Believing in God: Duped or Eternal Beatitude

With a teacher at school I’m taking the MIT course Problems of Philosophy through their OpenCourseWare system. It’s fun and interesting stuff. We hop around to different philosophical problems and I am starting to develop a basic vocabulary for talking about the utterly abstract.

In our primary text, Reason & Responsibility, I read an essay by William James which among all the ones on God I’ve read was among the most concise and compelling (especially when compared to the ontological argument that the existence of the concept and word God means it must exist).

Say you believe in God in faith and need no evidence to prove its existence. Best case: eternal beatitude. Worst case: you were duped. Most atheists could not stand the thought of being duped by diluting the core of their entire intellectual worldview which stresses reason and rationality. James, a believer, seems to say, "Why not suspend that critical faculty for faith in God and afterlife? If you’re wrong, swallow your pride, and boy, if you’re right…."

The problem in this, for we questioning atheists, is the effect on the present by adopting such a stance. To live a most virtuosic life we must uphold an intellectual standard that does not bend issue-by-issue. If we suspend the faculty of reason in this instance, we may have started down a slippery slope.

4 comments on “Believing in God: Duped or Eternal Beatitude
  • Ben, this is a very thoughtful post, and I fully agree with you. I wonder why there aren’t any comments when you normally have a few active commenters. So, everyone, Ben’s friends or just readers:
    is this such a controlversial issue that most people feel better keeping their thoughts to themselves? So here’s my (somewhat provocative) part: I actually believe there are far more atheists in this country then we know of, but the majority keep it to themselves, that being against the social norms of our society.

  • Tough question. I disagree with you though that accepting a God/religion requires you to belive a set of standards. I’m a Christian, however, I disagree with a lot of the typical Christian political beliefs. Despite my “affiliation,” for lack of a better word, I’m quite liberal socially (I don’t know much about economics sooo..can’t say much there).

    How I percieve God. It’s hard to explain. It’s a personal relationship kind of thing that I really believe exists. And the more I learn about physics and astronomy, the more I find it difficult to believe that there is a chance of being no god. (That was a really poor sentence, apologies) The way I understand God, the way I interpret the Bible…I percieve a God that lets us make choices as to what to do. It says in Matthew that the two greatest commandmants are to love the lord your god and love your neighbors as you love yourself. I try to execute both of those as best I know how. And that means loving people regardless of what my religion and the Jerry Falwells of the world might say about the “sinners” of the world.

    Because in my book– we’re all just about equally good and bad.

  • In response to Zoli, I do not think this is the case. People are much more outspoken today than they have been in the past… especially the readers who would be reading this post. I don’t want to get in a fight here, but I cannot help but wonder if your opinion is merely the result of egocentrism knowing that you thought such a way and so must others. I think it’s accurate to assume that most people don’t grow up thinking logically like you.

    In response to Elyse, if you’re a Christian and you believe that we’re all equally good and bad (which I believe if you define it in context to our incomparison to a holy, all-pure God)… if you believe that, make sure that you don’t define your walk as a set of “executions” because we can’t execute anything that would make us “any better.” That’s why it comes down to realizing Christ’s sacrafice for us and humbling ourselves in order to accept His unconditional Love.

    For my own response, I question your statement, “To live a most virtuosic life we must uphold an intellectual standard that does not bend issue-by-issue. If we suspend the faculty of reason in this instance, we may have started down a slippery slope. ”

    I don’t see how believing in God compromises your intellectual standard. I also don’t see how believing in God would lead you to “bend issue-by-issue.” What do you mean by this?

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