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Without question, the number one reason given by those who have left their faith behind is that they no longer believe that it is true. Sometimes Christians can be insensitive to those wrestling with their faith and imply the reason why must be because they just want to be free to live a life of sin. While that might be true in some cases, it's not reflective of the vast majority of those I have spoken to. For them, the issue was one of truth. In the end, Christianity no longer seemed true to them.
The underlying assumption of many individuals wrestling with their faith is that believing a claim should be done for one reason, and one reason only, that is whether or not the belief is true. If a claim or an entire system is not true then it shouldn't be believed.
We all intuitively believe the underlying assumption. We all agree that we ought to believe the truth over what brings us joy. But when we say that we "ought" or "should" only believe true claims we are invoking a responsibility that we seem to think we have. We are saying that we have a duty, an obligation to believe only true claims even if false ones bring us joy.
That assumption seems eminently reasonable. And for the most part, it is. But I think it requires another assumption to make it rational.
Seeking the truth isn't just an obligation, it's a moral obligation. We are inclined to think that a person is morally blameworthy for simply choosing to believe what makes them happy rather than the truth. W.K Clifford's "ethics of belief" is correct about one thing, we have ethical obligations to believe claims that are supported by sufficient evidence because evidence indicates the truth, which is what belief is directed at. ere are moral
When it comes to what we should believe, truth takes the highest place in the echelon of our values. As mentioned above, we intuitively feel that we should only believe claims that are true. But why? Why are we obligated to the truth above any other virtue? Why does it take precedence over other virtues such as joy? Why can't I believe a claim that makes me happy instead of a claim that is true?
For Christians who want to retain their faith, because it gives them joy, a sense of purpose and identity but are struggling with whether or not it is true, fear it's not, and worry if they look into it they might lose their faith are the big question is, why bother looking into it? If you're happy with it, why care if it's true?
I'm going to suggest that our intuition that we are obligated to only believe true claims makes sense only if God exists. In doing so I hope to show that the belief that we ought to believe the truth even if it results in losing belief in God only makes sense if God exists. If I'm correct about that it will have important implications for deconversion. Specifically, the obligation to believe only claims that are true makes sense only if God exists, Therefore, claiming that one lost their faith because they sought the truth makes no sense.
But if God doesn't exist then I'm not so sure that truth is the most important reason to believe a claim. I admit that it seems strange to suggest that the truth of our beliefs might not be all that important if God doesn't exist, but bear with me. If I'm correct, then the strong intuition we have that compels us to give such a high priority to having true beliefs will turn out to be evidence of the existence of God.
If the primary reason why we ought to believe something is that it's true, it raises the question of what God's existence has to do with the importance we place on having true beliefs. Let's begin to answer that question by asking another.
If God doesn't exist, then why is the truth a more valuable property for a belief to possess than that the belief gives us pleasure?
To answer that we need to be clear about what truth is. Typically, truth is understood to be the correspondence between a belief a person possesses and a fact of reality. A belief is defined as a positive attitude toward a truth claim. So, for example, if I believe that the Kansas City Chiefs are the 2023 Superbowl champions and in fact, they are the 2023 Superbowl champions, then I have a true belief.
Okay, now that we know what the definition of truth is, let's return to our question. If God doesn't exist but I think he does and that belief gives my life meaning, hope, purpose, community, identity, and satisfaction, then why is it more important that I believe the truth about his nonexistence if doing so steals all my joys?
I suppose there are a few ways one could respond.
First, one could respond by arguing that living according to the truth - no matter what the truth turns out to be - is of great value because truth is a good in itself that should be pursued above all other goods. But that claim isn't at all obvious. Why does having a positive attitude toward a claim that corresponds to a fact of reality - deserve priority over having meaning, hope, purpose, community, and satisfaction? It's not self-evident why, if God doesn't exist, thinking correct thoughts is more important than having an enjoyable life.
Second, perhaps someone might respond that holding true beliefs increases the likelihood that we will have an enjoyable life. After all, if we live according to the truth it will result in having an enjoyable life. But that's not just a dubious claim, it's a demonstrably false claim.
It's not hard to imagine scenarios where believing the truth over believing a falsehood makes our life less enjoyable. Consider just one such scenario. Suppose I think that my son is a noble, upstanding member of the community when in reality he's a sleazy drug dealer wanted by the police. My delusion regarding my son gives me great pleasure. I feel good about the person I believe he is and the job I did raising him. I get great joy when I think about him. But finding out the truth about who he really is would destroy me. I would feel shame, worry, regret, and maybe even remorse I brought him into the world. Clearly, knowing the truth in this situation doesn't contribute to my having an enjoyable life. On the contrary, it destroys that possibility. Why should I give that up just so my beliefs match up with a fact of reality? Having a positive mental attitude toward a claim that corresponds with a fact of reality hardly seems like something worth sacrificing an enjoyable life for. No thanks.
The third response is that unless we live in accordance with the truth, we're likely to suffer significant consequences to our very life. Well, I suppose that's true in some cases. If we hold false beliefs about cyanide being healthy in large amounts then we'll die. If we are wrong about the speed of oncoming cars, we are likely to get hit as we try and cross the road. So yes, in some, maybe many cases, believing falsehoods can be detrimental. But believing falsehoods can also be beneficial in some cases too. Imagine a person, Dave, who desires to pet a poisonous snake but believes every snake he sees isn't a poisonous one, so instead of trying to pet it, he chooses to keep looking. Is his belief wrong? Yes, very wrong. Some of the snakes he encounters are poisonous. But in this case, having a belief that is false is actually good for Dave. I realize this is a silly example, but it makes the point; believing the truth isn't always better for our well-being/survival than believing a falsehood.
In the end, if believing a falsehood brings me great pleasure, and does not put me in serious danger then why does it matter if I believe it? There aren't any eternal consequences for holding false beliefs. So why should I care if my beliefs aren't true if they're pleasurable and don't result in negative consequences? I only live once and have no obligation to any authority outside of myself to give an account of what I believe.
If God doesn't exist, but it's emotionally beneficial to our well-being to believe he does, and not detrimental to us in any significant way, then why care if our beliefs line up with the facts of reality? I can only think of one reason, and that is because being in possession of the truth is inherently valuable in and of itself. This seems to be intuitively the case, but upon reflection, it seems to be the case that unless God exists that not even truth has any intrinsic value.