I’ve given a lot of thought to what makes people tick for years and especially to how faith works, because it is such a major part of peoples’ thought processes and emotional makeup in the US. One striking difference between skeptics and people of faith is always how willing skeptics are to question and how resistant people of faith often are to question. I put most of my mental energy into questioning my thoughts and they into maintaining and reinforcing theirs (at least their religious views, they are often reasonable about other views where there is no religious overlap). For much of my life I assumed religious people were just pig-headed and closed-minded and that it was just a character flaw. But after much thought I’ve realized that they’re doing the same thing people do with many other beliefs – putting all their eggs into one basket.
Let me walk you through a parallel. Imagine someone who is taught as a child or comes to believe that whites are superior to blacks. Before I continue I want to make very clear that I’m not equating the two views morally in any way or suggesting that faith makes someone racist or anything of the sort. I have a very valid point, please bear with me. So anyway, our hypothetical person believes whites are superior to blacks, lets say he gets it from his parents who share the same view. So already getting along with them, getting affection from them, getting approval etc is much easier if he doesn’t question this view. As he gets older he will likely deal with self-esteem issues, but he can take comfort in knowing that he’s okay (better in fact) because he has white skin. He will seek out peers who feel the same way and avoid confrontation with those who don’t (because any confrontation would call his self-worth into question). One day he joins a white supremacist organization because while they hate everyone else they care for their own and it’s a place where he can fit in, he can feel loved, feel accepted, not have his views questioned and actually have them reinforced. A year later he finds a nice girl with the same views, and a few years later they marry. Her father (who shares the same view) gives him a job right out of college better than he could’ve gotten on his own and all is good.
But then one day something makes him question that one thing he was taught as a child, maybe he sees someone killed because of the color of their skin. This moment will be terrifying for him for the exact same reason it is terrifying for a person of faith. Because if he reverses this one, single solitary opinion he loses his job, wife, kids, parents, friends, sense of community, self-esteem and his very sense of who he is and what his place is in the world simultaneously. He effectively commits social and emotional suicide.
Now is this because not being racist = pain, turmoil and loneliness? Or did he, by putting all of his eggs in one basket and investing so much into one idea (most likely unintentionally) paint himself into a corner?
I think the same is true of faith, mostly due to organized religion. I think people tend to avoid people who call their religious views into question for the exact same reason, it calls their everything into question, threatens their relationships, their sense of purpose and meaning, their moral worldview, sense of community etc, and most people don’t have the courage (or foolhardiness) to go down that rabbit hole not knowing where it leads. Add onto that all of the defenses religions have built in over the centuries, fear of hell, the idea that questioning is sinful (so people won’t start until they’re so far down that road it’s harder for them to do) etc. It has taken me many years to realize this because I can’t relate to it. I am not painted into a corner like this. There is no single idea that my whole worldview is dependent on. I don’t put that much emphasis on any one thing, my views are eclectic. I take a little from everything, even the bible (I even have religious music on my playlist). So if it were proven that there is a god it would not pain me to change my views any more than it would pain me to change my views about bigfoot. In fact it would be interesting and exciting findings if either were proven to be real.
One of the many benefits of skepticism is that faulty ideas are discarded long before these kinds of emotional investments are made, so you run far less of a risk of waking up one day and finding out that your whole life is built around something which may be wrong, and if our hypothetical guy had questioned his views earlier it would have been much different for him. The same is true of losing faith, sooner is easier, later is hard, late is usually impossible.
I’ve tried very hard not to be offensive to anyone in this blog, and haven’t even addressed the issue of whether or not there is a god or any particular religion is true. I’m just talking about the emotional and social ramifications of beliefs. I’m not an attention whore, but please rec’ this especially if you’re religious or have a lot of religious subscribers, I think it might be insightful.