In Defense of Religious Belief

In Defense of Religious Belief December 27, 2013

The Harris Poll about religious adherence was released a little over a week ago. In a report that surprised none of us at WWJTD but shook certain of our neighbors to the core, it determined that adherence to religious belief is dropping significantly. Well, significantly for a drop in religious belief, anyway. It’s a small trend, but a trend whose latest movement is sharply less insignificant than in the past.

I noticed something about the comments on the post on the Harris Interactive website.

The comments by self-identified believers tended to defend their beliefs. Those by self-identified nonbelievers, or by those who said nothing one way or another about their beliefs, talked about the poll itself.

There was this tired old argument:

God exists. Otherwise, how do you account for reason, the laws of logic (which are not dependent on us or whether you believe or use them or not), scientific “knowledge,” personality, meaning, language, and morality?

We can all, in voices dull with boredom, respond appropriately to such drivel. Another commenter put forth the classic “god of the gaps” argument, which was promptly shot down by a chorus of Our Kind.

Most of the other comments are pretty much more of the same. There are arguments in favor of a deity and arguments in favor of science. The comments most on point, though, are those that notice the trends and numbers, and comment on them in and of themselves.

One person wondered what the breakdown of these numbers was by political party – something I think we can also guess at, and which other polls have addressed. And, as another commenter said, “I want to know who they are polling. I think it’s safe to say that people who still have landlines don’t really represent the majority of the country.”

Commenters who did not argue deity vs. science noted almost universally that the trend was good for the country and expressed hope that it would continue.

Those commenters whose positions are shown by the poll to be losing numbers showed a tendency I found to be interesting: rather than speculate as to why the numbers of the religious were taking a relative nose dive, they defended their own religious beliefs. That seemed to me to be the wrong thing to do. Wondering why the numbers were dropping seems to be a much more relevant response than to defend why they are still in the dominant side of the question.

Why, when they are still in the vast majority, are these people so defensive about their beliefs?

Is religious faith a psychological defense mechanism, as one writer posited?

Do rigid religious beliefs present a form of psychopatholoy, as a researcher from St. John’s University suggested? If religious fundamentalism is an indicator of psychopathology, I think the world is in a lot of trouble. But then, the world is in a lot of trouble, and religion is at the root of that trouble wherever money isn’t, and often even when it is. That journal article is not the only one to consider hyper-religiosity to be a neurosis. I don’t know about you, but I feel just a wee bit ambivalent about saying that more than 80% of the American population has some sort of psychopathology.

Is it that strongly devout people – those who have that “personal” relationship with their deity, are so attached to the notion that they can’t give it up, even in the presence of serious cognitive dissonance? Is that attachment to mystical experiences wired into us from an evolutionary standpoint?

What about Pavlov’s salivating dog and B.F. Skinner’s famous experiment with pigeons and ritualized behavior?

Everything happens for a reason in the minds of these people. Nothing is random. Nothing is left to chance. If it is, it was meant to be, and ours is not to reason why.

We can make it happen again, though, if we just keep to our rituals, regardless of the lack of empirical evidence of cause and effect. If we don’t get what we want even when we observe all the rituals perfectly, there must be some reason why we are being denied. Someone greater than us, more powerful, wiser, and with greater discernment has a reason for depriving us.

Hence, religion. And hence, the strong need to justify ritualistic behavior.

Let’s be glad we’ve moved on from there. We have evolved past that.

Haven’t we?


Got a legal question? Email me at I’m a lawyer, but there’s only a 2% chance I’m licensed in your state. Whether I answer your question or not, sending me an email or reading this blog post does not create an attorney-client relationship between us. I’m on Twitter as @aramink, and you can see my regular blog at




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