There is a striking parallel between belief in a personal god and belief in Santa. As Richard Dawkins argues, these beliefs (or memes) are viruses of the mind. The two beliefs are of the same type, differing only in particulars:
- Both beliefs infect young minds incapable of critical thought and lacking the knowledge to properly judge the validity of those beliefs.
- The disinfection process is identical for most people: critical thinking develops and knowledge about reality increases until the superstition is seen for what it is.
- Both depend on mass support: children believe in Santa because everyone else appears to. But when the appearance of mass support vanishes as children get older, the belief gets wiped out. If someone maintained the belief into adulthood, he would be considered mentally immature. Likewise, religions get their strength from mass support. The religion of culture A is considered ridiculous by those of culture B—culture B is highly resistant to religion A simply because mass support is missing. Religious belief is considered childish and ridiculous where it is rare.
Growing up involves learning about reality and discarding falsehoods. Everybody drops the superstitions that don’t have mass support among adults. But many who were infected by religion as young children aren’t able to shake the virus as adults—because the mass support among adults prevents it from being exposed as a superstition. They go on to spread the virus to their children—that’s how the virus propagates itself.
It’s telling that nearly all religious people were indoctrinated into their particular religion as children. Those who are infected as adults are usually of questionable psychological integrity, or are simply unaware of the scientific evidence. After all, atheism correlates with intelligence and education. Consider this: a person may have complete faith in religion A, but had they grown up in a different culture they would have complete faith in religion B, even though the two are mutually contradictory. It comes down to sheer luck whether one is born at the right time and place to be infected with the ‘correct’ religion, although such a person will always believe that his is the ‘correct’ religion, while the other is false. Take a moment and think through the implications of this.
Now, religious people are not all stupid. In fact, many are very smart. For example, several Mises Institute scholars are religious, despite being very sharp thinkers in economics. This strikes me as a huge disconnect, a double standard—intellectual dishonesty, but probably not intentional. It’s as though religious belief is kept in its own compartment in the mind, sealed off from the rigors of evidence and logic that rule everywhere else. I find it absurd that one can be committed to the high standards of logic and evidence while also believing the superstitions of Bronze Age tribesmen.
Belief in a personal god is childish, just like belief in Santa. Both beliefs have zero scientific evidence to support them, and are opposed by overwhelming evidence to the contrary. If one must believe in a god, then deism (the belief in a non-personal god) is best—it doesn’t contradict the facts so blatantly. But it’s best to ditch deism and even agnosticism and be a full-blown atheist. Reject the existence of god(s) in the same way that you reject the existence of Santa.
Religion is an affront to reason and human dignity. It represents a complete rejection of reason and it lowers humans to the level of pawns in some divine game. Religion spreads by infecting innocent children, before they can critically assess what they’re being taught. Leave the children alone and let them decide what they’ll believe when they grow up. But if that were done, I reckon that religion would completely evaporate in a few generations.