Belief, Unbelief, and emotional crutches

We all have reasons why we believe the things we do. They range from what we would admit to being vacuous, to what we believe to be well grounded — and varying degrees in between. Of course how others view our reasons is often very different from our own assessment. Every once in a while, however, a double standard sneaks in when making our assessments. We all try to avoid creating double standards, but often it goes unnoticed and must be pointed out.

 

I am not suggesting Atheists are such solely for emotional reasons, but rather it’s one arrow in their quiver of reasons.  They’ll cite intellectuals such as Hume, Russell, Hitchens, and Harris, et al.  But the majority of the arguments I hear for rejecting theism are appeals to emotion. The “New Atheists”, for example, are notorious for their disdain of religion, which most often rests on emotional dismissals.

  • The existence of evil in the world–natural and man caused
  • The purported existence of Hell
  • Moral atrocities recorded in the Bible or other Holy writ committed at the behest of God
  • Moral atrocities committed by religious adherents in the name of their God
  • Monotheistic arrogance (religious exclusivism, i.e., must believe in the correct God)
  • The idea of moral objectivity, especially morality dictated by Holy writ

These are but a few of the reasons a large swath of skeptics give for rejecting God. And some of the more evangelical Atheists are known for their ability to convey the message ‘God makes me sad, therefore I don’t believe in him’. Consider Richard Dawkins’ description of God in his book The God Delusion:

The God of the Old Testament is arguably the most unpleasant character in all fiction: jealous and proud of it; a petty, unjust, unforgiving control-freak; a vindictive, bloodthirsty ethnic cleanser; a misogynistic, homophobic, racist, infanticidal, genocidal, filicidal, pestilential, megalomaniacal, sadomasochistic, capriciously malevolent bully.

What I find suspicious, though, is the skeptic accuses the believer of belief due to emotion as though this is some kind of intellectual liability. Claims by those who believe in God are often dismissed by the skeptic because it is often thought that Theists only hold their belief because:

  • Their belief is due to upbringing–Parental or church influence
  • Belief in God is comforting, consoling, gives meaning and purpose to life
  • They fear of Hell
  • They’re superstitious – believing claims of supernatural events
  • They need to believe in something
  • Belief is an emotional crutch
  • They’re gullible

It would seem there is a double standard at work. The skeptic seems comfortable and justified in rejecting a belief in God for emotional reasons, but it’s somehow unacceptable to believe in God for emotional reasons.  In most of my discussions with skeptics about the existence of God, the line of argumentation regularly reverts back to a version of one or more of the emotional rejections listed above. It’s safe to say that none of the reasons above, either for or against belief are valid reasons for either position. The important question is: Is what you believe true. Not: how does your belief make you feel.

Comments

  1. What the vast majority of theists cannot grasp understanding that atheists do not “reject” God. Rejecting God implies that God exists as a matter of fact. I reject the claim that God exists because of lack of evidence – that’s it. It’s not emotional at all.

    Folks like Dawkins describe the God of the bible to merely illustrate the character of the deity that Christians believe in. I doubt his intention was to say God doesn’t exist because God is described this way. All of the “dismissals” you point out simply show the inconsistency in the faith itself.

    The simple fact is that most believers have a strong emotional attachment to their faith. It is merely projection to think that non-believers have the same emotional attachment to their non-belief.

  2. oops, missed the proper html there… it should have been:

    Folks like Dawkins describe the God of the bible to merely illustrate the character of the deity that Christians believe in. I doubt his intention was to say God doesn’t exist because God is described this way. All of the “dismissals” you point out simply show the inconsistency in the faith itself.

    The simple fact is that most believers have a strong emotional attachment to their faith. It is merely projection to think that non-believers have the same emotional attachment to their non-belief.

  3. I don’t know, Z. Atheists will reject, dismiss or belittle any evidence provided, doing so by a standard that seems impossibly high and not used to judge anything else. That suggests an emotional motivation to me.

  4. Impossibly high standards? These only match the quality of the claim. Extraordinary claims, require extraordinary evidence.

    I use the same procedure for dismissing all kinds of claims, so no emotional motivation at all.

  5. I think theists and non-theists both have people who have based their stance mostly on emotion and people who have actually thought about their stance. On both sides you can identify the people who have actually thought about their stance because:

    1. Don’t see the other group as monolithic
    2. Wont’ judge the group by those who have abused their group
    3. Want to live in peace with the other group

  6. Many of the “emotional” argument you listed from atheists are not presented as emotional objections. They are philosophical objections to specific Christian claims about their God. The premise that atheists “reject” God for emotional reasons is absurd. If they did that, they wouldn’t be atheists, they would be misotheists or maltheists.

    I’m not saying that there are not “atheists” who “reject God” on emotional grounds, just that this is far from a common opinion.

    Perhaps if we tried to listen to one another’s arguments and frame them with good faith intentions- we wouldn’t strain ourselves to find “suggestions of an emotional motivation.”

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