Why Atheism May Be the Best Way to Understand God
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Here are the questions we have to ask from the atheist position.
- If God doesn't exist, why do so many people believe in him?
- If God doesn't exist, why are spiritual practices and religion among the human universals, things that exist in all human societies?
The exception is the Communist experiment, with state-ordered atheism. That can be regarded as an attempt to alter humanity's basic inclinations, like the various attempts to ban alcohol. It achieved some success, but at great expense. It required violence, a minority always resisted and the practice bounced back, in varying degrees, as soon as the ban was lifted.
Here's the great paradox, and the most interesting question: If God doesn't exist, belief is delusional. Delusion is, by definition, dysfunctional.
Clearsighted atheists should routinely be happier, healthier and wealthier than delusional believers. But they're not. According to most surveys, they don't even have a better sex life.
There have been atheist societies. During the second half of the 20th century, the Soviet Union, the countries of Eastern Europe, China and the Communist countries of Southeast Asia, almost a third of the world, were officially atheist. They did not generally out perform the United States, the countries of Western Europe, and many of the Asian countries allied with the West, all of which had freedom of religion, and some of which had state-supported churches as well.
If atheism is the The Truth, why isn't accepting the truth more helpful? If belief is a Lie, why isn't the lie more harmful?
Agnosticism sounds very reasonable, rational and even scientific.
The social sciences -- psychology, sociology, anthropology and the rest -- officially take the stance that the existence or nonexistence of God, the process of revelation, and what is known through revelation, are all outside the realm of science.
But how can you study the psychology of religious belief in a meaningful way unless you first determine if people are believing in something real or false? It's the difference between someone trying to climb a tree that's there and trying to climb one that's imaginary.
If the word of God is true, it makes a certain amount of sense that people will kill and die for it. Understanding that is pretty straightforward. But if people are killing and dying for a delusion, then there's some explaining to do.
That's actually an exciting question. Because it raises fundamental questions about human psychology.
Religion has an important place in all societies. Even in those where it is proscribed.
If the priests are, in fact, acting out the commands of God, they're like engineers or generals, trying to get certain things done, based on the data that's available to them.
If religions are made up, with most of their creators and practitioners sincerely unaware that they are creating institutions based on fictions, that's a very different type of phenomenon.
The economics of religion are quite mundane if God exists. It makes sense that billions of dollars are collected in his name. But if he is a widely held fantasy, then the resources devoted to the God business are a great and fascinating mystery.
If people are making up the God stories, it's not hard to figure out why they're different. But if God exists and they're actually coming from him, we have to wonder why he doesn't make himself clear. Or -- more likely -- assume that it's not his problem, since he's perfect. and then we would have to ask what's the matter with his prophets that they keep screwing it up during transmission, and figure out why that is. After that, we must wonder why people insist that the revealed word is accurate.