What convinced you to believe in God, if you didn't before?

Offshoot to this thread: What’s the minimum-level miracle it would take you to convince you God exists? - In My Humble Opinion (IMHO) - Straight Dope Message Board

If you were an atheist and/or agnostic before, what convinced you of the existence of the god you now believe in?

At the start, I just decided to bet on Pascal’s Wager (though I was unaware of Pascal at the time, and came up with the idea on my own). As far as which belief set to use, the simplest and most convenient choice was the religion of my family, Judaism, which I had already known so much about.

That began my earnest investigation to lean more and more about this particular religion, and I felt that to me it made a lot of sense. That does NOT mean that all my questions got answered, but enough questions did have sensible answers that I concluded that the rest of them do have answers also, if only I would keep searching.

Proofs? Contradictions? Eventually I came to believe that neither system (theism and atheism) is totally provable beyond a shadow of a doubt. Rather, every individual has their own threshold for “I personally accept that as a proof, because although someone else could pick a hole in it, to me that is just too ridiculous.”

So, to answer the OP, what convinced me of the truth of Judaism is that it is internally self-consistent. Yes, there are things which appear to be contradictions, but in my experience, the more I study the details of those apparently-contradictory things, the more I see how they are actually different, and actually complement each other.

When I was little, my parents told me God existed and I felt it was so. They told me other things I didnt believe. I have seen way too many “coincedences” which couldnt have been to see the proof.

It’s hard to answer the question as posed. It’s not so much that I “believe in God”. It’s more like I grew up exposed to our various cultures’ notions of God and then at one point what I believed about reality in its entirety ended up overlapping with that in certain critical places, to the point that I decided “You know, I bet experiences and perceptions like this are the origins of the various theological belief systems. Passed down and filtered by a lot of other stuff that makes them pretty opaque, and with oodles of people now ‘believing’ them without understanding them in any real way, but still…”

Hmm, on the other hand, I could make the same kind of inference from “What convinced you to believe in God” and decide that my vantage point has sufficient overlap with “believe in God” that it’s probably what the original concept was referencing.

“God” is just a three letter word unless we talk about what we mean when we say it; I do use it to refer to perceptions and experiences and conclusions about what is real, and I use it earnestly, not ironically or whimsically; but I don’t feel like I have to use theistic language and theistic conceptual constructs in order to talk about this stuff, I can speak atheist as a second language. (And I get tired of the whole conversation being yes/no about “does God exist”, I don’t find it particularly interesting).

Yeah, there is goodness, in a way that matters. All that idealistic earnest “be nice to each other” stuff, along with the desire to live free and not trammel anyone else, and taking care of each other, is supported in the laws and principles, so it’s not unrealistic or contrary to human nature or whatever.

Yeah, there is volition, which ties back to freedom; intentionality and the notion that the reason for events, in some real sense that can’t be reduced to mechanistic causal determinism that erases it, is that a consciousness wanted them to take place – that’s real.

Yeah, it’s participatory, you as an individual can experience a connectedness that transcends the sense of Self as being confined to 1st person singular. It’s as real as the 1st person singular sense of Self and oh yeah a byproduct of that is that mortality of the individual isn’t The End of You.

The experience or practice of interacting with this awareness and feeling this phenomenon actually does feel a lot like having a personal conversation with another individual consciousness, a powerful and caring and trusted force, although that is not how I would posit it and I would not conceptualize this as being about actually conversing with another singular 1st-person-singular-unto-Itself Entity. It’s not less than that, though, it’s quite a lot more than that.

Anything else you wanna know about it? I’m a fallible human being like the rest of us and could be misguided, wrong, delusional in this (as in any other cognitive activity) and I try to always remain aware of that. I utterly respect atheists, and people who are theistic with very different perceptions and beliefs. This set of notions constitutes mine and (as, again, with any other cognitive content) I choose to operate on the presumption that it is in fact as real as it seems, while trying as best as I can to be open to the consideration of alternatives.

Love would be my answer. Though I feel I always ‘knew’ God existed. I even tried atheism for a while but it was not true to who I was, nor did I felt it worked for me.

But going back to Love, which I often capitalize because God is Love, is more than an emotion but a single living being that cares for us. Over time I have found that acts of Love are coordinated. I’ve noticed too many times to be coincidence how perfect Love is from so many disconnected sources that it must be sentient, intelligent and of one being (spirit) and very much wanting and able to help us.

When do I notice this? When one is living the life that agrees with who they are amazing help is available and doors open. If one is not living their life (i.e. just a cog in the corporate wheel), Love does not what to help as Love doesn’t want you to think that is the life for you, but Love will guide you to what you should be doing, but actually doing it is up to you.

When did I first notice this? I found a magic phrase that always worked. It was "i’m going hiking’. So many times when I had obligations such as work, the magic phrase opened the door for me to hike. I’ve had numerous times like this example. I wanted to take off from work to go hiking, and I went to the manager to request the day off. But he was talking to another who just happened to ask for that same day off and was denied because we were short handed and needed everyone on deck that day. I did ask and was asked what for. I said I was going hiking and he said sure, hope you have a wonderful time. This was one of many such situations.

