Thursday, April 16, 2015

Belief in religion and spirituality gives meaning to life in a way that atheism cannot.



Atheists say the universe is meaningless. Here is how atheist Richard Dawkins describes it:

Richard Dawkins

In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication, some people are going to get hurt, and other people are going to get lucky; and you won't find any rhyme or reason to it, nor any justice. The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at the bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference. DNA neither knows nor cares. DNA just is, and we dance to its music.
- Out of Eden, page 133.

Some atheists claim that they can find meaning in life without religion. But, personal experience and empirical evidence suggests that spirituality and religion give meaning to life in a way that atheism cannot.


My Experiences

Spiritual beliefs give meaning to my life in a way that atheistic beliefs which I once held did not. Spiritual development is an eternal process. In the afterlife, you go to a place and have things to do that are appropriate for your level of development. Life on the earth is about developing yourself so that you can progress in the afterlife and go to new places and have new things to do. This means learning to be a better person, being more loving, tolerant, forgiving, less selfish, less egotistical because those qualities are what make you fit for a higher level in the afterlife.

During a period in my life when I was an atheist, I read that if you treat others badly, if you act disreputably, then you will think of yourself as disreputable. To have self respect you must treat others honorably. This is a better reason to act ethically than fear of punishment in the afterlife or fear of karmic retribution. It had a major influence on me and I still consider it a valuable lesson that I could not have learned without being an atheist. So I think there can be a spiritual purpose in being an atheist. But ultimately that lesson was based on self interest not on concern for others.

Knowledge of the afterlife makes a huge difference in life and it is not remotely comparable to being an atheist. When you know the universe is benevolent, that you are loved by God and your spirit friends who are rooting for you and helping and guiding you to meet life's challenges, life means something different than if you are just trying to be a good person until you die at which point everything is over. You know there is an eternity in which you can have fun and be happy together with your loved ones so any sacrifices, losses, or unpleasantness in this life are mere bumps in the road, lessons to learn from. Suffering teaches you compassion for others who are suffering. Doing wrong teaches you forgiveness for those who may wrong you. These lessons have value to you throughout eternity. When you are a materialist, every second that is not pleasant is a second you are cheated out of from your short life. When you are a materialist any character development that occurs because of hardship is useless after you die. As a believer in the afterlife, you want do what is right because you understand we are all in this together, some are less advanced some more, you want to help others to be part of the system that brings help to you. You know you will have to live with the knowledge your decisions for eternity. There is also the prospect of a life review where you will experience how you influenced people from their perspective.


Empirical Evidence

My experience is just one data point. However empirical research shows that belief in religion and spirituality do make life more meaningful:

Andrew Sims past president of Royal College of Psychiatrists explains:

The advantageous effect of religious belief and spirituality on mental and physical health is one of the best kept secrets in psychiatry and medicine generally. If the findings of the huge volume of research on this topic had gone in the opposite direction and it had been found that religion damages your mental health, it would have been front-page news in every newspaper in the land.

In the majority of studies, religious involvement is correlated with well-being, happiness and life satisfaction; hope and optimism; purpose and meaning in life; higher self-esteem; better adaptation to bereavement; greater social support and less loneliness; lower rates of depression and faster recovery from depression; lower rates of suicide and fewer positive attitudes towards suicide; less anxiety; less psychosis and fewer psychotic tendencies; lower rates of alcohol and drug use and abuse; less delinquency and criminal activity; greater marital stability and satisfaction… We concluded that for the vast majority of people the apparent benefits of devout belief and practice probably outweigh the risks.

Knowledge of the afterlife deters suicide. Lessons From the Light by Kenneth Ring and Evelyn Elsaesser p.257-258:

As far as I know, the first clinician to make use of NDE material in this context was a New York psychologist named John McDonagh. In 1979, he presented a paper at a psychological convention that described his success with several suicidal patients using a device he called "NDE bibliotherapy." His "technique" was actually little more than having his patients read some relevant passages from Raymond Moody's book, Reflections on Life after Life, after which the therapist and his patient would discuss its implicatins for the latter's own situation. McDonagh reports that such an approach was generally quite successful not only in reducing suicidal thoughts but also in preventing the deed altogether.


