An Excellent Reason for Believing in God

[UPDATE: 12 noon 22/10/2019: Wow, what a coincidence! Richard Dawkins was on the Joe Rogan podcast a few hours ago!]



No, I’m not trying to evangelise or convert anyone to religion. But in this post, I’d like to describe a really simple, practical reason for believing in God.

Believing in God (or a Higher Power) makes it easier to deal with life. And dealing with life is often not easy, so we should take whatever help we can get!

Bollinger, R. (2019)

When I was a teenager, I was an Evangelical Christian for a few years. There were several benefits which I experienced first-hand.

I loved the sense of community and one-ness, especially when we sang together. It’s also a lovely feeling to know that your Creator loves you and cares for you, no matter what.

But, as I grew older, I became troubled by the apparent conflicts between science and religion. There seemed to be little or no scientific evidence that God exists.

At the time, I felt that science was the ultimate arbiter of truth… if science said a certain belief was probably wrong, then it made sense to go where the science led.

So, for most of my adult life, I described myself as an atheist. But I still wished that I believed in God. Christians often seemed to have a warm glow, a sense of peace and happiness, that eluded non-believers.

According to several studies, religious people are happier, have fewer health problems and tend to live longer than the non-religious. These are not trivial benefits!


Since my Spiritual Awakening in mid-August, I’ve questioned many aspects of reality and re-assessed my belief systems.

I remember chatting with my good friend Tim Brownson about an idea I was toying with. I asked him, “Is it worth believing in something, even if objectively we suspect it might not be true?”

Tim replied that he felt in his gut that it probably was worth this self-delusion, even though this flew in the face of so much of his scientific learning.

My gut feeling agreed with Tim’s. So I decided to start testing this idea out…

What would my life look like if I started choosing to believe in ideas purely because the act of believing in them seems to confer certain benefits, even if modern science casts doubt on their ultimate truthfulness?

When you start thinking of beliefs in terms of their usefulness, they make a lot more sense…

  • I believe in God, because it helps me to feel loved and cared for.
  • When bad things happen, I tell myself it’s all part of God’s plan, because it helps to reduce the despair and suffering I’d otherwise experience.
  • I believe that Jesus died on the cross for my sins, because it means that I am worth saving. No matter how pathetic and low I might feel, God will always love me enough to sacrifice His only Son for me. When I value myself, I become more productive.

Atheists such as Richard Dawkins have scoffed at these beliefs, calling them little more than infantile “comfort blankets”.

But let’s get real for a second…

Life can be fucking hard.

Just look at the global suicide statistics (source: WHO)

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds globally.
  • Close to 800,000 people die due to suicide every year, which is one person every 40 seconds.
  • There are indications that for each adult who died by suicide there may have been more than 20 others attempting suicide.

And this sobering stat about depression:

  • Depression affects 20-25% of Americans ages 18+ in a given year. (source: CDC)

It’s clear to me that many of us need as much help as possible getting through life.

“Life is suffering, tainted by malevolence.”

Dr. Jordan Peterson

Humans need hope in order to survive. We need to find meaning in our lives. We need a reason to get out of bed in the morning. We need to feel wanted and loved.

For many people, religious and spiritual beliefs give them the strength to carry on living. Their “comfort blanket” literally keeps them alive.

As someone with lifelong depression who has been close to suicide several times in his life, I’d tell Richard Dawkins to fuck off with his “comfort blanket” comment.

Even if you’ve never had depression or been suicidal, your religious or spiritual beliefs can reduce the amount of suffering you might experience. Why would you not want a reduction in anxiety, depression, stress or fear?

Look at the opioid crisis in the US. Which do we think is better: getting people addicted to powerful drugs so they can (temporarily) cope with life, or allowing people to have relatively harmless beliefs which enable them to live meaningful and productive lives?


Look, I’m not saying that there aren’t problems with religion. It’s blindingly obvious that there are problems caused by religion.

But let’s not throw the baby away with the bathwater.

What if we can pick and choose the elements of religion and spirituality which we find personally beneficial, and ignore the rest?

My argument is that we can do this, and we should.

When you’re hopeless and lying in the gutter, you don’t slap away a helping hand. You’ll take all the help you can to get back on your feet.

