50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God (10 page)

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It is important for believers to understand that there are significant
differences between "my god did it" and the big bang theory. The former
tends to be an inflexible conclusion that is based on faith and has no evidence to support it; the latter is a scientific theory that is derived from
the scientific method and open to correction. A common misconception
that many believers have about the big bang is that atheists "believe" it
in a religious sense. Some even call it a creation myth for atheists. This
is not true. While I cannot speak for all nonbelievers, of course, I am
confident that virtually no atheists "believe" in the big bang in the same
way religious people believe in their creation stories. Most Christians,
Muslims, and Jews, for example, would have a big problem letting go
of the belief that their god created the universe. However, atheists who
accept the big bang as a good explanation based on current evidence are
unlikely to become enraged or feel emotionally devastated if overwhelming evidence turns up in support of a new "Little Burp theory"
that overturns the big bang theory. It is safe to assume that atheists
would not fill the streets weeping and gnashing their teeth. No atheists
would threaten to behead the scientists who made the discovery or even
burn them in effigy. It is doubtful that private atheist schools would pop
up around the world to defiantly continue teaching the big bang theory
to children in spite of the evidence. It is more likely that atheists would
welcome the scientific advancement.

Wait, says the believer, the big bang had to have been caused by
something. Nothing just happens. Science can't explain what caused
the big bang but there had to be a cause and that cause was my god.
This argument has been answered by atheists repeatedly for many
years but it never goes away, so I will answer it too. The assumption
that everything has to have been caused by something else might be
incorrect. How does anyone know this? Maybe some things are infinite and uncaused. But, if believers are right and "everything" requires
a cause, then that means something or someone must have "caused"
their gods as well. They can't have it both ways. If, however, they say
that there is an exception to the rule and their gods can exist without
anything having caused them, then so can the universe.

The bottom line on how the universe began is that no one understands exactly how it happened. But our ignorance about the origins of
the universe is not proof of the existence of gods. Atheists cannot
claim that the big bang disproves the existence of gods. Believers
cannot claim that unanswered questions about the big bang disprove a
natural universe that is empty of gods. Those who side with the gods
must find another way to justify their belief because cosmology offers
them no help at this time.

CHAPTER 9 BIBLIOGRAPHY AND
RECOMMENDED READING

Leeming, David, with Margaret Leeming. A Dictionary of Creation Mvths.
New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

Seife, Charles. Alpha and Omega: The Search for the Beginning and End of
the Universe. New York: Penguin Books, 2003.

Weinberg, Steven. Facing Up: Science and Its Cultural Adversaries. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2001.

 
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Believing in my god makes
me happy.

-"I've Got the Joy" (Christian song)

ven when faced with good reasons to doubt, many people continue believing in their god because it feels good. If belief in a
god makes them happy, why question it? This justification for belief
may not carry much intellectual weight in the eyes of some but it
deserves attention nonetheless. Simple as it seems, I find it honest and
far more defensible than most of the extravagant arguments for gods
that believers come up with. It feels good so they do it. It's tough to
argue against this reason for belief. So I won't, at least not directly.
After all, I want happy people and a happy world too. The last thing I
want is to rain on anyone's parade. However, because I am convinced
that people can be just as happy or even happier without gods, I won't
duck this common reason for believing.

First of all, it is important to consider whether it is a real god that
is making believers happy or merely something about the act of
believing in a god that makes them happy. I certainly won't dispute
religion's ability to make some people happy. I have seen religious joy up close. I saw it in the glowing eyes of a worshipping Hindu man in
a temple in Nepal. I once found myself swept up in a whirlwind of
smiles and singing inside a small-town church in Florida. I was
enjoying it so much that I might have thought I was filled with the
Holy Ghost if I didn't know better. I watched a Muslim man pray in
Damascus, Syria. His expression was so intense and serious that I
assumed he was in pain or deeply troubled by something. When he finished his prayers, however, he smiled at me in a show of pure joy. At
that moment he might have been the happiest man in all the world. So
how can anyone challenge all this happiness linked to religion? How
can anyone deny that gods make people happy when the evidence is
everywhere in the form of grinning believers? The answer, of course,
is that none of this is evidence of anything other than the ability of
belief itself and the activities that go along with it to inspire happiness.
Happy worshippers prove nothing about the existence of gods. It could
be that believing and worshipping are the sources of the pleasure.
Believers may disagree but the most likely explanation for happy
believers is that socializing with friends during worship gatherings,
the relaxing process of prayer, singing and listening to music, and
imagining that a god cares for you are responsible for the happiness.
No real gods are necessary. Don't believe it? Then how do you explain
Buddhists?

Orthodox Buddhists prove that religion can make people
happy-even without a god. Contrary to what many Westerners
think, traditional Buddhists do not worship Buddha as a god. Siddhartha Gautama, the Buddha, never claimed to be a god. Therefore,
most Buddhists are atheists. However, they still may believe in other
unproven supernatural claims such as reincarnation. Futhermore,
Buddhism can be confusing because some versions of it have incorporated many gods and some Buddhists do revere and pray to
Buddha in a way that strongly suggests they think of him as a god.
This should not be surprising, however, as all religions branch out
and change, creating many different versions over time.

