This is something I frequently ask myself – especially in an increasingly globalized world with access to mountains of information and viewpoints. For me, this allowed me to approach the religion that I was raised in (Mormonism) from an outsider perspective; it allowed me to research and scrutinize it like I did all other religions. And it ultimately led me out of organized religion all together. I see around me so many smart and thoughtful people – qualities that I highly connect with. Yet, these people choose to belief and stay in religion, so again I find myself asking why.


In an effort to better understand, I have attempted to compile a list, each with a brief corresponding explanation, of why people believe and stay in a religion.

  • Raised in religion
    • The majority of people who adhere to a religion were raised in that religion. This allowed for the belief to be normalized.
  • Cultural, peer, & familial pressure
    • Humans are social animals – we desire to fit in and be accepted. If you follow the norms and exceptions around you, then you’re more likely to achieve those things.
  • Sense of community
    • Not only do humans want to fit in, but they want to feel like they matter to each other – that they can help others and others will help them.
  • Gives meaning to life
    • The universe is a big place. Having a religion that puts you at the center of it can make this vastness seem a lot less intimidating.
  • Gives guidance to life
    • There are so many choices to make in a lifetime. Knowing which ones are right is extremely difficult. So having a religion that gives you defined steps to take can make decisions easy.
  • Trust in authority
    • As children we have to trust in the adult figures around us to some degree – we literally rely on them for our survival. This mindset can be taught in terms of religious authority figures; there’s so much you don’t know that these people do.
  • Lack of knowledge
    • Oftentimes the world view that people have within a religion restricts their access to other information and ideas.  This lack of exposure can prevent people from ever asking the questions that would lead them out of religion.
  • Lack of critically thinking skills
    • Many religious beliefs are taught to children before they develop critically thinking skills. These beliefs then become ingrained before they can be scrutinized. Moreover, people are frequently not explicitly taught about logic and logical fallacies (many of which are inherent in religion).
  • Cognitive dissonance
    • People are smart and able to think critically. This allows them to rationalize inconsistencies as well as hold two otherwise conflicting beliefs separate in their mind, thus preventing the need for reconciliation between them.
  • Confirmation bias
    • People are able to select information that supports their beliefs and ignore the information that contradicts it.
  • Personal spiritual experiences
    • People are often taught a certain metaphysical outlook – that is when you see or feel something, you are supposed to perceive it a certain way that may or may not align with reality. This allows for things like emotions, coincidences, etc. to be interpreted as supernatural in origins.
  • Belief perseverance
    • People can be stubborn and maintain a belief despite substantial contradictory evidence. This can lead people to hold their religion as the exception. Indeed, because many people are sensitive about their beliefs, they hold them above criticism.  The concept of blasphemy is a perfect example of this.
  • Perceived comfort
    • Religion can address human fears about disease, disasters, unfairness, and death. Moreover, it can allay facing the reality of a situation for a person. This can give a sense of comfort, feeling like you have the answers, that you know what is going to happen, and that everything is going to be okay.
  • Comfortable with status quo/fear of unknown
    • Changes are hard, stressful, and disruptive. Oftentimes, it is easier to play it safe and leave things as is.
  • Incurious
    • Humans, overall, are a curious species. However, sometimes there are people who don’t care to know more.
  • Belief in morality/fear of immorality
    • People often wants things to be black or white, right or wrong, good or evil. This can help make sense of the world. Moreover, moral teachings can guide people in certain situations. Some people believe that – without the moral teachings of religion – they wouldn’t be able to control their ‘carnal instincts.’
  • Fear of punishment
    • In some religions, people are taught that if they question and/or don’t believe, then they will be punished. People can then start to interpret anything “bad” that happens to them as punishment. Not taking that risk becomes more sensible.
  • Fear of death/belief in afterlife
    • Death is scary. A teaching that tells you you can live forever is comforting. Indeed, believing in an afterlife means you don’t have to fully face the fragility of life and how easy it is to waste time/opportunities.
  • Desire for justice
    • Life isn’t fair. People like to know there is recompense for the injustice. It’s nice to know that the guy who cut you off in traffic will get what he deserves in the end.
  • Religious texts
    • Religious texts can provide authority, guidance, and comfort. People can also feel deep connections to them (maybe more than any other book).
  • Pascal’s wager
    • It is better to believe than not believe in case it turns out to be true.
  • Belief in belief
    • People can believe that believing in something – whatever it is – is better than not believing in something. This can lead to a belief that religion is ultimately beneficial to a person.
  • Belief in absolute truth
    • When applied to religion, this is the belief that something – like the religion’s teaching – are absolutely true. Indeed, that there needs to be an inflexible reality.
  • Belief in the supernatural
    • The underpinnings of many religions rely on the belief in the supernatural – that is something beyond the understanding of science and/or the laws of nature.
  • Belief in revelation
    • The supernatural at times reveals information to humans – undiscoverable by other means – about the supernatural, history, existence, purpose, etc.


Are there any I missed? Let me know if the comments!


To end: I can understand rationally, even sympathize/empathize why people believe and stay in religion. However, now that I am out, I would never go back. Being able to think for myself and face reality to the best of our empirical understanding, makes life much more worth living.

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