Follow by Email

Monday, November 12, 2012

Do We Use Religion for Comfort?


My husband and I are sitting on the sofa while our son is pacing the living-room, as he usually does when he’s arguing with us. Following his movements, our heads turn steadily from left to right and vice versa. He gives us a headache, but there is no way to keep him still. 
“People‘s beliefs are usually based on evidence and reason, but when it comes to God they use a different mindset.”  he says. “The scientific mindset and the religious one are incompatible.”
“Really?” I replay.  “And how do you explain, for instance, the fact that the physicist who first theorized the Big Bang was a Catholic priest?”
 “People can hold opposite beliefs simultaneously, without even realizing it,” he answers.“Scientists who are also religious accept opposite standards of evidence to understand the same reality. I call this hypocrisy”.
 "Remember that in physics some theories are supported only by mathematical models, and not by empirical evidence.” his father intervenes. “The mechanism of belief is one, and it’s independent from the object of belief. This means that ’I believe that God exists’ and ’I believe that the continent of Asia exists’ share the same mental mechanism, although the method of verification in one case may be psychological and in the other empirical. We may say that one belief is based on the perception of the external reality and the other on an internal reality. One involves sense data, the other does not.”

But what does our psychology tell us about God? People hold wildly opposite opinions about Him. Some believe that everything that comes from God must necessarily be good, because He is Love. Others, on the contrary, think that God imposes suffering, not as a punishment but as a form of therapy, for humans need to reach the bottom in order to blossom.
Of course God can‘t be theorized, let alone understood. This is precisely the reason why, according to my son, it is absurd to live by faith.
“We can only talk about what we experience,” he says, “If you are unable to explain to me the nature of God, then you are wasting my time.”
 “Wait.”  his father answers, “Let’s say that I am depressed. I can talk about my depression, but I can’t make you feel it. Yet it’s real, it is a condition that I perceive clearly. The person of faith probably perceives God in the same way, but she can’t share it with you.”
 “Let’s say, then, that you are convinced that a demon is causing your depression.” our son answers. “This doesn’t make the demon a reality. Same thing goes with faith. Mom feels the presence of Jesus, but her feelings don’t make him real.”
 “You are wrong.” I answer. “Faith is not a feeling. To say it with Thomas Merton, faith is an intellectual assent. Your intelligence tells you that we can only achieve knowledge through science. Mine tells me that there is a reality beyond what we can see. This is the beginning of faith. Feelings appear after the intellectual assent .”
“You can deny it as much as you want, but I have no doubt that it’s psychology that tricks the faithful into finding comfort in religion” our states.

 "Comfort‘, this is the word that my son repeats over and over to explain my faith. So let’s analyze what brings me comfort and why I need it.
Do I need to believe in immortality? No, I’ve never been afraid of death. If this were my problem, my faith would be corrupted by the hope of a reward in the afterlife.
Do I want to feel safe? It would be nice, but God is not a warranty against trouble. Still, He can guide me and make things happen. On a rainy day, I could compare Him to a waterproof coat more than to an umbrella. I feel the rain pouring right on my head, but I don’t get wet.   
Do I find comfort in the Christian community? Sure, but it took me a long time to introduce myself to the people of my church. I had faith before I met them.
Do I need to fill up a void? I do, but this is not an argument. I could have chosen anything, Why religion? True, I was experiencing disillusionment, but I see this in a positive light. The moment we realize that what we have will never fulfill us is the moment when we finally turn to something above us. It’s a spiritual awakening, not a refuge. Before, I was engrossed in my material desires and in my ignorance. I didn’t even suspect the existence of a deeper dimension.

However, religion does bring comfort. Of course it does! It’s a relationship based on love. So I  am not a Christian for any of the reasons mentioned above; I am a Christian because I perceive the embracing presence of Jesus. I wish my family could feel it too. Our son is still so young, still so eager to engage life in a battle, but adults are often haunted by regrets and worries. I used to feel that way. Even now, once in a while, I wake up in the middle of the night with a sense of uneasiness. Before I met Jesus, I had to rely on
Xanax to go through the night. Now I wait for him to heal me. Peace immediately takes over, and I go back to sleep. I know there is chaos out there, but not in my room, not in my mind.


Manny said...

There's too much in there for me to absorb right now, but comfort as the source of religion is ridiculous and easy to reject. Comfort in inhibiting desires and leading an ascetic life? Comfort in rejecting one's egotism as the center of the universe? Comfort in following laws that have been handed down that seem outdated? Have your son visit an orthodox Jewish neighborhood and see them follow the over 500 laws the Old Testament demands and let him tell you that's comfortable. And then there is the suffering that God requires of us, that's comfortable? And of course eternal damnation in hell if one doesn't meet God's laws, oh that must be really comfortable. Knowing that most people go to hell, that's comfortable? LOL.

A legitament argument might be that religion is a culturally developed concept to explain the world, but to say that it's comfortable to believe is by someone who obviously doesn't believe.

Now that is different than faith as a comfort. Faith provides a comfort that the universe and events have meaning over random insignificance. But that doesn't prove or disprove religion.

Antonella said...

Yet most atheists think that religious people don't accept their mortality and find comfort in the idea that there is eternal life. Although this is not my case, I do admit that my faith helps me a lot in dealing with sorrow.
"My yoke is easy, my burden is light" is the sentence I relate more with among those pronounced by Jesus. My friends don't really understand that. Like you, they feel that to lead a religious life is difficult. But I was so unhappy in my sinful years that now everything seems more bearable.

Manny said...

Antonella, we find comfort because we have a conceptualization of an order or a process. But so do atheists. If religious people believed because it gives us comfort, then there should be millions of athiests who are driving themselves crazy with anxiety. But that isn't the case. Athiests have the same comfort as religious people. I've never met an atheist who wasn't comfortable with his mortality. They have equally "understood" the universe. Are you husband and son in any greater state of anxiety than you? The fact is we all, religious and atheists, have faith in a process or order. Neither is any more or less comfortable than the other.

You might want to have your husband and son read this:

They should search out real philisophic counter opinion, not some strawman arguments that atheists try to put in our mouths.