‘Faith’ In Belief!!

I am an Atheist. I know (and not just believe) that even though we cannot disprove the existence of god, the probability of it is extremely low.

I have held this thought since a long time with amazing clarity, especially after reading works of rational philosophers like Bertrand Russell. Yet, for no particular reason, I was not emphatically vocal about my thoughts. I guess I had, what the philosopher Daniel Dennett would call, ‘a belief in belief’. Dennett was referring to people who claim they don’t believe in a supernatural god themselves and yet believe in other people’s belief in that God!! I had reasoned that probably if their ‘belief in god’ is somehow helping people by comforting them, I need not break their bubble. But now I see clearly that to say I ‘believe in belief’ is like saying I believe in a schizophrenic’s delusions, because I don’t want to break their bubble by pointing out otherwise!! Few years back when I first read Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’, I was very impressed with the scientific mindedness of the book’s approach. I found it to represent a consolidated version of many of my scattered thoughts on the subject, giving me very strong evidence to support those thoughts. When I recently read it the second time, the idea that stayed back with me most strongly was how distinctly the patterns of religious thinking and neurotic/self-defeating thinking overlap.

As a psychotherapist, especially as an REBT practitioner, I see enormous evidence of how dogmatic thinking/believing is the root cause of emotional and behavioral disturbances in humans. Any kind of fanatic, rigid, dogmatic, authority-driven belief system, even a religious one (especially a religious one), is bound to highly correlate with the existence of intolerance and non-acceptance of self, people and life at large.

I find, in my psychotherapeutic interaction with clients, that human relationships, just like ‘religion’, are put on a pedestal and are therefore considered outside the realm of scientific questioning. The argument often provided is “If I believe in a person/relationship strongly and/or for a long period of time, then it must be true that the person/relationship is, in reality, good! Why else would I hold the belief so strongly!! ?” This is clearly an example of how logical reasoning is completely turned on its head. Should things be called true cause we believe in them or should we believe in them because and only if they are true?

We over-value our private prejudices and consider them sufficient basis for belief. ‘Love’ is often presented as a strong enough reason for belief. The mind then conjures up data to support the belief – essentially a fabrication – and we enter a delusional world , a make-believe zone, like a fantastic story where we ourselves start playing a character. A character who ‘believes’ that the relationship and the other person in that relationship are what we think they are. I, myself have fallen in this trap in certain relationships.

When we say we ‘believe’ a person is trustworthy/lovable/good what we are actually doing is that we are imposing qualities on the person that are creations of our own mind and that might not be the actual truth about that person. The current behavior of a person can be acceptable as evidence for estimating the probability of his future behaviors, such that it can help us to make our choices with regard to that person. But in most cases there is hardly any behavioural evidence to support the imposed qualities. The idea of a loving, accepting, good God seems to have its roots in this tendency of the human mind.

Why is ‘what is the evidence’ a bad/inappropriate question when it comes to people and human relationships (Just as it is in the case of religion)? A client once expressed to me a rigid demanding belief which said ‘I must be loved by all significant people in my life because I want their love’. I tried to explain to her with an example. I said “Is there any evidence to suggest that it would logically follow that we must be able to fly because we want to?!”’. To which she replied that it seemed ridiculous to compare an unrealistic demand regarding ‘flying’ to human relationships!”. “Well”, I said “that’s exactly my point! What you are demanding (the absolute love) is as illogical or ridiculous as demanding that you should be able to fly because you want to and as much lacking in evidence.” Yet we refuse to look at such demands for love and other things in relationships from the window of realistic skepticism. It means that we are giving ‘relationships’ the same ‘kids-gloves’ treatment that religion is given. It’s too fragile, please handle with supreme care!!

Another common argument is that a complete belief in another individual is very comforting and therefore healthy and helpful for the relationship. Some people like to call it ‘trust’ or worse ‘faith’. As Dawkins mentions in his book, ‘ x is comforting does not imply x is true’. Even if the belief that ‘this is a special, unique relationship/person immune to unwanted change, betrayal of trust or any such humanly possibilities’ is highly comforting, that does not mean that it is therefore true! Most people also assert that such a belief aids complete dedication (I think abandonment is a better word) of self in a relationship. Well, I am not sure if abandonment or blind faith/dedication should be a goal at all in relationships. In fact I think it is as harmful as ‘blind faith’ is in all other aspects of human life.

Any kind of wishful thinking taken to its extreme is going to have negative implications and consequences for mental health and therefore addressing it can’t be ‘off-limits’ for psychotherapists. From this point of view, I think as psychotherapists we ought to emphatically discourage all sorts of dogmatic, absolutistic, unrealistic beliefs, even if they pertain to self-proclaimed ‘touch-me-not’ areas like religion and human relationships.