Since McDonagh's pioneering efforts, other clinicians knowledgeable about the NDE who have had the opportunity to counsel suicidal patients have also reported similar success. Perhaps the most notable of these therapists is Bruce Greyson, a psychiatrist now at the University of Virginia, whose specialty as a clinician has been suicidology. He is also the author of a classic paper on NDEs and suicide which the specialist may wish to consult for tis therapeutic implications. (14)

Quite apart form the clinicians who have developed this form of what we migh call "NDE-assisted therapy," I can draw upon my own personal experience here to provide additional evidence of how the NDE has helped to deter suicide. The following case


For more information on research that shows the benefits of religious and spiritual beliefs scroll down to the References section at Skepticism, The Big Lie. Activist Skeptics and Atheists are a Danger to the Health and Well Being of Believers.


Examples of Personal Transformation

I've never heard of an anyone saying that materialism, or "scientific ethics" or humanism, transformed his life. But many people who convert to religion do say that it transformed their life for the better. All the atheists' talk about rational ethics is just talk. But when you come to believe God, that is something completely different. It is not theoretical it is something practical that changes your life for the better.

Many people (examples below) find that while believing in atheism, life is bleak, lacks love, and is ultimately selfish. When they come to believe in God life is about love and caring for others and not about yourself and that makes people happier. Logically, an atheist could believe in unselfishness and love, but it seems that for practical reasons there is something about belief in God that makes it work where mere philosophy doesn't.

This is not just a psychological phenomenon. It is evidence that God exists. John Lennox pointed out that it would be strange if beings on a planet without water became thirsty, similarly it would be strange that people are drawn to God if God did not exist.

As I wrote above, I've never heard of atheism helping anyone to turn their life around the way religion has done for many people. Here are some other examples of how religion transforms lives:

Dan Conway

Neither of professional musician Dan Conway's parents were religious and he was an atheist until he felt his life was going in the wrong direction...

The relevant part of the video starts at 9:38

In some way's I guess things were going well. As you said I got to perform on Australia's Got Talent. ... I'm no stranger to the music business so ... I had a record deal when I was 16 with Sony and another one sometime later I think with EMI. So I was no stranger to all that. But, I was actually really unhappy. And I was only growing more unhappy. And I wasn't living well. The more time went on the more I was hurting myself and others. It wasn't pretty. I came to a place where I just want to think ... maybe there's something to this God thing and maybe I missed it. So I thought, I want to know. I want to know I don't really want to be into what feels good or what suits me I actually want to know what's the truth.
This was an from an atheist from birth, born to atheist parents being skeptical about atheism: "I don't really want to be into what feels good or what suits me. I actually want to know what's the truth".

And so I committed I'm going to figure it out. I'm going to commit to following the evidence wherever it leads. I became a regular debate viewer on line and read books on God and his existence. When I got real radical I'd listen to a sermon or two. All as an atheist. But the most crucial part of that was really when I examined my own heart and did that the very last. But when I saw what was in there and when I considered who Jesus might be that led me to believe in God. Everything changed at that point. I guess I had a really a change of being. Somewhere deep I don't even know where. And that changed my thinking my desires, my outlook, so I guess it was natural that my music changed with it.

I've heard and read a lot of stories like this and it is one of the reasons I have a generally favorable opinion of religion. This type of evidence shows that there is something good in religion and rather than rejecting all religion because some of it is bad, we should try to understand what is good in it and figure out how to use that in a practical way to improve people's well being.

Lee Strobel

Religion has also helped Lee Strobel.

Strobel is a journalist and his research into the authenticity of the Gospels transformed his life. He started out as an atheist skeptic but when he used his credentials as a reporter to get access to the worlds leading historians, the results of his research made a believer out of him.

