Maybe Theism Is OK -- Part 2

by byrnema 2 min read11th Apr 200910 comments


In response to: The uniquely awful example of theism

And Maybe Theism Is OK

Finally, I think I understand where gim and others are coming from when they made statements that I thought represented overly intolerant views of religious belief. I think that a good summary of the source of the initial difference in opinion is that while many people in this group have the purpose to eliminate all sources of irrationality,  I would like to pick and choose which sources of irrationality I have in the optimization of a different problem: general life-hacking.

Probably many people in this group believe that the best life-hack would be to eliminate irrationality. But I'm pretty sure this depends on the person (not everyone is suited for X-rationality), and I'm pretty sure -- though not certain -- that my best life-hack would include some irrationality.

Since my goals are different than that of this forum, many of my views are not relevant here, and there is no need to debate them.

Instead, I would like to present two arguments (1,2) for why it could be rational to hold an irrational belief, and two arguments (3,4) as to why someone could be more accepting of the existence of irrational beliefs (i.e., why not to hate it).

(1) It could be rational to hold an irrational belief if you are aware of your irrational belief and choose to hold it because it is grafted to components of your personality/ psyche that are valuable to you. For example, you may find that

  • eschewing your religious beliefs makes you feel depressed and you are unable to work productively
  • your ability to control unwanted impulses is tied with a moral conscience that is inextricably tied with beliefs about God.
  • ability to perform a certain artistic activity that you enjoy is compartmentalized with spiritual beliefs

I imagine these situations would be the result of an organically developing mind that has made several errors and is possibly unstable. But until we have a full understanding of mental processes/psychology/the physiology of emotions, we cannot expect a rational person to just "tough it out" to optimize rationality while his life falls apart.

Later added: This argument has since been described better, with a better emphasis, with [this comment.](

(2) It could be rational to hold an irrational belief if you choose to hold it because you would like to exercise true control of your mind. Put another way, you may find it to be an aesthetic art of some form to choose a set of beliefs and truly believe them. Why would anyone want to do this? Eliminating all beliefs and becoming rational is a good exercise in controlling your mind. I hazard that a second exercise would be to believe what you consciously choose to.

(3) I think there is another reason to consciously choose to try to believe something that you don't believe rationally-- true understanding of the enemy; the source and the grip of an irrational thought. What irked me most about the negative comments about religious views was the lack of any empathy for those views. It may seem like a contradiction but while I believe some religious views are irrational I do not dismiss people who hold them as hopelessly irrational. With empathy, I believe that it is possible to hold religious views and not greatly compromise rationality.

(4) Maybe you are indeed right that any kind of religious view is irrational and that we would be better off without it. However, it is not at as clear that religious views can ever be completely exorcised... Suppose we wanted to create a world in which important parts of people's personalities are never tied to religious views. Are children allowed to daydream? Is a child allowed to daydream they are omnipotent? Are they allowed to pretend there is a God for a day? How will it affect creativity and motivation and development if there is no empathy for an understanding of God?