The Beautiful Irrationality of Humanity

How people thrive on the belief in the unknown

“You need to believe in things that aren’t true. How else can they become?” — Terry Pratchett, Hogfather

All it takes is posting something — anything — about religion, especially Christianity, on the internet and the aggressive atheists will swarm like hornets that just had their nest kicked. It’s almost guaranteed.

Post it and they will come.

These people pride themselves on being smarter than anyone who might be religious. Of course, because anyone religious is an idiot for believing in “fiction,” “superstition,” “lies,” and my favourite: “fairytales”. They love to play “gotcha” while pointing out cliché contradictions that appear in the Bible, all while patting themselves on the back for being so intelligent.

I may not consider myself a Christian anymore, but I would never make someone else feel ashamed or stupid for being religious.

To be human is to be irrational. We all believe in things that don’t “exist” or don’t “make sense” or that we can’t quantify in everyday life. Love… loss… and all the things that cannot yet be explained.

I grew up in the Church, specifically the Anglican Church. I was baptized as a baby then confirmed as a young teenager. Going to church was basically a weekly occurrence until I went to university.

My childhood was punctuated with Christmas pageants, Easter services, and Sunday school.

But as I grew into an adult, I realized my beliefs didn’t really align with mainstream Christianity. I wasn’t into the idea of an omnipresent man who supposedly controlled my life. Of course, I was all for the “love thy neighbour” and that sort of thing. But I couldn’t in good faith consider myself an actual Christian when I didn’t believe in God.

So I consider myself more of an agnostic now, with a fairly healthy leaning towards Anglo-Saxon paganism. I find my faith in the forest and the air and the magic of life, rather than in a church.

And, while I no longer feel like I belong to the Church, I’m not going to disparage my own family for still going. I know my old Church, I know the people there, and I respect their beliefs as I hope they’d respect mine.

“If you stumble about believability, what are you living for? Love is hard to believe, ask any lover. Life is hard to believe, ask any scientist. God is hard to believe, ask any believer. What is your problem with hard to believe?”
Yann Martel, Life of Pi

Religion in some form or other is almost as old as humanity itself. We humans have always sought answers to all of the deep existential questions through some sort of force beyond ourselves.

Whether it’s the polytheism of Hindu (the oldest organized religion in the world) or in the monotheism of the Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Islam, and Judaism), religion transcends culture, and time, and geographical regions.

You may have your beef with religion for some reason only you can understand, and all are valid, but to claim a lack of rational thought from those who are religious is simply untrue.

I’m not here to debate the existence of god(s) or whether organized religion is the worst thing that ever happened to humanity — though, I’m fairly certain if it hadn’t been religion it would’ve been something else that caused us to fight and kill each other — I’m stating that humans are naturally drawn to believe in things we can’t explain or can’t scientifically prove.

However, our love of hard logic, rationality, efficiency, technology, and science has led us to think we know or can know all there is. If it hasn’t been proven or can’t be proven it doesn’t exist. But, if that were true then we wouldn’t be able to light up rooms in the dark with electricity, we wouldn’t be able to drive cars, we wouldn’t be able to fly.

All this was possible because someone believed in something. Someone believed in the ability to get humanity off the ground, even though it hadn’t been proven. No one had done it, so it wasn’t possible. Until someone did.

Another way to look at it is this: our ideas of justice, mercy, social responsibility, laws. None of these things exist outside of our mutual understanding. I can’t break open the centre of the Earth and point to a vein of justice that runs through it like iron. It doesn’t exist, but we believe in them anyway.

Maybe life is belief in something we can’t know for sure. We go to bed every night believing we will wake up in the morning and that the sun will rise. Rational thought would dictate because we can only know the present, what happens in the future doesn’t matter. But, we wake up and continue believing in our own lives.

“Humans need fantasy to be human. To be the place where the falling angel meets the rising ape.” — Terry Pratchett, Hogfather

There are so many amazing aspects of life that humans have only scratched the surface of. If people were purely rational beings, we’d be unfeeling and uncaring creatures.

Emotions are irrational; imagination is irrational; life is irrational.

We tell ourselves stories every day to make sense of the world around us, whether those stories include god(s) or not doesn’t matter. The most rational or logical people tell themselves stories to make sense of life because sometimes life doesn’t make sense.

And if we try to shove everything into the box of strict rationality, the world would be a much flatter place. The beauty would be gone.

But, the beauty of humanity is our ability to believe. Belief is not always rational and sometimes it’s downright crazy, but it often leads to splendid things and marvellous inventions and much of the joy we experience.

Placing yourself into a narrow view of what exists and what doesn’t exist, what’s rational or irrational, what’s fairytale and what’s truth, limits yourself to a simplistic understanding of all there is to know and learn.

In hundreds of years, future humans will look back and wonder how we didn’t know about something that seems so trivial to them. Simply because someone hadn’t thought of it yet.

“People populate the darkness; with ghosts, with gods, with electrons, with tales. People imagine, and people believe; and it is that rock solid belief, that makes things happen.”
Neil Gaiman, American Gods

Intelligence is not the same as rationality.

There are a set of cognitive skills that we deem to be “intelligence” — which also tends to be logic heavy, and probably needs to include social and emotional intelligence, but I digress — but a lot of those skills don’t translate on tests the way they do in the real world.

But intelligence can’t guarantee rational behaviour, nor can rational behaviour guarantee intelligence.

Despite intelligence, we all have a personal bias and seek out those who confirm our biases; we analyze and view situations from our perspective without thinking of the other side; we have grand ideas of our own knowledge and intelligence and believe we are exceptional in certain situations. Worst, we don’t see our own biases most of the time in comparison to others.

Narrow-minded people, no matter where they fall on the religious spectrum, refuse to see and acknowledge world-views outside of their own, no matter how rational they believe their world-view is. Rational thinking would dictate we examine all sides and take in all perspectives before deciding what we believe, but most people don’t.

At the end of the day, we are all people trying to make sense of the world we live in. Our experiences influence how our beliefs reflect our reality.

Neither atheism nor religion is the problem, just like most individual Christians and individual atheists aren’t the problems. But, taken to the extreme and used as weapons in the public sphere of the internet is when the real damage begins.

What fundamental theists and atheists fail to realize is this the morality of humanity continues to exist as it always has. There is no code of behaviour we can follow perfectly to be completely free from “sin” or completely free from “irrational thought.” We can’t science ourselves into oblivion, nor can we pray away our innate humanity.

The very nature of faith is to believe in what cannot be proven. Rationally, if we question people’s faith in god(s), we also have to examine our faith in basically anything. We cannot hide from the fact that many aspects of humanity go far beyond rationality. There is always the oddity of infinity or sacred feelings to be found in all corners of the world.

Writer || INFJ || Wellness junkie and chronic oversharer.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store