"... [believing] began a transformational process for me where over time my philosophy and my attitudes, relationships, parenting, world-view, all of that began to change over time for good. Really for good."

"When Lee became a Christian his whole life started to change to the extent that our five year old daughter who also saw those changes went to her Sunday school teacher and told her that she wanted Jesus to do in her life what He had done in her Daddy's life."


Atheistic Meaning is Conflicted

Atheists may claim they find meaning in life but there are logical problems with such claims.

The quote by Richard Dawkins in the introduction to this article explains the atheist view of the universe as having "... no design, no purpose, no evil and no good. Nothing but blind pitiless indifference."

The section Materialism is not a Rational Philosophy in my web page on Skeptical Fallacies explains why materialism is incoherent and no materialist can trust his power of reason and so under materialism any meaning a materialist might find in life cannot be considered rational.

Science cannot explain how the brain might produce the subjective experiences of consciousness. In order to avoid the conclusion that consciousness is non-physical and not produced by the brain, many atheists say that consciousness is an illusion. In that case any meaning an atheist might find in life would have to be considered an illusion too and how can any one have meaning in life if they believe their feelings of meaning are illusions?

Materialists may say they can create meaning from nothing but that doesn't mean they do.

John Lennox on the problem of evil and suffering.

John Lennox points out that according to materialism the 9/11 terrorists, Stalin, or Hitler, cannot be blamed because they were "dancing to their DNA", so it is inconsistent to believe in materialism and then to criticize God or anything else on moral grounds. But materialists do recognize morality despite their philosophical views that good and evil do not exist. When materialists claim that there are scientific grounds or humanistic reasons for morality, it is just another example of materialist incoherence, another weird thing people believe. If you believe there is no good and no evil, but you believe some things are good and others are evil, then how can you trust your faculties of reason and believe anything?

Richard Taylor

The modern age, more or less repudiating the idea of a divine lawgiver, has nevertheless tried to retain the ideas of moral right and wrong, not noticing that, in casting God aside, they have also abolished the conditions of meaningfulness for moral right and wrong as well. Thus, even educated persons sometimes declare that such things as war, or abortion, or the violation of certain human rights, are morally wrong, and they imagine that they have said something true and significant. Educated people do not need to be told, however, that questions such as these have never been answered outside of religion. He concludes, Contemporary writers in ethics, who blithely discourse upon moral right and wrong and moral obligation without any reference to religion, are really just weaving intellectual webs from thin air; which amounts to saying that they discourse without meaning.

Dennis Prager

To put this as clearly as possible: If there is no God who says, "Do not murder," murder is not wrong. Many people or societies may agree that it is wrong. But so what? Morality does not derive from the opinion of the masses. If it did, then apartheid was right; murdering Jews in Nazi Germany was right; the history of slavery throughout the world was right; and clitoridectomies and honor killings are right in various Muslims societies.

So, then, without God, why is murder wrong?

Is it, as Dawkins argues, because reason says so?

My reason says murder is wrong, just as Dawkins's reason does. But, again, so what? The pre-Christian Germanic tribes of Europe regarded the Church's teaching that murder was wrong as preposterous. They reasoned that killing innocent people was acceptable and normal because the strong should do whatever they wanted.

In addition, reason alone without God is pretty weak in leading to moral behavior. When self-interest and reason collide, reason usually loses. That's why we have the word "rationalize" -- to use reason to argue for what is wrong.


In that regard, let's go to the empirical argument. Years ago, I interviewed Pearl and Sam Oliner, two professors of sociology at California State University at Humboldt and the authors of one of the most highly-regarded works on altruism, The Altruistic Personality. The book was the product of the Oliners' lifetime of study of non-Jewish rescuers of Jews during the Holocaust.

The Oliners, it should be noted, are secular, not religious, Jews; they had no religious agenda.

