I wrote this earlier for my own benefit in order to get some thoughts straight in my head. It is just my own personal pondering on what I think might be the motivating force behind having a faith. It is not intended to attack, provoke or patronize anyone who has a belief and I hope it is not taken in that way. I come at this from the perspective of someone without Religious Faith and I am sure it will show.
Regarding faith in God: to suspend ones rational mind in order to believe in a supernatural benefactor where the evidence does not support it does not seem sensible to me. Yet people choose to do it. Why? There are bound to be many reasons but here is one reason I would like to consider.
Faith means giving up ones sense of self reliance, letting go of all doubt and this action sets off certain feelings in the brain that are powerful and very positive. Uncritical Faith is the pre-requisite for spiritual sensation to flourish.
This is what i think atheists such as Dawkins and Hitchens miss because they have not and would never suspend their critical faculties. The powerful effect of faith on a believer's state of mind is under-appreciated by those who have not experienced it. There is a calculation involved in putting Faith over Reason. It is a trade off and religious people make a different choice because they see greater value in the feelings that Faith provides. I do not think it registers as a conscious choice for the most part. I think there is an unconscious sense that 'this feels good' and 'this feels bad' and they are guided accordingly.
If I were to examine God or religion with a scientific mindset, I would rely on my own judgement - this immediately creates a mental state where spiritual feelings do not flourish - at least those associated with a belief in God. While it would be possible to come to a greater and more accurate understanding of how belief in a supernatural God developed over time and who, why and when religious texts about that God were written and changed etc - without some level of suspension of my skeptical mind, no spiritual feelings about that God would be present in me. It will merely be a subject of investigation like any other subject, such as History or Biology.
For me, I am satisfied with that to be the case for a number of reasons. I would rather sacrifice the spiritual feelings one can gain from religion because I do not want to suspend my critical faculties in order to get them. I would rather look at reality squarely in the face. I also think one can gain those same spiritual sensations elsewhere. But i can see why the notion of Faith in God continues to persevere even at a time when it seems like human kind know enough to move past it.
While I can see advantages for some people in choosing to believe in God, I do wish that it were possible to be more honest about the motivations. If someone were to say:
'I believe in God because it makes me happy and I enjoy the sensations i get from feeling spiritual' I am completely on board with that.
And even if they then say:
'I believe everything in the Bible as literally true because in order to maintain my spiritual feelings i must have 100 percent total faith in the entire paradigm otherwise those spiritual emotions will evaporate'
The trouble is that religious people tend not to explain it like that, even if it is the case. They do not acknowledge with self awareness, why they choose Faith over Reason. They insist there is a good rational explanation for their belief beyond the spiritual feelings they get from it. I think this is because to do otherwise would cause too much cognitive dissonance. Unfortunately this makes it difficult to have an honest conversation about what is actually going on in order for the non believer to appreciate the true motivation for their religious statements.
I could make a parallel to a couple who are very much in love and before they are to be married, they are advised to get a pre-nup. Rationally this seems the right thing for them to do, looking at the divorce statistics. But considering their loving relationship in those calculated terms would taint the emotion they feel. It accepts the possibility that they could split up which is at odds with their loving intentions and declarations. They deny the possibility because it creates cognitive dissonance.
In that situation, it is understandable to say: screw statistics, i love you, i believe in you. I have faith. Saying that amplifies the emotion. To do otherwise might be more sensible but have the opposite effect emotionally.
That is as far as I have got with it. I feel like I didn't quite get to a conclusion but I hope it makes sense.