“Do I believe in God? Well, I act as though He exists.”

Dr. Jordan Peterson

Healing: Revisited

A few weeks ago I blogged about going to a Sunday church service for the first time in years.

During the service, Luke 13 : 10-17 was read by one of my neighbours.

10 And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.
11 And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself.
12 And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.
13 And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.
14 And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.
15 The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?
16 And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?
17 And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.

The Holy Bible – King James Version – Luke 13 : 10-17

Previously, I wrote about how verses 10-13 seemed significant to me (I am like the woman who was healed). But I also said that I didn’t understand how verses 14-17 might be relevant to me.

Well, now I think I understand…

It’s about being unafraid to do things unconventionally. My flexible belief system and my ability to collapse houses of cards (deconstruct meaning) are evidence of this.

My belief system borrows elements from Christianity, Spirituality and Science (Atheism). Strict adherents of any of those belief systems would call me a heretic and eject me from their church.

I’m happy being a heretic, overturning convention and ignoring dogma. After all, I have a firm base of spiritual beliefs and I have God on my side.

Louis The Child Feat. K.Flay – It’s Strange (Candyland Remix)

This remix came to my attention this week thanks to Spotify’s awesome Discover Weekly playlist.

At first, I really didn’t like this song. I’m a huge fan of the original, but this remix seemed quite melancholy to me. It made me feel kinda sad.


But then, on my second or third listen, the lyrics suddenly stood out to me in a different way.

The song seems to be about romantic relationships between two people…

[Verse 1: K. Flay]
Heart been so cold that I don’t feel at all
Scarred up inside, so I built all these walls
My head rolling back, but I’m faking the rush
And out every night and I’m lonely as fuck

[Pre-Chorus: K. Flay]
I make my own rules and my own plans
I got no room for no man
That’s my way, that’s my way
Then I saw you in a dream, right
I wanna call you, a kind of feeling
I can’t name, I can’t name

[Chorus: K. Flay]
It’s strange
But I don’t need space from you
And every single thing you do, I like
I’ve been chaste
Maybe I just knew I had to wait for you
Draw a knife and carve a little space for you
It feels nice

[Hook: K. Flay]
It’s strange, but I don’t need space from you
And every single thing you do, I like

Lyrics from “It’s Strange” by Louis The Child

… but, what if… the lyrics could be about… my new-found relationship with God?

Now, the song takes on a whole different tone – one in which it feels appropriate for the music to have an austere beauty, almost a coldness.

The music in this remix now has very little happiness (compared to the original), but to me it does feel spiritual, from the soul, meaningful… deep.

And now I’ve found this new layer of deeply personal meaning, I absolutely love this remix.



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Do I Believe in God?

Interesting question.

My good friend Life Coach Tim Brownson told me he was surprised that I seem to have gone from being atheist, to agnostic, to Christian, all within the space of a few weeks.

I can understand why Tim thinks that, especially as he won’t have had time to read every single blog post I’ve made over the last few weeks, averaging several per day.

But the weird thing is, he’s only partly right.


Jordan Peterson has famously been quite evasive when he’s been asked about his religious beliefs.

“Well, that depends on what you mean by ‘believe’ and what you mean by ‘God’…”

– Jordan Peterson (I’m paraphrasing)

The more cynical amongst you might see that as him just dodging the question. But I really don’t think he is. If there’s one thing Jordan Peterson is, it’s honest.

“… But I act as though He exists.”

– Also Jordan Peterson

This might seem like a strange distinction for Jordan to make. But actually, I think I understand where he’s coming from.


Previously, I’ve blogged here, here and here about what I now believe. If you’ve been following my blog closely, then you’ll already have a good idea of my religious views.

But for everyone else, here’s the deal…

The Big Reveal

As I alluded to here, I have a highly flexible belief system which incorporates ideas from Atheism (Science), Spirituality, and Christianity. I amend my beliefs according to the context. My aim is to choose whatever belief seems to have the most utility (benefit) at any given moment.

Bollinger, R. (2019)

This way of thinking might seem utterly preposterous to most people. How can I believe one thing, then 10 seconds later believe the opposite?! Many of my beliefs appear to be paradoxical or mutually exclusive.


