I've noticed an air of superiority among atheists that I find troubling. Some of my religious friends feel that atheists look down on them. Richard Dawkins alludes to a correlation between higher intelligence and nonbelief in God or other supernatural phenomena. Dinesh D'Souza said of the new atheism, "It wants to make the believer feel like a total idiot for believing in God."
I do not think anyone is stupid for believing in God. I don't think that it's because I'm so smart that I lost my faith--although I did once have a bishop who cautioned me that if I wasn't careful, my "keen mind" could become a "stumbling block" to my faith (i.e. I should quit thinking so much). I'm certainly no dummy, but I'm also smart enough to recognize that there are many people out there who are smarter than I am, and I know many believers among them. For example, my mother is one of the most intelligent people I know. Many of the LDS apostles have had successful medical, scientific or political careers and are obviously very bright guys.
So, if you believe in God, I don't think you're stupid, but I do think you're wrong. I'm not going to go into why I think you're wrong because I've already discussed that in other posts. What I would like to write about today is why I think you believe. And I'm sure I'll get an earful of rebuttal, but I'm okay with that. :-)
Michael Shermer, executive director of the Skeptics Society , puts it this way: "Smart people believe weird things because they are skilled at defending beliefs they arrived at for non-smart reasons." You might could even argue that it requires more intelligence to hold up the scaffolding of a shaky foundation.
I'm going to posit why I think believers go to such great lengths to defend their beliefs: They are highly invested in those beliefs and thus highly motivated to maintain them.
When I was a Mormon, I believed that losing my testimony was the worst thing that could happen to me. People who lose their beliefs are painted as dark and defective, full of evil. Brigham Young said of those who leave the Church, "They experience darkness, ignorance, doubt, pain, sorrow, grief, mourning, unhappiness; no person to condole [lament] with in the hour of trouble, no arm to lean upon in the day of calamity, no eye to pity when they are forlorn and cast down; and I comprehend it by saying death, hell and the grave." Or from Doctrine and Covenants 85:9: "...all they who are not found written in the book of remembrance shall find none inheritance in that day, but they shall be cut asunder, and their portion shall be appointed them among unbelievers, where are wailing and gnashing of teeth." A quick search for "unbelief" in the LDS Topical Guide suggests the following related topics: Hardheartedness, Doubt, Hate, Pride, Stubbornness, Wickedness, Fearfulness. Clearly to lose your belief in the Church is a very bad thing.
Belief is a prerequisite for God to work miracles in your life. (Matthew 8:13, Matthew 9: 28-29, Luke 8:50 for just a few examples.) Interestingly, the New Age idea of manifesting reality through our thoughts also claims that we have to truly believe it in order for the universe to shift around and grant our desires. (So when everything isn't rosy, it's your fault because of some mental block dampening your belief.)
Most mainstream Christians don't think you have to belong to any particular church to be saved, but lets take a look at perhaps the best known verse in all of Christendom, John 3:16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (emphasis mine)." Or Mark 16:16: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned."
Obviously the stakes are a wee bit higher than, say, not getting presents anymore for not believing in Santa.
Besides these frightening (and albeit false) consequences of losing belief, no one likes to find out they've been had, especially about something so fundamental to their sense of identity. I can attest to that.
There's a certain sense of security in believing that you have the answers and that you know. It can be unnerving to have to admit that you don't know and that there are no guarantees and that everything doesn't always necessarily work out for the best. So I understand the motives for holding on to irrational beliefs.
But if you can find the courage to let go of that ledge, you might find that what awaits you below is much more like an inflatable bouncy house than menacing, jagged rocks.