How Do People "Reason" Their Way Into Religion?

Recently I've talked to a number of Christians who say they are "thinking Christians" and that they have reasoned and researched their way into their religion. This is how I think it might happen. Let me be clear first, though. This isn't something that only people who buy into religion do. We all do something similar to this in our lives, unless we've really trained and become good at critical thinking.

1. Start with a need that isn’t being fulfilled. Often this is some variation of, “I can’t believe we just die and that’s it. I want to live forever.” It could also be seen as a general fear of the unknown, major life questions, a belief that religion is needed to be moral, or perhaps someone is leading a shallow life where they look for something deeper.

~I actually fell for the first one. After I realized gods were man-made, I still believed in reincarnation and a hodge-podge of other spiritual New Age claims. For me, it was harder to get rid of those beliefs than God himself. The realization that dead is dead just seems to really freak people out. Since the dawn of  humankind, people have buried their dead in hopes of eternal life, and they have created myths and religions that openly address the afterlife, often as a destination and a threat or reward.

~A lot of people incorrectly believe that morals come from religion. Humanists and nonbelievers everywhere are living proof that it isn’t true.

2. Look for easy answers down specific paths. Pick up a popular book that is written to sell you on a particular religion and read it, or start listening to someone who has strong views and arguments for what they are peddling. Usually you’ll pick something you already have an affinity for in some way.

I have to say that there are people out there who talk a good talk. Their arguments are slick and easy to digest. The logical fallacies are well crafted and very hard to point out if you have the unfulfilled need from step 1, and no training in how to think critically. If you don't know the material from other sides you will be easily duped. The twisted logic is extremely hard to notice. And the information is designed to answer tough questions and to be comforting in some way.

3. Once you’ve found the leader that you resonate with, start absorbing as much as possible from that source and anything they might recommend. This is your guru, your leader. He or she will probably also tell you who to avoid. This is important. He’s setting you up on a narrow path that isolates you from different views. Of course, he’s also given you very comforting answers in step 2 so this is easy. It seems reasonable.

Once you read or listen to something that you agree with, you'll seek out more of the same and keep confirming the bias you have already unconsciously formed. Your guru’s answers ring true to you, they feel good, they satisfy you in a way that you haven't felt before. This is emotional, not logical. Plus, almost all of us have never been trained to think logically and critically.

So when the person you like says that so and so is wrong, you believe him or her without even questioning it. Even if you go and read some of “the enemy”, you've already been carefully primed by your respected guru to discredit the new information.

Before you know it, you're a believer and you think you got there rationally. But instead you got there by rationalizing. There's a big difference.

Rational: consistent with or based on reason; logical.

Rationalizing: To devise self-satisfying but incorrect reasons for one's behavior. To justify (one's actions, especially discreditable actions, or beliefs) with plausible reasons, especially after the event.


  1. Well, Frans, I think the reasons people turn to religion are different for everyone. I'm just writing about what I know personally or what I've experienced in my travels with religious people. Your path is unique, just like you. :)

    Yes, knowing I'm related to the mold growing on my shower curtain certainly gives me perspective and makes me feel amazingly connected to everything, trees, moss, bees, dogs, humans, etc. :) Then again, I'm in awe of nature.

    Yes, I can see how it would make your disappointment that humans are stupidly cruel even worse.

    I only see one notify box. Personally I have never clicked on them. But right below the Submit button is the Manage subscriptions link. I think that one gives you the most control. I would like to get rid of the other one(s).
    It's a matter of dealing with the behind-the-scenes mess. :P Thanks for letting me know about it. I'm still trying to untangle which is which.

  2. Right now it says

    You are subscribed to this entry. Manage your subscriptions.

    Notify me of follow-up comments via e-mail [checkbox]

    I'm guessing whichever one has the subscription management figured out is the good one. :P

  3. Yes, I really want to get rid of the checkbox one. I'll try to do that this evening. The first one I think is the better one.

  4. Ah HA! I found it! It's gone now! :D :D :D