Does Faith Equal Willful Self-Delusion?

devout atheist

I think I can safely say there are some intelligent theists out there. Crazy, I know! The question is, how do they maintain a belief in something with zero evidence, and why do they bother?

Obviously some people just get caught up as children in their family’s traditions and beliefs. But as they grow older, it would be hard to imagine an intelligent person not ever stopping to think about just why they believe their religious tenets, etc. So how is that when they inevitably stop to think about it, lots of intelligent theists still hold these beliefs? Is it just faith? But why have faith, when it is something you must willfully master in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary of your beliefs? Why put yourself through cognitive dissonance of this magnitude?

A friend of mine is very smart and yet a theist. She seems to be aware though that her faith is based upon willful self-delusion. When she knows that some things are out of her control, she feels better imagining that there is something greater than her and it is controlling that which she herself can not control. This doesn’t necessarily translate into believing in a god, in my mind, but this is how it has played out for her. For me, that thing controlling stuff out of your control is chance, entropy, other people, social norms, etc.

Therefore, it seems, she believes simply to allow herself to feel better. At some level she knows that there is no god, or that if there is one he certainly couldn’t care less about any particular person. Believing otherwise (that this god is there to help you) would be truly insane and you would have to start believing all sort of other inane things, like original sin, to explain why horrible things happen to innocent children, etc.

So is religious faith a willful self-delusion for intelligent theists? And for those who don’t ever practice any introspective thoughts, is their faith based simply on being accustomed to it from a young age? Or because something bad has happened to them and they need some kind of escape from the horror of it, or from the responsibility of life, or something else?

What other reasons are there for believing something with no evidence for it, but a world full of evidence contrary to the teachings of religion?

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