I think the question I asked in the title of this blog post is an excellent one. After all, most religious people believe in these two things.
(1) God exists
(2) Life after death exists
So what if only the first proposition was true? Would religion have such a hold over billions of humans if God was real and so was the finality of death?
Meaning, no life in heaven. No life in hell. No life after reincarnation. No life at all after we humans take our last breath.
I strongly suspect that religiosity would lose a large part of its appeal if the world's religions didn't have theologies along the lines of (1) and (2).
Which points to the seeming fact that while religious people talk a lot about their love of God, actually much of that love is based on a feeling of "If I do what God likes, such as worshipping her and obeying her commandments, then God will give me good things -- like a pleasant life after death."
Part of what got me to thinking about this was a conversation I overheard in a grocery store checkout line this week.
The checkout employee was telling a customer that the past few days had been tough for her. I didn't hear all the details, but apparently a friend, or relative, was in a car accident that led to them losing their legs. The checker then said:
I guess God had a plan for them that didn't include going back to Him now, but rather losing their legs.
In other words, it wasn't their time to die. Yet when they eventually do, God will welcome them. I can certainly understand the appeal of this faith-based belief, since it provides meaning to what otherwise would seem to be a senseless accident.
And I have no doubt that billions of people around the world find it easier to live their lives by believing that God is watching out for them and will take care of them after death.
However, just because a belief makes us feel good doesn't mean it is a pointer to something real. In many countries young children get a lot of joy out of believing in Santa Claus. Which, of course, is how atheists like me view God -- as a nice idea that doesn't have any foundation in reality.
Placebos work because the human mind is highly suggestible. Religious belief is akin to a placebo, since it has no active ingredients, yet provides benefits to many who imbibe it because they believe it works.