“Look,” I said, “four billion people
believe in some sort of God and free will. They can’t all
“Very few people believe in God,” he replied.
I didn’t see how he could deny the obvious. “Of course
they do. Billions of people believe in God.”
The old man leaned toward me, resting a blanketed
elbow on the arm of his rocker.
“Four billion people say they believe in God, but few
genuinely believe. If people believed in God, they would
live every minute of their lives in support of that belief. Rich
people would give their wealth to the needy. Everyone
would be frantic to determine which religion was the true
one. No one could be comfortable in the thought that they
might have picked the wrong religion and blundered into
eternal damnation, or bad reincarnation, or some other
unthinkable consequence. People would dedicate their lives
to converting others to their religions.
“A belief in God would demand one hundred percent
obsessive devotion, influencing every waking moment of
this brief life on earth. But your four billion so-called believers
do not live their lives in that fashion, except for a few.
The majority believe in the usefulness of their beliefs—an
earthly and practical utility—but they do not believe in the
I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. “If you asked
them, they’d say they believe.”
“They say that they believe because pretending to
believe is necessary to get the benefits of religion. They tell
other people that they believe and they do believer-like
things, like praying and reading holy books. But they don’t
do the things that a true believer would do, the things a true
believer would have to do.
“If you believe a truck is coming toward you, you will
jump out of the way. That is belief in the reality of the truck.
If you tell people you fear the truck but do nothing to get
out of the way, that is not belief in the truck. Likewise, it is
not belief to say God exists and then continue sinning and
hoarding your wealth while innocent people die of starva-
tion. When belief does not control your most important
decisions, it is not belief in the underlying reality, it is belief
in the usefulness of believing.”
“Are you saying God doesn’t exist?” I asked, trying to
get to the point.
“I’m saying that people claim to believe in God, but most
don’t literally believe. They only act as though they believe
because there are earthly benefits in doing so. They create a
delusion for themselves because it makes them happy.”