Does Religion Make You Happy?

Atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris have worked tirelessly to question the basis of religion, and the need for it. There is a thought in today’s society that we’ve all surpassed religion, that we do not need it any longer, and that today is the time for critical thinking and scepticism.

Sam Harris made a compelling argument that we should replace the belief in god with a pursuit of joy and happiness. Our morality should come from wanting to be happy, and wanting other people to be happy. But can we be happy without god? How come some people claim they need god to find meaning, happiness, and morality? What is it that makes us believe? Could the answer be found in our very DNA?

Why Did Christopher Columbus Continue To America?

I don’t know if god exists or not. But I do know thing: there is a purpose to faith. Faith can help us through all manners of situations, situations where science has not yet been able to reach or provide us with answers. And there are many more situations somewhere in between, where we have some facts, but not all, and in all these situations, it helps to be able to just believe. A classic example is politics. When we don’t understand everything about economic policies and how to manage our society, the final question becomes “What do you believe is right?” A lot of our social discussion is subject to voting, and science can only guide this decision, not point the way.

The interesting thing is that, for some people, belief appears to come naturally, where for other people, belief is a very difficult thing. Just believe, religious people may tell you, but you can’t. “Don’t you need a god to feel satisfied with your life?” they may tell you, but you don’t. This causes a kind of collide: People of faith try to help people who lack it find theirs, but no matter how much they try, it doesn’t seem possible. Why can some people believe, while others can’t?

Is it easy or difficult for you to believe in something? Is it easy or difficult for you to enjoy sensory pleasures and thrills?

Is there a gene that drives faith?

Psychologists have long theorised that there are genes that drive our ability to believe. One has been found that seems connected to the question of faith. The so called God Gene, that seems responsible for giving us a sense of inner optimism that what we believe or the way we see the world is right. Those that lack the gene would then be more inclined to scepticism or pessimism. This could then in turn lead to a higher inclination to believe in god. But the question is: Where do you find meaning, if not in god? Social psychologist Schwartz offers some explanations. Schwartz created a values survey in which people were asked how important a range of values were to them.

Schwartz Values Survey

Now, Schwartz found something interesting. People that valued faith, belief, service to god, devotion, and discipline, did not appear to value stimulation-seeking, thrill, daring, hedonism, or the pursuit of satisfaction. There were, it seems, a group of people that responded more to physical or mental well being, and that didn’t respond to the thought of prayer, meditation, or service to a god or “higher being.”

They would then take action to reach stimulation, to experience mental or physical highs, and they would seek stimulation from all manners of things, from art, physical thrill-seeking, music, relationships, connection, family, achievement and curiosity. Just like different people would find god in different places, hedonists are not just sex-craving drug-addicts. We have a tendency to focus more on the primitive expressions of hedonism or faith, focusing on the damages they cause, and how it is expressed in the hands of a fundamentalist.

We then take our limited evidence from a biased sample of people, and we then use it to attack the question of faith, or hedonism. Perhaps, instead, we should seek to foster a sense of understanding and mutual respect towards people who believe, and people who don’t, alike. Embracing and nurturing who people are and guiding them in the right direction, towards healthy expressions of faith, and a healthy pursuit of stimulation and pleasure.

The issue of repressed faith or hedonism

What is the consequence of repressed faith or repression or guilty consumption of pleasure? What happens when we are taught to feel bad about our sexuality or about drinking, even in moderate amounts? What are the consequences of taking away or repressing someone’s beliefs or forcing another person to think more like you do?

We have real issues with fundamentalism in the world, people who take faith to an extreme, and people with severe issues of addiction and gluttony. The question is if it is not the repression and the shaming of these individuals, the repression of free speech, and the shaming and control that drives many of these behaviours? What should that tell us about our drug-policies and how we should look at muslims or christians?

Read more: What is hedonism and what does it mean to have faith?