Today I read some Catholic priest discussing the oft-repeated phrases about even Atheists finding religion “in times of need, if they look way, way down in their souls”. It’s the old “no one dies an Atheist” malarkey, and is as self-serving as it is wrong. People like this confuse belief with desire.
It’s no different than when a gambler has “good feeling” about the next roll of the dice, or tomorrows Lotto numbers. It’s no different than when we believe that the guy we voted for will be elected President, even though we haven’t seen the polls. You see, he’s just got a feeling. It’s not actually that different from the fact that we marry, at least 50% of the time, the wrong person. We want him/her to be the right one, and so we begin to believe that he/she is. And we’re wrong, roughly half the time.
Sometimes desire turns to belief when we know we’re being told a lie, but it is too painful to acknowledge, like when a teenager tells us that they’re not taking drugs, even though we think they are. It’s easier to believe that which comforts us, rather than the painful truth.
I can honestly say that, in times of severe crisis and distress, even I have certainly wished that there was a God. During times when I was falling from an emotional cliff, I certainly wished that there was some mystic supernatural entity which would catch me, dry my tears, pat my head and tell me that everything is alright. I guess the difference between those like me and others is that I can separate want from belief. No matter how hard I close my eyes, click my heels three times and say there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, there’s no place like home, when I open my eyes, I’m still in the same place-not back in Kansas. Some will open their eyes and see wheat fields where there are parking lots and cows where there stand only cars.
In the Journal of Organizational Behavior (Mohammed, & Dumville, 2001) it is suggested that “the relationship between belief and knowledge is noteworthy. A subjective form of cognition exists when belief structures are defined as desired states of nature that one prefers or expects.” Hmmm…
I can understand when children create little micro-worlds where everyone loves them, they have lots of friends, and they have grown up to become whatever they think is a good thing to become, be it fireman, army guy, nurse, actress, rock star, doctor, or ambulance driver. They will tell their parents that this is what they are going to be when they grow up, because it is what they want to be. It has no basis in reality, but is as real to them as is the present day. We look at them, pat them on their heads and marvel at their vivid imaginations, hoping that they get everything they want, yet barely acknowledging that they probably won’t.
Although they believe these things, we still want them to go to school and learn all the things that rock stars and opera singers and football players don’t really need to know, like algebra and English composition. You see, desire shouldn’t be confused with belief.
Then we go to bed, secure in the knowledge that there is a guy with a long beard above the clouds who is just waiting to give us a big hug and take care of us forever, as long as we spend our lives believing it.