The Man, The Dude, and

the Righteous Invisible Leprachaun

                                                 Genuine Belief

"Look," I said, "four billion people believe in some sort of God and free will. They can't all be wrong."
    "Very few people believe in God," he replied.
    I didn't see how he could deny the obvious. "Of course they do. Billions of people believe in god."
    The old man leaned toward me, resting a blanketed elbow on the arm of his rocker.

    "Four billion people say they believe in God, but few genuinely believe. If people believed in God, they would live every minute of their lives in support of that belief, people would give their lives in support of that belief. Rich people would give their wealth to the needy. Everyone would be frantic to determine which religion was the true one. No one could be comfortable in the thought that they might have picked the wrong religion and blundered into eternal damnation, or bad reincarnation, or some other unthinkable consequence. People would dedicate their lives to converting others to their religions.
    "A belief in God would demand one hundred percent obsessive devotion, influencing every waking moment of this brief life on earth. But your four billion so-called believers do not live their lives in that fashion, except for a few. The majority believe in the usefulness of their beliefs-an earthly and practical utility-but they do not believe in the underlying reality."
    I couldn't believe what I was hearing. "If you asked them, they'd say they believe."
    "They say that they believe because pretending to believe is necessary to get the benefits of religion. They tell other people that they believe and they do believer-like things, like praying and reading holy books. But they don't do the things that a true believer would have to do.
    If you believe a truck is coming toward you, you will jump out of the way. That is belief in the reality of the truck. If you tell people you fear the truck but do nothing to get out of the way, that is not belief in the truck. Likewise, it is not belief to say God exists and then continue sinning and hoarding your wealth while innocent people die of starvation. When belief does not control your most important decisions, it is not belief in the underlying reality, it is not belief in the underlying reality, it is belief in the usefulness of believing."
    "Are you saying God doesn't exist?" I asked, trying to get to the point.
    "I'm saying that people claim to believe in God, but most don't literally believe. They only act as though they believe because there are earthly benefits in doing so. They create a delusion for themselves because it makes them happy."
    "So you think only the atheists believe their own belief?" I asked.
    "No. Atheists also prefer delusions," he said.
    "So according to you, no one believes anything that they say they believe."
    "The best any human can do is to pick a delusion that helps him get through the day. This is why people of different religions can generally live in peace. At some level, we all suspect that other people don't believe their own religion any more than we believe ours."
    I couldn't accept that. "Maybe the reason we respect other religions is that they all have a core set of beliefs in common. They only differ in the details."
    "Jews and Muslims believe that Christ isn't the Son of God," he countered. "If they are right, then Christians are mistaken about the core of their religion. And if the Jews or the Christians or the Muslims have the right religion, then the Hindus and Buddhists who believe in reincarnation are wrong. Would you call those details?"
    "I guess not," I confessed.
    "At some level of consciousness, everyone knows that the odds of picking the true religion-if such a thing exists-are nil."



If you think this is interesting, you can buy the book,God's Debris

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3 Comments

The Heart of the Matter
Emile Durkheim pointed out that religion acts as a social alternative to naked force, and that God et. al. is nothing more than society's powers and demands deified. That was over a hundred years ago. It is to our credit that this realization isn't more widespread. It is also quite benign that most people are in a spiritual limbo, as your post points out "A belief in God would demand one hundred percent obsessive devotion, influencing every waking moment of this brief life on earth" and "People would dedicate their lives to converting others to their religions." What a Hell that would be!

I'm glad that we have this compromise, which makes tolerant, liberal society possible. We all genuflect to "Some sort of a Something Somewhere" without getting too nitpicky about the details. That may not be "true belief", but thank God it isn't ;)

by Paul Goodman 2005-04-10 08:24AM | 0 recs
Re: The Heart of the Matter
Agreed Goodman. I have mentioned before that I am a wayward Presbyterian. This is just one short chapter in one of the most intriguing and thought provoking books I have read in quite some time.

I think even atheists believe in something, be it the power of human reason or the sanctity of individual conscience. I tend to imagine George Burns from his Oh God! movies when I visualize God. Of course, even though God sent Jesus in human form, it is sheer anthromorphization to imagaine either God or the Holy Ghost with human forms. I think.

It doesn't happen often, but on a couple of occasions, when I was being lectured to about religion (once was at my front door), I suggested that the other person might want to get a bigger god. The one they were worshipping was as petty, small minded, bigoted and vindictive as they were.

My profound philosophical insight was not well received on either occasion.

by Gary Boatwright 2005-04-10 09:21AM | 0 recs
This is the best selling book in the world
on the net anyway. Interesting.
by GaryBoatwright 2005-04-11 04:57AM | 0 recs

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