Why choose a religion?
This post is addressed to agnostics — those who haven’t decided what they believe, or who have decided not to decide. If you believe strongly that there is no God, or that science is the ultimate answer, then I count that as a religion too (see this post for why). But if you base your worldview on the scientific method (which requires a stance of permanent doubt), then you’re agnostic, and this post is for you.
Agnosticism is like riding a bicycle.
I think it was Douglas Adams who said that bicyclists inhabit an exclusive moral high ground. Your average bicyclist feels morally superior to everyone else on the road, with good reason. After all, the bicyclist is not polluting the air and taking up obscene amounts of road space, like those idiots in the cars (plus the bicyclist is also getting exercise); and the bicyclist is traveling much more quickly and efficiently than those pathetic pedestrians, who are always getting in the way.
Similarly, the agnostic can feel superior to both the atheist and the evangelist. The true agnostic refuses to take any position without proof, so no matter who is in the argument — monotheistic, polytheist, atheist — the agnostics win, because they can systematically dismantle the positions of their opponents without having to defend any of their own.
Does that mean that agnosticism is the only rational choice? Certainly not. In fact, there are plenty of good reasons to choose a religion.
- Community. A healthy religion creates an intimate community of like-minded people. The community is intimate because the honest practice of religion requires allowing oneself the vulnerable, which in turn leads to intimacy. There are few better ways to create a lifetime’s worth of great friends.
- Personal growth. A healthy religion will always challenge you to grow — especially spiritually, but also mentally and emotionally. The definition of “spiritual growth” is arguable (it may mean different things in different religions) but it’s trivially the case that you will not grow spiritually if you’re agnostic. Of course, you can grow emotionally and mentally if you’re agnostic; but a good religion will offer tools and techniques to help you along.
- Purpose. This pearl of great price is offered by many religions. If you are Christian, for example, your purpose is to become one with God. If you are Buddhist, your purpose is to break free of the wheel of reincarnation. Pagan, polytheist, and shamanistic religions offer a variety of purposes, depending on the gods you focus on. Science does a particularly shoddy job of offering purposes; the best purpose that it’s come up with so far is “reproduce”, which is fine as far as it goes, but not very inspiring. If you’re agnostic, you have to come up with one by yourself. For many, this is not a problem; but for others, the purposelessness of life is a major source of depression and apathy.
- Miracles. Naturally, you can’t have miracles without religion. And believe me, miracles can come in pretty handy.
…You don’t believe in miracles?
Maybe I’ll convince you otherwise by the end of this series. But we have to lay some more groundwork first. In the next post, I’ll describe some common pitfalls to avoid when choosing a religion.
Links to other Posts in this series: How to Choose a Religion I: Intro