I’ve been discussing the idea of God and the nature of belief in God with persons for some time now, and also have looked at some of the philosophical arguments for God. These discussions have been in person and also in writing and they can very quickly turn emotional.
I used to think the question – does God exist? – was a serious question and anyone who claims He does exist was making a claim about me. They still are but my position’s shifted and discussions about individual religions don’t interest me because arguing about one religion versus another is like arguing about what Father Christmas likes for breakfast.
I’ve studied some of the famous arguments for God; I’ve looked, with awe and amusement, at how some persons will mangle language to suit their own delusions, and I’ve discovered the expression ‘this only gets you to agnosticism’ irritates me every time I hear it.
I’ve changed my mind about the important question. There’s no reason outside a person’s head to believe God exists, and I’ve seen enough examples of language being abused to think the religious also know this – because they go to such lengths to pretend they’re not doing it. Cognitive dissonance and doublethink rule the mind on this topic.
What really interests me is this: do believers actually believe, or are they simply lying?
One must define one’s terms.
By ‘belief’ I mean internal conviction that God exists. In other words, when the believer says ‘I believe in God’ they mean what they say and think a supernatural being actually exists: they have conviction this is true in the same way they believe they know their own name or believe they know where they live – or anything else they would say they believed. For instance, they would say they believe the Sun exists. There’s no question about this, the believer can see, feel and with the right equipment even hear the Sun. They, as we all are, all have conviction the Sun exists.
So when the religious person thinks of the Sun existing, and thinks God exists, are the sensations comparable – do they feel the same? Do they have conviction about God?
That’s what (you get the idea) I’m assuming a believer means when they say ‘belief.’ Anything less than that and it seems they mean something else when they say they ‘believe.’
The reason for labouring this point is when some religious say they ‘believe’ they are expressing a hope, not a belief. What one hopes is true is quite a different thing from what one believes is true. How much conviction does a religious believer actually have? There are ways to think about this logically.
There is no religion I can think of which doesn’t offer survival of death as one of the selling points. The afterlife is something taken for granted with religion. To assume that a religious person believes in survival of death is utterly reasonable – and it’s their attitude to death which is one clue to the sincerity of their claim to believe.
‘Terrorists’ like to blow stuff up – we all know this, but a bomb detonated by a Catholic from the IRA is different from the bomb detonated by an Islamic fanatic.
The desire to cause explosions and damage property, to kill and maim and spread fear is the political aspect of both bombs; but the desire to deliberately kill your self is the religious aspect. Islamic fanatics have suicide as part of the method, the IRA never did.
Could it be possible the IRA weren’t devout Catholics?
Could it be the Islamic fanatic actually does believe he will survive the blast from his own device, and that’s why he’s happy to kill himself? I like to put the answer this way: it better be, otherwise the Mullahs need lessons in resource management.
The suicide bomber is a simple, though extreme example, and most ordinary ‘believers’ are not asked to kill themselves for a cause.
There is an example of mainstream religious behaviour which any regular believer could indulge in, and that’s the old classic of religious conversion. This will take a moment to explain.
Who has heard of a sporting conversion?
Can you imagine someone ‘converting’ from the Red Sox to the Yankees or from Man Utd to Man City ? It wouldn’t happen because sports fans have genuine conviction about their beliefs.
Imagine the experiment:
A Red Sox guy has everything which happens to his brain when he considers his team mapped and tagged in an MRI. He’s then asked if he’s willing to convert his convictions, his beliefs, his feelings and so on from the Red Sox to the Yankees.
He need only go home, do the conversion on his own or with anyone else he likes and by any means he chooses, come back, get his brain mapped to make sure he’s not faking it and he’ll receive $50,000 for his trouble. (He can then happily convert back again.)
Even if you could find a Red Sox guy who was willing, he wouldn’t be able. We all know how deep sporting convictions run in the mind.
Yet the religious can drop their deep, heartfelt convictions, their beliefs about revealed truth and the nature of the universe, and just choose to have faith and conviction in an entirely different set of religious positions after no more than a bit of ‘soul-searching’ and some ‘conversion’?
The word ‘conversion’ is used to imply a complicated, technical process inside the mind: the taking of one thing, then the moulding, changing, and altering of it to fashion a new something from the previous material.
It’s utter rubbish: the religious just begin saying they believe something else now, while hiding the lie (from themselves) by using technical language.
Nothing is converted.
Suicide tells you the person truly believed it, conversion tells you the person truly did not, and still does not.
I believe that language speaks louder than actions – always look to the language.
That’s the two ends of the spectrum dealt with – but the majority of religious are normal, everyday people whose behaviour is never extreme enough for their convictions (suicide) or lack of them (conversion) to be spotted. How to tell what the mainstream moderate majority actually think?
When I was a child I used to play with Transformers. These were the robots which could turn themselves into everyday objects like cars or jets and so on. I also used to read the Transformers comic, and this had a letters page where other kids would write in to speak to the Decepticon robot, Soundwave, who edited the letters page.
One kid wrote a letter asking what he thought was an intelligent question. It went something like this:
My favourite Transformer is Jazz but when he’s a car he has wheels but they disappear when he transforms. Where do they go?”
Actually, it’s a fair question. Soundwave explained that when a car Transformer becomes a robot, the wheels and tyres are locked in special compartments which can’t be seen, so it looks like they disappear.
I remember thinking that a better question might be: how is it possible that a forty foot high robot, when it transforms, becomes a Walther P38 a person can hold in their hand? And while we’re on the topic, how come Soundwave himself, another forty foot high robot, could transform and become a cassette player? I mean, how could they become smaller?
I think my question is a better one, but I didn’t ask it because I didn’t care about reason when I was eight. And it’s important to remember how we felt, as kids, when something absurd was put before us – we didn’t care.
I knew, in one part of my mind, Megatron and Soundwave’s shrinking was impossible, but it wasn’t important; it did nothing to damage the enjoyment of the stories. But it’s recognising something is impossible, or highly unlikely, and then rejecting it for that reason, which is the difference between the child and the adult.
For ‘Megatron shrinking’ read ‘Evolution via Natural Selection’ for the religious.