Religious Belief is Hard Work

Einstein and Jesus

Religious belief seems to be the natural state of humanity. The vast majority of people are religious. Plenty of people who aren’t religious subscribe to some other variety of hokum, be it alien visitation or homeopathic healing.

There are good reasons for this. Not only does religious belief have a lot of cultural inertia driving it, it is also rooted in a number of innate predispositions. People have a tendency to falsely ascribe agency to inanimate objects and natural systems. They tend to credulously accept information passed down to them by their elders or people in positions of authority. As a result, humans are highly primed for religiosity.

Being religious, it would seem, is the easiest thing in the world. I was born and raised religious. It all seemed pretty easy at the time.

This, I think, is the wrong way to look at it. Evolution may have seeded human psychology with innate tendencies that fuel religious belief, but it also supplied us with curiosity. The human species has survived and thrived because it possesses an unprecedented capacity for learning. We hunger to learn how things work.

Unfortunately, humans didn’t figure out how to reliably do this until relatively recently. It wasn’t until the dawn of the scientific revolution that humans began to consistently figure out how and why the universe is the way it is. Progress since then has been extraordinary.

Coupling the tools of science with an inborn thirst to learn and understand the world flips the impression that religious belief is easy and natural on its head. My curiosity about the world is what erased my religious belief. In this, the transition was effortless. I didn’t put a lot of work into becoming an atheist. In fact, my emotional attachments to religious belief inspired me to labor for its preservation.

Religious belief stands in belligerent indifference to information about what the world is like. It persists in spite of nature, not because of it. The scales started to fall from eyes as I developed a deeper and more expansive understanding of science. In a panicked state of youthful naivety, I tried to justify my religious beliefs despite the fact that they were contradicted by many of the more elegant and substantive truths derived from science. It was an exhausting struggle.

This is the natural state of religious belief in world where it is forced to coexist with science. It is an endless circus of tortured intellectual gymnastics. The devoutly religious pour huge amounts of resources into reconciling the unsubstantiated nonsense at the heart of their traditions with the highly corroborated views of science.

In this, the religious worldview is like a heavy ball perched atop an exceedingly steep and narrow peak. It’s got a huge amount of potential energy, all pointing in one direction: downward. Science is just the force of gravity, tugging it down to the lowest point.

The endless apologetics undertaken by religious believers are desperate attempts to prevent the inevitable. They expend huge amounts of energy to keep that ball balanced when they could simply take a breath, step back, and let the tools of science and their natural curiosity about the way the world works guide them to a natural resting point – a worldview that makes sense.

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