The Big Questions

Life, death and free will.

When Belief in God is Rational

Belief in God, Death and Rationality

So there I stood with this woman, a half hour after her husband died. It caught me off guard. Just three days earlier he had agreed to have me interview him. At moments like this, I can't help but find God-belief rational.

The old addage is that if you don't pick a side, you will be shot at by both sides. This has certainly been my experience with religion.  To one side, I am a superstitious fool, and to the other, I am somehow destined to Hell because I don't think Jonah lived in a whale (oh sorry, it was a big fish). The middle ground somehow gets lost in a sea of extremism.

For the 'not so fond of religion' crowd, religion is often seen as this great evil. And while this can be true, and often is, it isn't the only side of the coin.

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Sure religions are used to justify war and prejudice and all sorts of hate. But at the same time, the comfort that theism and afterlife belief bring to people in times of intense pain and suffering is often remarkable. So if we are going to bash it for its downside, we also need to praise it for its positives.

St. Augustine (among others) has written that belief in God is rational. From Augustine's perspective, if he didn't believe in God, he would live in constant fear of what he could lose. This applies not only to his life, but to everything in his life that gives his life value and purpose (family etc). 

A similar sentiment was echoed by Tolstoy who repeatedly wrote about the way death makes everything in life meaningless, unless there is a God or a future existence.

On my way back from this woman's house, I was thinking a lot about the pain she must be going through, and what could possibly help her. And in that time, I thought back to Tolstoy and St. Augustine and many like them. They, just like this woman, took solace in their belief in God.

Definitions of rationality vary. But I tend to think of rationality as being consistent. If death has such a sting, and if God gives people such comfort, then how is this irrational? It seems like a logical solution to the problem of death.

Of course, none of this rationality business would probably matter to this woman while her husband was so close to death. But, how could I, or anyone, look her in the eye and tell her that her faith was irrational? And it isn't just empathy and compassion that hinder this, I suspect.

Maybe, just maybe, deep down this reluctance is a recognition that on some level, belief in God is not as irrational and absurd as some people proclaim.

 

Nathan Heflick completed his Ph.D. in social psychology at The University of South Florida.

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