when people stop believing in god

February 5th, 2009

I decided to brush dust off this old chestnut that I've seen trotted around recently:

When people stop believing in God, they don't believe in nothing— they believe in anything. ~ G. K. Chesterton

People seem to be using this rationale as a warning. "Now listen, if you stop believing in god, bad things could happen." And apparently the same people insist that it's true. Supposedly new age medicine is on the rise, people join various cults, the world seems to be acting more gullible on the whole. Perhaps.

But let's go back to Chesterton. Let's see what he's saying there. And this is not just my reading of it, this is how I perceive people are interpreting his statement to make a point:

When people stop believing in god they start searching for something else to believe. And they end up believing the most ridiculous things, they turn to superstition.

On the face of it, that seems like an insightful observation. But when you think about it for a minute.. what could be more ridiculous than god? I mean if you believe that story, how much more gullible could you get? Superstition? You mean like supernatural beings?

You know how people say "don't do drugs, they'll mess you up"? I wouldn't know, because I've never taken any. But it seems to me people are messed up already without the drugs.

The only difference between religion and your run-of-the-mill superstition is that religion is institutionalized. It is the accepted (or if you will, tolerated) superstition. It's the emperor's new clothes. It's Santa Claus. It's "sssh don't say it out loud, those people over there still believe it".

Chesterton was half right. People will believe anything. They do this not after rejecting god, but from the very beginning. And god is very much a part of of this "anything".

We see this again and again, how easy it is to trick people into doing things that are not in their best interest. How advertising makes us desire things we don't really want. How phishing attacks get people to give up their password by telling them lies. It's absolutely true. This is our weakness, and everyone is vulnerable.

I do it myself. I somehow got this idea that I have an impact on the results of my team. The situation is like this. I'm not watching the game, and I don't even know there is a game underway. So I just randomly check the scores to see if anything is happening and I notice my team is playing. If I then start following the scores until the end it often seems like a positive starting point turns into a bad result. What started out as a lead results in a draw or loss. I seem to have a bad impact. So what do I do about it? I don't follow it. I try to put it out of my mind and just check the score when it's all over. (Inevitably, of course, I forget. And I check before the game is over, by which time it might be a draw, so that just fuels the superstition.)

So what is that? It's superstition, plain and simple. Of course, I know that I don't have any effect on the result. And I would never try to suggest to someone that it's better not to check the scores underway lest you impact the result. It's totally irrational. But I still kind of believe this, my behavior proves that I do.

Superstition is a common thing, a lot of people have one thing or another that they kind of secretely believe despite knowing better. It's who we are. But to say that one man's superstition is gullibility, while another's is virtue? Let's cut the crap.

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7 Responses to "when people stop believing in god"

  1. Brian says:

    I agree with this. "People believe in anything" is the reason people believe in God/religion in the first place. New-age medicine is no less stupid than faith healers and the nonsensical miracles in every religion's holy book. Is new age bullcrap any more ridiculous than talking snakes and donkeys and people being eaten by whales and surviving for days? That crap is in the Christian bible after all.

    This idea is also commonly phrased in a moralistic way, "If you lose God you'll become evil because God is the only thing that makes people good". Equally ridiculous.

  2. erik says:

    Well written, short and to the point. I agree entirely. I can get really wound up over the perceived "legitimacy" of the dominating faiths. It's so pretentious.

  3. The Mute Point has been made time n' time again! THERE NEVER WAS OR WILL B A FREAKIN' GOD SO LET'S PLEASE MOVE FORWARD SHALL WE

  4. Rod says:

    Interesting discussion, but since GK Chesterton never actually made the remark in question, it is all a bit pointless! See http://oliverkamm.typepad.com/blog/2005/03/chesterton_use_.html

  5. gary says:

    Fools, history is proving you wrong as it has over and over. The notion that you understand everything great and small, past and present is the arrogance of an ass.

  6. Vanessa says:

    There is NO Mute Point. THERE IS A GOD AND IT IS PEOPLE LIKE YOU THAT WILL NEED HIS FORGIVENESS. I feel sorry for you and pray that one day there will be something that happens in your life when all you can do is believe in HIM!

  7. Dave Treleaven says:

    "When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing— they believe in anything. ~ G. K. Chesterton
    Not so...... people just live.

    "When people stop believing in god they start searching for something else to believe. And they end up believing the most ridiculous things, they turn to superstition."

    Superstition??....I take this to mean that you feel there is no superstition in religions.