but I, quintessential genius that I am have not been duped. This is a hard argument to counter. Thesists will claim that they have thought about it just as much as I have. The problem still persists however that accordi to my observations most people are much more gullible than I am.

I live in Richmond VA. Did you hear about the ibook giveaway that had 5000 people stampeding to pay $50 for ibooks that could not have been worth more than $100? When I heard about this, I thought about it a little and thought 2 things. First, the ibooks for $50 bucks might sound like a good deal but we are talking about 4 year old computers abused by middle and high school students. Second, if 5000 people show up then my chances of getting one are 1 in 5, assuming a fair playing field. And the field was not fair. If you got there at midnight then you were at the front fo the line thus your chances were better. But I havebetter things to do than wait in line for 8 hours for a computer that is not really a bargain.

I concluded that the best thing to do was to not even bother. This is the same thing for me and religion. If you think about it just a little, rejecting it saves a hell of a lot of time and trouble.

This is obviosuly not the best argument to be an atheist. But that is not my point. I am talking about THINKING THINGS THROUGH. People nearly died over crappy computers here in Richmond VA last week. If they all had thought about what was going on, you could have heard crickets at the RIR grounds when the computers went on sale.

To me that is what religion is, the silence drowned out by crickets in the middle distance.