THE SCHIZOPHRENIC BELIEVER
"Atheist literature" (a scandalous term in my opinion- sounds like "revisionist literature") has been thriving in the last few years. Sparkling critiques of The Supreme Fascist, his cronies, and religion have been appearing, penned by stalwarts such as Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Daniel Dennet, and most recently, the outrageously provocative Christopher Hitchens.
All critiques have been controversial, but love them or hate them, all of them deliver devastating broadsides to the whole edifice of religion and faith. All four writers have been asked almost the same kinds of questions in public settings: Don't you feel you are hurting the sentiments of many? (Hitchens: "I don't care. It's the truth"). Don't we need God for some kind of moral code in life? (Dawkins: "Take a look at the bible first...an abomination upon humanity", Dennett: "Look to moral philosophy"). Aren't these barbs really directed at 'extremists', which are really abnormal growths in a largely benign paradigm? (Harris: "It's this 'benign' framework that nourishes the roots of extremism")
But one favourite question that is always asked, and which seems entirely reasonable is, "What harm does it do if a person keeps his religion to himself?". And all the authors more or less give the same kind of answer to this question, that while they personally don't believe in it, it would be largely all right if people keep their religion, prayer and faith to themselves. But some people have even gone to the extent of saying that denying this right to personal faith is treading on fundamental rights as enshrined in Constitutions.
There are many critical answers to this question, but I keep thinking of one particular point that has nothing to do per se with religion or politics; that doing something like this is just not psychologically possible. Think about it. Is it psychologically possible to believe wholeheartedly in something, and also to believe that it's not true? It sounds downright self-contradictory to me: "I believe in the green toad-faced gnome. I pray to him. I eat with him. He grants my prayers. Of course, I understand that he is not real". Can this happen?? You are believing something, but you are also believing that it does not exist.
Hitchens says that religion is like a toy. You are free to play with your toy, but don't insist that me and my wife and my children also play with the toy. Don't barge into our house and force us to play with the toy at gunpoint.
But this is precisely the problem. Especially if it's a toy (such as God) that does not exist, it becomes even more important to become convinced in the existence of the toy, and to cling to it with your life. It is not too hard to believe in a toy that exists (although not forcing others to play with it still very much stands put) but it takes a lot of faith indeed to believe in a toy that is made up. And then it becomes even more of a compelling reason to invite, convince, and then to obstinately force others to believe in that toy and play with it. Even if someone does not do it himself, he is much more likely to at least tacitly support someone else who does it.
That is the reason why, even if having personal beliefs and faith may seem perfectly reasonable, in my opinion, having those beliefs and not forcing them or at least trying to convince others to have them, is largely a self-contradictory condition. A person who has those beliefs and still believes that only he believes it and that it does not exist at all, needs to have a schizophrenic paradoxical mentality of believing and not believing in something at the same time, as harsh as it sounds, based on simple reason. Or as Richard Dawkins says, someone like that would be rather easily called delusional. This is not at all a personal attack on anybody, but an objective definition of this self-contradictory condition.
This is a very unfortunate state of affairs, because I surely would like everyone to have their own faith if they keep it to themselves. I just don't think that such a situation can exist. Not because of intolerance, not because of some inner obduracy that people would have, but because of a simple psychological inconsistency that I see in it. For those who believe it does exist and soundly practice it, I enormously respect them, but would like to look at the results of an MRI of their brain. No offense, seriously.