Analyzing Believers and Unbelievers
At one level of the religion-science dialogue, psychologists, sociologists, anthropologists, and philosophers have analyzed why millions of people believe in a God and in the religion of their family or ancestors. They have come up with various theories to explain this. Some have attributed faith in God to fear of death and to awe about the hereafter; others as a continuation of the childhood need for a father figure; some look upon it is a vestige of the herd-mentality which was already present in the pre-Homo-sapiens stage; some have suspected that it is due to some genetic coding; while yet others have seen it as an evolutionary adaptation phenomenon. William James, Sigmund Freud, Karl Jung, and Viktor Frankl were among the more eminent of such scholars in the twentieth century. James Forsyth has analyzed some of their theories in a scholarly book. Michael Shermer, a leader of the skeptical movement has analyzed the search for God in an age of science. Steven Reiss, in a book whose title “Who am I?” is from the Hindu mystic Ramanamaharishi, traces the motivation for our actions to sixteen basic desires which range from the desire for power and curiosity to honor, idealism, and peace.
Conversely, ardent religionists have analyzed the mind-set of unbelievers. They have equally convincing (to them) explanations as to the sad plight of those who are blind to the majesty of Divinity, or stone-deaf to the call of the Almighty. In the view of some, the deluded unbelievers have succumbed to the temptation of the Devil or fallen under the spell of some evil spirit. Others have suggested that the poor creatures haven’t yet received the grace of God which they themselves have received. Yet others trace it all to arrogance. Some have said it is due to a stage of ignorance through which they are going. It has also been maintained that the inability to accept God is a consequence of evil deeds perpetrated in past births. The scholarly or scientific analysis of religious inclinations is not as harsh or judgmental in its assessment as the criticisms of religion by atheists. On the other hand, the contemptuous comments and self-righteous condemnations of atheists by religionists sometimes ignore the fact that many of their targets are decent and even noble people.
Thomas Huxley once famously said that “irrationally held truths may be more harmful than reasoned errors.” Huxley’s affirmation may not always hold. For example, it may be an irrationally held truth that one will go to Heaven by serving the poor, the sick and the helpless. Is this more harmful than the reasoned error (at one time) to the effect that certain races are inferior to others, and need to be subdued for their own benefit, as one (one-popular) interpretation of Darwinian evolution? Quite the contrary effects have resulted from these beliefs.