Friday, May 7, 2010

Indulging in belief is self-damaging

Many people think that there is no harm in self-illusion if it makes someone happy.

I contend that this were true, if only it actually did make an overall positive impact on their lives.

Knowing reality is required for dealing with it. Are there some aspects of reality which we can afford not to know or to have false information of?
Probably some - like stars billions of light years away from us, have very little effect on our lives. Knowing the truth about them still matters because eventually knowing space is essential for our survival, but not as urgent as knowing the content of our food is healthy or that we are indeed mortals or that driving a car recklessly can kill us.

Faith, however, provides a temporary emotional relief at the expense of valuable information - knowledge that actually IS relevant to one's life.
If it were not relevant to one's life, people would not be so emotionally attached to their mystical beliefs. It is precisely because faith involves illusions on matters relevant to one's values that one clings to it.

For example - believing in god or in destiny. How can that possibly be harmful?
The answer is that believing in those things alleviates one's sense of responsibility for one's life. It imitates the psychological state of childhood, when a child has a parent watching over them - only in this case, no such parent actually exists.

A religious person can therefore go to war, not objectively evaluating the risk, thinking that god will protect them. They can engage in reckless behavior or invest money believing that their "fate" is not such that they would go bankrupt or get injured.
In reality, there is no such force of protection - thus these people remain in great danger without ever admitting or recognizing it.
When things go wrong, they simply hang on to their belief in god or in destiny even tighter and just "accept" whatever bad things happen as their fate.
A non-believer would realize that their lives are in their own hands and act to prevent or solve that bad situation.

Even a belief in astrology can be damaging. Some people make decisions based on astrology, such as making investments, getting into or refraining from getting into a relationship and so on.
In case of a relationship, astrology believers spend their time "reading the star maps" rather than actually getting to know the person. They may become so involved in their belief that it may even lead to marriage - only to end later in misery since the couple is not actually compatible.

If we are to be happy we must make it our business and goal to know the truth - both about the outside world and about our inner life. Our life and happiness depend on it.


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  1. Ifat, I think, to give up commenting on your blog was not a mature decision on my part. I realize that it was foolish of me to argue with you the way I have done, over certain BIG differences in our beliefs. Yes, my beliefs are still as strong as ever. But that does not change the fact that I admire your writing very much. Your rationale, the ease with which you present things, is all great.

    I will not discuss with you certain things where there's difference between our opinions, but apart from that I see no problem, nor any harm in commenting on your blog.

    This article, is great. I would wish even if you stop blogging some time in life you will keep this blog online. Because it has many real useful articles that I have kept bookmarked for my reference.

    It may not matter much for you, since you are much "developed", but I would still say I am sorry for the "childishness", if we may call it so.

    Thanks for blogging! :)

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  3. Ifat,

    You've taken a simplistic view of belief in existence of God, which is uncharacteristic of your analysis.

    While, what you point out (the recklessness & dependence on the almighty) hold true in case of few people, there are other compensating mechanisms that belief in the almighty affords.

    E.g., the saying - "god helps those who help themselves". In Indian (Hindu) culture, there's a concept of 'Karma' & believers are expected to put in their effort with utmost sincerity irrespective of the outcome. Both these ideas make most theists discount god as a factor in how they respond in various situations.

    Also, there's one more way in which atheists are at disadvantage vis-a-vis the enthusiasm with which they live their lives, which is paucity of an external purpose to life. Speaking for myself, the moment I realized there was no God, & that if even entire human race is wiped off, there would be no sentient being to mourn or miss me, I felt a jolt. I found my life purposeless.

    It's later I told myself, "I'm trying to survive so that I could live, which in turn so that I could experience happiness, which has no underlying purpose, but is the highest possible purpose." Yet, this highest purpose seems vaccuous. It becomes monotonous to experience happiness, whichever way we do. Probably, we keep on seeking it because other options - pain & emptiness (that life-experiences can offer apart from happiness) - are less enticing.

    Whereas, theists live with a certain conviction that their lives have a higher purpose, that each decision they take will somehow matter to someone.

    But I think a deeper question worth asking is: is it truly possible to deceive oneself?

    I don't think it's possible. At least, not possible to do so, and also be comfortable about it.

    Many theists I have talked about are noncommital about existence of God. While, their belief in existence of God is weak, worship (asking God for favors) is more of a wagering tendency, or in some cases an indicator of their desperation (you've discussed both the things anyway). So, I feel most theists have not encountered well-thought arguments against the existence of God. Their a priori assumptions, & their invalidity have not been logically shown to them, hence they continue to believe. Of course statistically, what percentage of population's exposed to such arguments would vary from society to society.

  4. A typo above: "Many theists I have talked *with are noncommital..."

  5. Also, one more thing. I believe, you would agree that a lot you write is based on observing of common people. Do you think these observations are generic, as in applicable to common people of all the countries/communities? Meaning, are common people's tendencies & circumstances same across all populations or can there be significant differences?

    Reading your posts, I personally feel, had you, for instance, lived in India, your opinions very likely would've shaped up differently. Of course, I don't have any evidence to back up this feeling, it's just that whenever I try to find the reason behind (a few) differences that exist between your & my thinking, I invariably infer it to be encountering a few people & their circumstances (in India) that you must have not.

    As I finish typing this, I realized it's off-topic. But since you didn't reprimand Darshan above for the same, I hope you'll be fair enough & not scold me! :P More important, is there any avenue I can use to discuss the 'off-topic' issues with you, if I feel like?