Culture, Religion

A Short Defence of Religion

Here’s an old question: How can you be religious when there is zero evidence to support the idea of Gods and no reason to think such a thing exists? Is it not foolish to act so illogically?
And here’s one perspective.
I live with depression. Depression is very clever at erasing evidence. You can list all sorts of reasons for being glad and enjoying life, and depression can knock down every last one of them. When depression is masking your brain, it truly seems as though there is no reason at all to keep going.
But you keep going nonetheless, because you have some hazy idea that there’s something beyond what the evidence suggests. Some days faith in that idea is the only thing that keeps you from giving up and swigging lethal quantities of codeine and whisky.
Most people around one agree that giving up is a bad idea. They encourage you to keep it up with the blind faith, against all perceptible evidence and rational analysis. Thus, apparently, sometimes blind faith, against the evidence and contrary to logic, is not wholly a bad thing.
I live much of my life on the basis that there is a state of being better than the one I presently perceive, even though the depression in my brain makes me unable to reason out how this could be. Even though all the available evidence suggests that such a belief is entirely unfounded, I choose to believe it, and no-one would say me nay.
As a religious person, I also live much of my life on the basis that there is a state of being beyond my present perception, even though reason and observation cannot support it.
Just as sometimes the depression lifts and life can be enjoyed, sometimes life’s perspective widens and transcendence can be experienced. Both of these add value to my life.
The frames of mind which lead to each are precisely similar. One does not require any more suspension of disbelief than the other. It is not about living one’s life entirely by rational scientific principles and then having a whole different set of rules for religion that require reason to be abandoned; from this perspective, it is simply about how much one concedes may be beyond the available evidence. If it is not unreasonable to live with irrational faith concerning the one, it does not seem unreasonable to live with irrational faith concerning the other.

13 thoughts on “A Short Defence of Religion

  1. I appreciate you writing about depression. It affects many people and (unfortunately) is still often seen as an embarrassing issue to not be mentioned in public.

  2. I would like to offer an opposing view. I am also dealing with depression. And while I would like to think that there is a purpose to faith, I feel that my depression has clarified things: there is no reason for faith. I do not have faith in faith – I find myself easily shrugging off any vestiges of faith, like davvening, laying tefillin, donning a kippah or tzitzit. The available evidence tells me that things will not improve. I have lost my faith.

  3. I find myself easily shrugging off any vestiges of faith, like davvening, laying tefillin, donning a kippah or tzitzit.
    That would probably be diagnosed as a symptom of depression, more than anything else.

  4. “that would probably be diagnosed as a symptom of depression, more than anything else.”
    or just not believing that those things are relevant in someone’s personal life… but you know, making uninformed diagnoses based on one-line from a comment response on a blog, that’s another way to go…

  5. On a personal level, I would say that the more I have found the strength to reject a literalist interpretation of Judaism on any sort of level — including Liberal interprative narratives, and the more honest I have been about that rejection with others, the less neurotic I have become.
    It is possible to be religious of sorts in a truly non-denominational way. Unfortunately, I have not found it possible to have spiritual experiences without the aid of conducive recreational drugs.
    I believe that past a certain age, those who continue to occasionally smoke pot and use mushrooms but avoid other drugs that do not offer spiritual experiences often do so specifically for those spiritual experiences, which aid acceptance and ease the pain of these questions, allowing for greater acceptance for one’s mortality.
    Having said all that, when we look at Judaism outside of any realm of literalism, it doesn’t look so silly. We have to separate Judaism from the narrative hustlers who dominate our community in every denomination.
    But we also have an obligation to recognize that other religions suffer from the same phenomenon.

  6. I don’t know Kelsey, have you tried breathing exercises? I’m no yogi or anything but i’ve found a few that help. One thing I like to is find a dark quiet space, and sit with my legs crossed and my hands on my knees. Then I breathe in as slow and as deep as I can, really concentrating on breathing as slow and deep as possible, breathing so that as soon as I finish my exhale I begin inhaling in a circular rhythm. Then very very gradually, I speed up the rhythm. Eventually, my breathing gets fast, and this becomes a surreal experience, not unlike that which I have experienced under the influence of psylocibin. While I do this exercise, I like to think about the fact that my body is constantly dying and being born on a cellular level, and that my molecules just part a sea of other molecules in this great cosmic ocean, from which I was never seperate, and to which all of me will eventually return to make new things and new life once my consciousness has ended.
    That being said, there is something to taking shrooms and laying in the grass with a friend, and just riding the spiral. Perhaps one day, in the future, some brave souls will found the sect of Entheogenic Judaism, and unlock the mysteries of all the forbidden fruits.

  7. This is a great post.
    It reminds me of an argument I once read between a jew and an atheist. The atheist said “How can you argue against atheism? have you ever been an atheist?” To which the Jew replied “Of course, I am not going to lie and say that I have never been sad or depressed before.”

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