So how do Jews, Hindus, Christians, and Muslims who credit their god for making them happy explain Buddhists who are just as happy
if not happier? And do not doubt that Buddhists can be happy. I can
personally vouch for it. I encountered many Buddhist monks in Nepal
and Thailand who radiated remarkable happiness. They were exceptionally warm and content people. Just being around them made me
feel happy. None of them asked me for money so I feel safe in
assuming that they were sincere and every bit as happy as they
appeared. But my random encounters around the world are not enough
to make sweeping judgments, of course. Scientific studies are much
better. One, in fact, indicates that Buddhists may be the happiest religious people in the entire world-despite not believing in a god. In
2003 researchers at the University of California San Francisco Medical Center reported that brain scans showed that Buddhist test subjects were likely to be happier and calmer than most other people.
"The most reasonable hypothesis is that there is something about conscientious Buddhist practice that results in the kind of happiness we all
seek," said Paul Ekman, one of the researchers. A second study by scientists at the University of Wisconsin found that Buddhist test subjects' brains showed unusually high activity in the area associated
with positive emotions, self-control, and temperament (BBC 2003).

As a polite and positive person who happens to be a nonbeliever,
I have no desire to see anyone unhappy or lose something they depend
upon as a source of joy. But there is no reason for believers to avoid
challenging their reasons for belief. The fact is, one can be a nonbeliever and still be very happy. I'm living proof of it. I smile far more
often than I frown and I would describe my life to date as exceptionally happy overall. But I'm just one person. What about the entire
world? Do gods really inject joy into the minds of their worshippers?
If so, one would expect believers to be happier than atheists overall.
Let's see if this is the case.

Although some studies have found that individuals who attend
religious services tend to be happier than individuals who do not, the
big picture is quite different. Adrian White, a University of Leicester
psychologist, created the "World Map of Happiness" by analyzing more than a hundred studies that questioned eighty thousand people
worldwide (Science Daily 2006). Although it was not the purpose of
the study, his findings shed some light on the relationship between
belief in gods and happiness. White's work clearly shows that high
levels of belief do not guarantee high levels of happiness for societies.
Based on the data, high levels of nonbelief seem more conducive to a
society's overall happiness than belief. According to White's research,
the top ten happiest nations on earth are:

1. Denmark

2. Switzerland

3. Austria

4. Iceland

5. The Bahamas

6. Finland

7. Sweden

8. Bhutan

9. Brunei

10. Canada

What immediately stands out about this ranking is that the happiest
country in the world is also one of the least religious countries in the
world. Denmark is first in happiness and third in the world for percentage of nonbelievers among its citizens. Between 43 to 80 percent
of Danes do not believe in a personal god, according to research by
sociologist Phil Zuckerman (2005). This must be surprising news to
believers who think that belief in a god is the key to happiness.

Switzerland ranks second on the happiness list and is also one of
the most secular nations in the world, ranking twenty-third for
"organic atheism" out of more than one hundred seventy countries
analyzed by Zuckerman. ("Organic atheism" is nonbelief by choice.
Zuckerman's rankings exclude nonbelief among totalitarian societies
where governments may attempt to impose it upon citizens and selfreporting of religion may be compromised due to persecution.)

Austria, third in happiness, is right behind Switzerland in nonbelief with 18 to 26 percent of its population describing themselves as
atheist, agnostic, or nonbelievers. Cold but happy Iceland follows
Austria and also ranks high in nonbelief (twenty-eighth with 16 to 23
percent nonbelievers). The Bahamas does not make the list of the top
fifty nations of nonbelievers but sixth-place Finland does, at number
seven with 28 to 60 percent of its population happily finding their way
through life without gods. Sweden, seventh on the happy scale, has the
highest percentage of organic atheism of any nation in the world at 46
to 85 percent. Bhutan's per capita income is less than a thousand dollars per year and most of its people are Buddhists with no belief in
Yahweh, Jesus, or Allah. Nonetheless, the people of this small
Himalayan nation rank in the top ten of the world when it comes to
happiness.

Officially Islamic Brunei ranks ninth in happiness on White's
scale, leaving Christians to ponder how they can be so happy without
having Jesus in their lives. Maybe it is Allah, or maybe it's Brunei's
oil-rich economy that makes them so happy, but it certainly is not
Jesus or any of the Hindu gods. Number ten on the global happiness
ranking is Canada, yet another nation with a relatively high percentage
of nonbelievers. According to Zuckerman, cheery Canada ranks twentieth in the world for percentage of nonbelieving citizens, with 15 to
37 percent of its population unconvinced that gods are real.

What about the bottom of White's list? What are the least-happy
nations on earth? Believers might be surprised to learn that the three
countries occupying the bottom of White's happiness ranking are
highly religious societies with virtually no atheists. They are: Democratic Republic of the Congo (ranked 176 in happiness), Zimbabwe
(177), and Burundi (178). In the Democratic Republic of the Congo,
nonbelievers are virtually nonexistent. The population is loyal to
Christianity and traditional African beliefs. The people of Zimbabwe
also are believers with very few exceptions. Most of them believe in
both traditional African religions and Christianity. Burundi's citizens
are mostly Christian but also include Muslims and those who follow indigenous African beliefs. All that belief, however, isn't enough to
keep them from ranking last in global happiness.

BOOK: 50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God
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