As I discussed here, I don’t believe human beings evolved primarily to perceive the world accurately. Sometimes we do, sometimes we really don’t.

Rather, we evolved to perceive the world in ways which are beneficial for our survival. Sometimes that aligns with objective reality, other times it doesn’t.

In other words, sometimes us humans delude ourselves because it’s beneficial for our survival.

That may sound like heresy, but I really do think it’s true. If you’re a truth-seeking philosopher, this concept can be a difficult one to grapple with. However, I’m now fully comfortable with it.

I also aim to be humble and open-minded. If new evidence comes along which disproves my current beliefs, either wholly or in part, then I will reject my former beliefs and go where the evidence leads. This is the essence of the scientific method and being a good scientist.

What do you think? Does all the above make sense?

Is there anyone else out there who has reached similar conclusions to me?!

Will I get kicked out of the churches of Atheism, Spirituality or Christianity for holding such paradoxical and heretical beliefs?

Time will tell.


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Healing

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a Sunday morning church service for the first time in decades. I can’t quite explain why I went, only that it felt right.

During the service, Luke 13 : 10-17 was read by one of my neighbours.

10 And he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the sabbath.
11 And, behold, there was a woman which had a spirit of infirmity eighteen years, and was bowed together, and could in no wise lift up herself.
12 And when Jesus saw her, he called her to him, and said unto her, Woman, thou art loosed from thine infirmity.
13 And he laid his hands on her: and immediately she was made straight, and glorified God.
14 And the ruler of the synagogue answered with indignation, because that Jesus had healed on the sabbath day, and said unto the people, There are six days in which men ought to work: in them therefore come and be healed, and not on the sabbath day.
15 The Lord then answered him, and said, Thou hypocrite, doth not each one of you on the sabbath loose his ox or his ass from the stall, and lead him away to watering?
16 And ought not this woman, being a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan hath bound, lo, these eighteen years, be loosed from this bond on the sabbath day?
17 And when he had said these things, all his adversaries were ashamed: and all the people rejoiced for all the glorious things that were done by him.

The Holy Bible – King James Version – Luke 13 : 10-17

I strongly believe that The Bible stories need to be interpreted to make sense. Further, I think interpretations are often highly personal. One person’s interpretation may not be meaningful to another.

The above Bible passage means a lot to me.

I am like the woman, who was physically bent over by her illness.

I have the disease of addiction, and I’m being healed (slowly) by attending a 12 Steps fellowship. The disease had bent me over, making me ashamed of myself.

When we get healed, we stand up straight, proud of ourselves. We begin to respect ourselves more. Stand up straight with your shoulders back is Rule 1 from Jordan Peterson’s book, 12 Rules for Life. I’ve been consciously improving my posture recently. The other day a woman told me I looked “fit” and “solid”. It made my day.

Perhaps my addiction started 18 years ago. Maybe its roots are even older than that.

To be honest, I struggle to get any relevant meaning from verses 14 to 17. I can’t (yet) see how they might relate to me. But I remain open-minded that they might make more sense in future.


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The Holy Trinity

What if…

The true meaning of Christianity is encapsulated by the 3 principles of Truth, Love and Courage?

  • Truth = God, the Father
  • Love = His Son, who died on the cross for our sins
  • Courage = The Holy Spirit, which can dwell within us

Notes

For more of my thoughts about these ideas, check out my other blog posts:

Tidy Your Room

What are Prayers Good For?

The act of praying is treated with derision by many. A common example is after mass shootings in the US. Religious folk often use the phrase “thoughts and prayers”. Secular folk will mock them for using (supposedly useless) prayers as a substitute for taking meaningful action.

Let’s re-assess though. What are prayers for?


As part of my quest to unify Science, Religion and Spirituality, I’m going to hypothesise that prayers may have some kind of positive function, though perhaps most of us don’t fully understand it.

It doesn’t make sense to me that so many humans, worldwide and as a species, would bother to pray if doing so conferred zero utility (benefit). Humans generally don’t like to waste their time and energy like that.

The first idea that occurred to me is about praying to put events into God’s hands. What function could that serve? Well, I believe it has a very important one.


