The Rationality of Religious BeliefFriedrich Nietzsche (1844-1900) famously said, “God is dead!” Although in truth hedid not believe God had died, but rather, he had never existed in the first place.It was his view that if you are and intelligent person that is able to reason, then youunderstand that God is a fable, a fairy tale used by the powerful (like RomanEmperors) to control the weak.Sigmund Freud (1856-1939) had a similar take upon religious belief. In thebook, The Future of an Illusion (1927), Freud applies his psychological theory to reli-gious belief. According to Freud, most religious belief is captured by the idea thatthere is a God, one who cares about us, and that will provide us with a eternal happi-ness after this life. An archetypal protective father figure. Freud argues that the originof such a belief, which is lacking almost any empirical evidence, is wish fulfillment.It is the result of the psychological desire for protection from a cold brutal reality.Ultimately, belief in God is simply wishful thinking on our part. As Freud says,”Ignorance is Ignorance; no right to believe anything can be derived from it . . . .Scientific work is the only road which can lead us to knowledge of reality outside ofourselves.” And in Freud’s view, the logical, scientific answer is that belief in God isnot a viable, rational belief.CHAPTER 6 What about God?159SOREN KIERKEGAARD18131855X2KGL.POST30DANMARKBoris1 5/Shutterstock.comIn an opposite vain, Soren Kierkegaard (1813-1855) argues that belief in Godand Jesus is not (or perhaps, beyond human rationality). True understanding of Godis beyond our comprehension. In his view, God exist in a realm that is beyond timeand space and yet Jesus became part of time part of space. Jesus, as the son of Godand part of the trinity (in which the father, son, and Holy Spirit are all one) becamea contradiction, a paradox. In Kierkegaard’s view, truth is subjective and relative.And although belief in God is contradictory and irrational, it is still possible.Leo Tolstoy (1828-1910) expresses a similar view to that of Kierkegaard in hiswork, the Confessions (1880). In the Confessions, he notes that the notion that faith isirrational has long been pervasive in philosophy. The dichotomy between faith andreason dates back to antiquity and was taken for granted by medieval thinkers suchas St. Augustine and St. Thomas Aquinas. Tolstoy was searching for the meaningand purpose of life. He says that “I realized that it was impossible to search for ananswer to my questions in rational knowledge; rational knowledge had led me to rec-ognize that life is meaningless. My life came to a halt and I wanted to kill myself.”He felt that science and reason could not provide any answer to the questionas to why we are here, only the how-if that. He goes on to say, “As I looked aroundat people, at humanity as a whole, I saw that they lived and affirmed that they knewthe meaning of life. I looked at myself-I had lived as long as I knew the meaning oflife. For me, as for others, faith provided the meaning of life and the possibility ofliving” Tolstoy would not disagree with Nietzsche or Freud, he would simply saythere is more to life than rational belief.
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