I’ve heard a few different reasons that people hold on to their religion. Some of them are rationalized reasons, and those can all be argued using their own merits. There are a few arguments, emotional ones, that are nothing more than attempts to hold on to a good story.
While scouring the internet there is a stance you will hear now and again. Usually it comes from those who haven’t fully considered atheism, or fully considered their religion. It is, in a way, an argument from ‘what feels good’. That is to say, it doesn’t sound pleasing to me, therefore it can’t be true.
“If this is all this was, this difficult life, I don’t know what I would do. So I believe there is something better after.”
This isn’t really an argument, it is just an emotional place. It is where you go when you realize the world is dark, scary, and doesn’t care whether you grow up to be president or die in an alley in a pile of your own feces. The idea of a cosmic force, whether a personal god or something as simple as karma, establishes the feeling that maybe it all has purpose.
Because lets admit it, life has terrible moments. For some it is worse than others. Illness, poverty, death, strife of all sorts, the world does not feel like a benevolent place, it can seem impossible to do that whole ‘pursuit of happiness’ I always hear the president jabbering on about.
At first glance, maybe a younger me, would imagine that a world with such trials and tribulations would lead to a decrease in religious people. If the world is clearly crap-sack, if everything sucks, shouldn’t you realize that there isn’t a kind deity over your shoulder, giving you fist bumps and solving your life problems?
No, says research. Quite the opposite, the more poverty and strife in a region, the higher the religiosity. Here is a gallup poll for poverty and religiosity, and research continues to echo this. If life sucks balls, real swollen and sweaty ones, you turn to god. In retrospect, it makes sense. Gods don’t promise to keep you away from swollen sweaty balls, they promise you a life hereafter without swollen sweaty balls. A ball-less haven, where the highfather is the only one who can teabag you. (Can god ban all teabagging, then teabag you anyway? A conundrum for our time.)
When I hear statements like the one above, people say that they believe because they cannot imagine a world without, I take a step back and ponder the life they have lived. Behind those words, there is fear. Those words say to me, a life of anxiety, pain, and and dread, cannot be all.
Maybe I have an unfair advantage when it comes to skepticism, happiness. My joy has never been linked to a church community, my glee has never required the validation of a deity, and my blissful moments can clearly be tracked by to completely human elements.
All warm-fuzzy feelings aside, I would challenge everyone to understand this element of the religious response. Especially when talking to older people, their life may not have been quite as smooth. When the going gets tough, there is no other solution, when it seems like the cosmos is kicking you from every direction, it can make trusting your invisible friend seem like a great solution. Even if the best he can do is threaten to send you to an eternal torture dungeon.
(Because that is an improvement, or something.)