Throughout my life I have been, at one time or another, a believer in God, an agnostic and an atheist. I am amazed at the strength of other people's faith, especially at the faith of people who have taken up a new religion and fervently hold on to and defend their new beliefs for the rest of their lives. My question is how are people so convinced that their chosen religion is right over all the others. It seems impossible that a person can believe in a religion simply because he or she wants to - there must be some logic behind their reasoning - but I cannot understand it. Can you explain or is this one for psychologists?

This is a remarkable phenomenon, one that was noticed even in ancient times--the consensus gentium. Strictly speaking,I think, there is no good reason or defensible logic for belief in the standard religions. So, religious belief is, primarily, an issue for psychologists to figure out. Many philosophers have shown the irrationality or, anyway, non-rational grounding of religious belief. So, both the persistence of religious belief and its pervasive character must be thought of as remarkable. I suspect that inclinations to religious belief were selected through evolution because it was somehow adaptive. I also think that Freud was not entirely wrong that religious conviction extends from our being dependent upon parents during our formative years. Then, there's also our desire for order and comprehension that lends itself readily to thoughts about an ordering principle or source of intelligibility. And who is really free of a fear of death. There are, however, perhaps additional philosophical speculations that may complement the findings of natural and social scientists. For one thing, keep in mind that much of the conceptual and linguistic architecture of human culture was developed during periods of religious conviction. So, rough implications leading towards elements of religious conviction. ideas about time are paired with those of eternity, ideas of necessity with contingency, ideas of multiplicity with unity, etc. The shadow of Parmenides and Plato looms large over all of us, whatever our religious convictions. Another idea I've toyed with is that while, strictly speaking, the argument from design isn't sound and presents a weak analogy between human productions and the creation of the universe, it nevertheless does present an analogy that's easily apprehensible and not so weak as to amount to nonsense. As a weak but intelligible and attractive analogy, it persists even in the face of abstruse logical criticism.

In his magnificent recent book, A Secular Age, the Canadian social philosopher Charles Taylor addresses exactly why it is that many North American and Western Europeans find themselves able to view religious belief as a choice that one can make on rational or other grounds.

Taylor's sophisticated philosophically-nuanced historical account of this and related questions show that philosophers can address issues like these with considerable success; psychologists undoubtedly also have a lot to say, but Taylor demontrates that the question you raise engages numerous fascinating philosophical issues in social philosophy, political philosophy, and metaphysical issues related to identity.

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