Sometimes the maintenance of a belief is deemed so important that impressive systems of propaganda are erected and vigorously defended by people who do not in fact share the belief that they think is so important for society to endorse. For instance, imbecile monarchs have been kept on their thrones by widespread conspiracies of oblivion and deception when it has been deemed too socially disruptive to confirm to the populace what everybody suspects: the king is an idiot.
Religion offers an extreme case of this. Today one of the most insistent forces arrayed in opposition to us vocal atheists is the “I’m an atheist but” crowd, who publicly deplore our “hostility”, our “rudeness” (which is actually just candour), while privately admitting that we’re right. They don’t themselves believe in God, but they certainly do believe in belief in God. It’s not always easy to tell who just believes in belief, since the actions motivated by believing in belief (while not actually believing in God) are – with the exception of those rare sotto voceconfessions – well-nigh indistinguishable from the actions of genuine believers: say the prayers, sing the hymns, tithe, proclaim one’s allegiance, volunteer for church projects, and so on. Sometimes I wonder if even 10% of the people who proclaim their belief in God actually do believe in God. I am particularly unimpressed by those who proclaim the loudest; they demonstrate by their very activism that they fear the effect of any erosion of religion, and they must think that erosion is likely if they don’t put their shoulders to the wheel. If they were more confident and secure in their religious convictions, they probably wouldn’t waste their time trying to discredit a few atheists. For instance, since they are confident that the moon landings really happened, they don’t bother working to discredit the moon-landing sceptics who lurk on the internet, even though those people do pose something of a threat to public confidence in the veracity of the media and the government.
A national study by evangelicals in the United States predicted that only 4% of their children would grow up to be “Bible-believing” adults. The Southern Baptists are baptising about as many today as they were in 1950, when the population was half what it is today. At what point should those who just believe in belief throw in the towel and stop trying to get their children and neighbours to cling to what they themselves no longer need? How about now?