If you look at Stoic philosophy, there’s a strong focus on what’s within one’s locus of control. In other words, we really only have control over our own thoughts, feelings and behaviour. External circumstances are often outside of our control. We can’t always force a certain outcome to occur because there are so many variables outside of our control.

This is why I feel that a good general approach to life is to do your best, but let go of your need to control the outcome. This is the spiritual principle of Acceptance (or Love). And it’s extremely powerful.

If there was a medication which could minimise depression, anxiety, worry and stress within a matter of a few minutes, everyone would want to be taking it, all the time! And yet, that’s the power of Acceptance.

It releases us from our need to control events outside of ourselves. And by doing so, it releases us from any emotional prisons we’ve wandered into.

NOTE: There’s often a misunderstanding about Acceptance. It is very much NOT about being passive, falling into a heap on the floor, allowing the world to kick you while you’re down, becoming a helpless victim.

I re-iterate, Acceptance is about doing the best you can, and then letting go of your need to control the outcome.

Doing this can bring a tremendous sense of peace.

For example, think about job interviews. You can give them your absolute best, but still not get the job. Sometimes there’s a candidate who beats you by just a tiny margin. You couldn’t control that (other than assassinating all other candidates before the interview!) And so it doesn’t make sense to beat yourself up for “failing” when you know you did your best. So instead, you just Accept the outcome, even though it’s not what you wanted.

This is why I included Acceptance/Love on the second version of my Tidy Your Room diagram. To do our best at taking personal responsibility and improving our lives, we need to attend to our psychological well-being. Acceptance is a great way to do this.


So, how does this relate to prayer?

Well, how do you feel after a mass shooting? Quite possibly any or all of the following: deep sadness, sick to your stomach, anger, frustration, helplessness.

Or maybe you’re just numb to it all because it seems to happen so often and yet nothing seems to change at a societal level.

These feelings, whilst understandable, can be psychologically debilitating if they go on for too long.

The truth is, for most of us, there’s very little we can do to directly affect the chances of a mass shooting happening in future.

Maybe we could vote differently (assuming we believe that would help). Maybe we could donate to relevant charities to help the victims. Maybe we could hold a protest. But, unless we happen to be a US Senator, there isn’t really that much we can realistically do.

Except, we can also pray.

God, please care for the victims of today’s tragedy. Please bring them comfort in their time of need. And I pray that such a thing doesn’t happen in my own community. I leave all this up to Your Will, my God.

The act of prayer hands over responsibility for a situation to God (or a higher power, or Fate/Destiny). [EDIT: Again, this is NOT an excuse for inaction. We should still be courageous and do what we can to make things better. Only then then should we hand over responsibility to a Higher Power.]

Praying like this is tremendously liberating from a psychological perspective. It allows us to function normally again. (See the Serenity Prayer a bit further down in this post).

I take the position that we need to look after our own mental health first, otherwise we’re no use to other people. Looking after yourself is definitely not selfish. It’s the first step to being able to help others effectively.

And, it seems to me, that prayer is an effective way of re-centering ourselves psychologically. It removes the burdens of stress, sadness and worry from us. It allows us to return our focus to the things which are within our direct control.

I’m really not sure if there actually is a divine being up in the clouds who can intervene on our behalf. But I think praying to Him serves a useful function.

Maybe prayer is a powerful way to bring ourselves to a place of Acceptance.

Bollinger, R. 2019

Of course, there are people who use prayers merely as virtue signalling – “Look at me, aren’t I such a good Christian person [smug smile].” But, I think that’s probably only a minority.


We also pray as part of the 12 Steps for addicts. It’s very far from useless. I feel it serves a similar function to that in mass shootings. It reduces guilt, fear, depression, shame, anxiety, worry, stress. It re-centers us, gets us back on an even keel, heals our hearts. Using Acceptance, it brings us back to a place where we can take full responsibility for ourselves again.


The Serenity Prayer

“God, grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.”

Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971)

So, again, be open-minded.

Just because something may strike you as useless, pious, weak, like an excuse for inaction… that doesn’t mean it really is.

Challenge your assumptions. Look beyond your prejudices and biases.

Assume the best of other people. We’re all human, we’re all doing our best, we’re all imperfect and we all make mistakes.

Focus on our similarities, not our differences (another important lesson from 12 Steps).