It’s frequently argued that unless a person believes in God, they can’t or won’t be moral. If the threat of divine punishment and the promise of heavenly reward are removed, humans, sensing that no one is minding the shop, will rape, pillage, plunder and otherwise misbehave with wild abandon. Alternately, many people think that moral prescriptions cannot arise from purely natural sources—if we are only fancy, evolved monkeys, if we are nothing but physical creatures, then there can be nothing governing us except the law of the jungle. So many people think that only by believing in God will we be restrained enough to be moral.
We need to turn that argument around completely. Not only is it possible to be a moral person without a belief in God, there are some very good reasons for thinking that in many cases believing in God is itself actually immoral.
In general, isn’t it a bad thing to believe a claim that :
- you know is false,
- contributes to the confusion or false beliefs of others,
- encourages supernatural, spooky, non-critical, fuzzy-headed thinking,
- fosters fear and anxiety.
- creates complacence about social problems, social policy, and the future of humanity on this planet.
- undermines the advancement of science
- contributes to the stagnation of human progress.
- encourages a historically outdated, over-simplified worldview.
- stalls our progress in dealing with new, complicated and important moral issues
- has no good evidence in its favor.
- encourages cultural and ethnic strife.
- gives people false hopes.
- is self-deluding.
- fosters fear, confusion, and fuzzy, magical thinking in children.
- fosters false beliefs in children.
- impedes children’s acquisition of our most important, modern advancements in knowledge.
- is a case of akrasia:
Isn’t it true that one does something blameworthy or bad if one succumbs to believe those things that we want to believe when we know full well that the belief is undermined by the evidence. If out of a weakness of will, you allow yourself to believe something because of your emotional, psychological, or social needs, but not because you see good reasons in the form of evidence for it, aren’t you letting yourself down? You are letting all of us down. You are condoning believing in that way, you are lowering the bar for yourself and for everyone else, you are acknowledging that you cannot or you will not submit your beliefs to the arbitration of reason.
And isn’t it also true that your belief in God fits many, most, or all of these conditions? The problem for those with the religious urge is that culturally we have widely endorsed sloppy, indulgent, irrational thinking, especially when it comes to religion. There's a church on every corner trying to draw them in. And we've all elevated the abdication of reason in matters of God to a noble virtue instead of rejecting it for the dangerous and demeaning practice that it is. Most people, when they are being clear headed and thoughtful, know that there are no good evidence in favor of theism, and there is a lot of evidence contradicting it. But, many people want there to be a God. They hope that he's listening to their prayers. They don't think they could face life without him.
So they permit themselves to "believe in" God in the "hope" sense of "believe." ("I believe that my husband will make it home safely from Iraq.") But we don't usually distinguish carefully between that sense of "believe" and the "I believe because the evidence indicates that it is true" sense of believe. (NASA says, "We believe that there is no water on the moon.") And the comforting, hoping kind of belief settles in naturally. Then we find ourselves surrounded by like minded people who feel the need to believe(h). No one is comfortable acknowledging their weaknesses, and no one wants to attribute flagrant irrationality to themselves. So in time, hoping beliefs slip into a stronger kind of belief. We talk ourselves into thinking that it really is true that God exists. We hear others acknowledging our belief and our needs. And they encourage us to be strong, to have faith, to sustain that belief. We rationalize, we blur, and we feel more and more strongly that this thing that we want to believe really isn't just a hope, it's correct, it's the truth.
What originated as something that we knew wasn't true but we hoped was true anyway exploits a weakness of the will and becomes a belief that we think is true and that we think there's good evidence for. The drug works its way into the crevasses of your reason. You find a way to get what you want and placate your reason: you believe because you hope it is true, and you enslave your reason to making it seem like it’s a legitimate claim to the truth.
What we need is a twelve step program for God beliefs and religiousness.
"Hi, I'm Matt and I've been clean since 1982."