I asked Samuel Oliner, "Knowing all you now know about who rescued Jews during the Holocaust, if you had to return as a Jew to Poland and you could knock on the door of only one person in the hope that they would rescue you, would you knock on the door of a Polish lawyer, a Polish doctor, a Polish artist or a Polish priest?"

Without hesitation, he said, "a Polish priest."

Lecture by John Lennox Explains why Atheism is a Delusion Incompatible with Science.

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn
“Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened." Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: "Men have forgotten God; that's why all this has happened.”
Viktor Frankl
... “If we present a man with a concept of man which is not true, we may well corrupt him. When we present man as an automaton of reflexes, as a mind-machine, as a bundle of instincts, as a pawn of drives and reactions, as a mere product of instinct, heredity and environment, we feed the nihilism to which modern man is, in any case, prone. “I became acquainted with the last stage of that corruption in my second concentration camp, Auschwitz. The gas chambers of Auschwitz were the ultimate consequence of the theory that man is nothing but the product of heredity and environment; or as the Nazi liked to say, ‘of Blood and Soil.’ I am absolutely convinced that the gas chambers of Auschwitz, Treblinka, and Maidanek were ultimately prepared not in some Ministry or other in Berlin, but rather at the desks and lecture halls of nihilistic scientists and philosophers

Because materialism is incoherent you can't trust the reliability of any belief such as "meaning":

Francis Crick

You, your joys and your sorrows, your memories and your ambitions, your sense of personal identity and free will, are in fact no more than the behavior of a vast assembly of nerve cells and their associated molecules. Who you are is nothing but a pack of neurons.

John Polkinghorne

If Crick's thesis is true we could never know it. For, not only does it relegate our experiences of beauty, moral obligation, and religious encounter to the epiphenomenal scrap-heap. It also destroys rationality. Thought is replaced by electro-chemical neural events. Two such events cannot confront each other in rational discourse. They are neither right nor wrong. The simply happen ... The very assertions of the reductionist himself are nothing but blips in the neural network of his brain. The world of rational discourse dissolves into the absurd chatter of firing synapses. Quite frankly, that cannot be right and none of us believes it to be so. "
Lecture by John Lennox Explains Some of the Scientific Evidence for God.

Albert Einstein
You are right in speaking of the moral foundations of science, but you cannot turn around and speak of the scientific foundations of morality.
Indeed, only if we assume a God who is morally our like can “truth” and the search for truth be at all something meaningful and promising of success. This God left aside, the question is permitted whether being deceived is not one of the conditions of life.


Theoretical Knowledge is not the Same as Experience

The difference between meaning contrived by atheists and the meaning that comes from religious belief is like the difference between book learning and experience. You can't really internalize spiritual love without feeling that the universe is ultimately benevolent and that you are loved. The atheists can say what they like about meaning but unless they've had a religious or spiritual experience they don't understand what it is. Giving up a bad religion and becoming an atheist is not equivalent to finding a good religion and giving up atheism. And religion doesn't necessarily guarantee this experience. Some people go through the motions of religion out of habit but it doesn't mean much to them in daily life. It's a sad fact that bad religion drives many people to atheism. But some people do have a transforming experience, either by learning about religion or from a personal experience like an NDE, where they recognize that God exists, He loves us even though we may be flawed, and God is for us not against us, and they live with that understanding every day and that seems to be central to this type of transformation. If we are made in God's image or if the stuff of our soul is the stuff of God, then if you don't love God you don't love yourself. Recognizing that God loves us releases something inside us, it helps to rid one of feelings of fear, self-hate, anger, and guilt. It's like having a great weight lifted off your shoulders, it is liberating. The truth sets you free, free to be happy and loving. You don't get that from ethical humanism. This is why organized religion, done right, can be beneficial - besides teaching about God, being able to go to the right kind of church once a week, being surrounded by like minded people, helps a person to maintain this understanding in the face of the many messages we are bombarded with many times a day encouraging us to be selfish. I know many people get this from some Christian churches, I know from my own experience you can also get this from some Spiritualist churches.


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