I’m an atheist and I feel a majority of people are religious because they never question the things they learn in their early years, and/or because they need faith to cope with the hardships of life. I would have considered the latter pragmatic if it had no side effects. However, there might also be some “good” reasons behind belief systems that aren’t readily obvious.
I have read various arguments in favor of faith and the ones that link it to personal happiness and achievements make some sense to me. Most atheists dismiss such claims as false crediting. In my opinion, they overlook a very important property of faith: the willpower and motivation it generates. If faith can create extremists who are willing to die for the silliest of causes, it is definitely powerful enough to push people beyond their natural limits. This makes it “real” irrespective of how shaky the foundations are. It is a force similar to love, patriotism, etc., and can control our brains to an extent that rational thought cannot. Thus, if faith can somehow be cultivated in a controlled manner, it might be put to good use.
This has been proven to some degree by Alcoholics Anonymous or AA, which is a group aimed at helping alcoholics stay sober and escape addiction. Developing faith and spirituality in alcoholics is a key part of their methodology, and statistically it has been highly successful. AA exploits our brains’ tendency to prioritize feelings over reason.
Is irrationality a flaw that we should try to overcome? Reason and rationality have been given more and more importance as humanity progressed, and they have been extremely beneficial. But it must be speculated whether there is a limit after which we will start failing at our primary task, i.e. survival. The mental blocks we carry within ourselves are one of the forms of irrationality that have been proven useful. The most prominent example is that we avoid thinking about various existential questions. We know that the rational answer to a question like “Should I have coffee or should I die?” is “It doesn’t matter.” Yet we choose coffee every single time without pondering over the other possibility. It’s a miracle.
In this way, irrationality defines us. I believe spirituality and faith are just various forms of this irrationality that leak out from our fundamentals. While we continue this debate, we will keep shutting out the tiny voice at the back of our heads that whispers things we don’t want to hear.