God is irrelevant yet essential. Irrelevant in that it he or she – let us use the pronoun they for the fun of it – They the God do not actually control us. We go about our lives influenced, not by God, but by our neighbors, our biology, and our circumstances.
But the idea of God is essential. Even in the mind of an atheist it represents the great, fuzzy irrational thing against which they can push. God to an agnostic is as laden with possibility as the next season of Game of Thrones. And God to the faithful is life itself.
It is easy for the logical atheist to write off a religious person. But by doing so the atheist fails to acknowledge an as-yet unmeasurable, but very real, thing: faith.
Faith is a physical fact of existence as much as a stomach ache, or heartbreak, or inspiration. Write it off as an emotion, yet who writes off love, or sorrow?
You must simply allow for faith.
Which leads to the existence of God, not as an omniscient force, not as a He or a She, not as the ruler of heaven and hell. God as a human idea. One must acknowledge the human idea of a Holy All. And in acknowledging this you realize it doesn’t matter if there is a god, or not.
What matters and what, frankly, is rendered moot by how much it matters to so many billions of people, is belief.
What is belief, or faith? Just blind agreement with a collective fairy tale? Perhaps if we all lived, uneducated, in small isolated villages with powerful churches, one could argue religious faith is just the act of agreeing with the tribal myth. Instead, a lot of people grow up with an education and travel through spacious spheres of experience. Yet, in spite of everything they’ve learned about evolution and historic discrepancies in the Bible, still they will say…
I believe in something.
Why? It is not enough to shrug it off as, “People being dumb.” People are, generally, very dumb, I certainly am. But most people are also relatively reasonable. Most people accept the theory of gravity, and do not try to fly by leaping off their roof. Most people wash their hands after taking a shit. Most people will return a lost wallet. And this all happens, not because everyone has experienced violent run-ins with broken bones, E. coli and theft.
These acts of reasonable behavior occur all day, every day, amongst most people, because we have evidence of their value. We haven’t gotten E. coli, but we’ve had the flu. We haven’t broken bones landing in our yard, but we have broken a bone in Little League. Whatever your story, you’ve had experiences that, while not as extreme, still taught you not to leave the stove on or yell on an airplane or fart on the first date.
If most human behavior is based on education or experience, what is faith based on?
I find that the simplest explanation is usually the true one. The simplest explanation for the existence of this human emotion called faith is that there is something to believe in. Maybe we can’t measure what that is, yet. Maybe we can’t see God under a microscope (or in a telescope). But maybe people believe in They because They exist.
The question, Why do people believe, is more important than What do people believe in?