Why is/was hiking important to Love for me? I believe I have found my own direction and purpose in life through hiking. I learned about live/death/afterlife and am unafraid. I’ve helped many people who have thanked me sometimes years later. I have even been privileged to heal injury with my touch, a power of God. There was sometimes, often on trail, where I got this wonderful feeling that I was in the exact right time/space in the universe that I was to be, and I grew. That last one really put things into perspective and Love treated me at first like a baby just leaning to walk and provided me with the Love I needed to really develop and mature. Stuff that my physically childhood lacked I later got from Love on my journeys. I thru hiked the Appalachian Trail as a child, and was loved as such and given such selfless encouragement in to many ways to recount.

I’ve learned how to interpretative the scriptures and see how it fits together and see how God comes through everywhere and parts are true in many faiths. Love is the filter to use. If it’s based on Love it’s of God, if not then that is the human part added to form the religion it comes from. Jesus is there in human flesh whenever Love acts through a person and anyone of any faith who sees God act through human flesh believes in God’s child, who is by name to be Jesus and thus ‘saved’ w/o Christianity being needed or even known about as they found the Christ on their own.

I also believe some people know/have discovered about the power of Love but refuse to share, using it for selfish gain, denying people the truth. I think even some pastors do this. It’s something they are allowed to enjoy for a time but if they don’t realize their error they risk being cast out of Love, at least for a while.

I have a friend who one day heard the voice of God (in her head, I think) tell her to join LDS. She did and is still a devout believer.

Could you expand on how Pascal’s wager applies to Judaism? I was never taught that anything terrible happens to non-believes which is partially why we don’t try to convert anyone. Christianity says that non-believers get tortured forever, we just say that everyone dies. At least short term.

Judaism most certainly does believe in reward and punishment. The Jewish Bible is full of reminders of the rewards for those who do good, and the punishments for those who do bad. So the short answer is that I chose to gamble away my beloved cheeseburgers and Saturday tv shows on the chance of getting into heaven.

Longer answer:

Judaism applies the above to both Jews and non-Jews. The difference is that God has different expectations from the two groups. For example, God expects non-Jews to avoid murder and killing etc., but Jews also have a number of rituals and holidays to follow. (Lots of other differences too.)

Jews don’t actively convert non-Jews because there’s no need to. As long as the non-Jew is doing those few things that God expects, there’s no need to burden them with all the extra stuff, and they’ll get the afterlife reward that they’ve worked for. OTOH, if a non-Jew sincerely wants to join the Jewish people, we welcome them.

I’ve created a topic with some questions about this post, in order not to derail this thread:

I know I’m violating a board rule by posting questions about Judaism NOT on a Friday evening, but what can you do?

Seventh Shot of Tequila

I was never an atheist or agnostic, so i’m not sure how applicable I am to this question. Regardless, what has caused me to hold onto faith in the modern world is three-fold:

  1. Deep personal experiences.

I know that this is hardly a convincing argument for other people. But for me, it really has been one of the main motivators of my faith. For example, the feeling I get when praying is unlike any other. My hands feel like fire and I am given this omnipresent soft-joy that is difficult to nearly impossible to describe. I know that this is not a convincing logical argument when discussing the existence of God, but it has been a driving force in my life regardless. I feel such a degree of peace and inner love that my life has become much better than it was before I took my faith seriously.

  1. Unending reassurance and peace of mind.

When most people think back fondly on their childhoods, what most really want is that feeling of not having to worry. Most people on this thread can relate to nostalgically thinking back to waking up early for Saturday mourning cartoons, or playing ball outside with friends, or recess, or going to the movies, etc. Faith to me gives me that old feeling of comfort and joy. Not just thinking, but KNOWING that your life is fulfilling some sort of overarching purpose is invigorating. The alternative to this trust is a life filled with anxiety at every single possible choice, despair for not fulfilling your dreams in the exact way your thought of them, and the mind-shattering fear that it could all just end in a single moment if things get really bad.

Some people might say that this is just blind optimism in the face of a harsh reality. But, I disagree. You still have to put the work in. You don’t get a free pass to just do whatever you want if you feel that you are destined to heaven. You have to love, do good deeds, and be a good person. An all loving God would not tolerate someone exploiting his love like that. You got to face the music, deal with loss, overcome obstacles, fight against evil; and yes, sometimes worry when it is really warranted. But unlike the worry of someone without faith, I believe that their is light at the end of the tunnel, no matter how dark it might seem at first.

Further, to me, to be an atheist or even an agnostic is to be a pessimist by necessity. I just don’t see how someone could make their own meaning when there is so much evil and suffering all around them. I cannot imagine living every day with the belief that evil that they cannot personally
be fix should just be lived with as a “harsh reality.” That just seems like it would lead to a horrible existence.

  1. Logical arguments.

Finally, and probably most relevant to this logic-based forum as a whole, I can say rather confidentially that one pillar of my faith is rationality. I do agree with the atheist and agnostic that blind faith is potentially dangerous. That is the fatal error of fundamentalist Christians, or Islamic terrorists. Blind faith, as some might say, is “blind” and cannot be used for good. Religious faith, at least to me, is not only compatible with science and reason, but cannot exist without them.

Although I am not a professional theist/philosopher, I know quite a bit about both topics thanks to my own research. I have come to the conclusion that there is nothing within faith that is incompatible with reason. Although it is “uncool” to bring up in modern philosophical circles, most classical theists where far from idiots. There are tons of arguments that are logically coherent, far reaching, and consistent that argue in-favor of the existence of God. However, due to the fact that quite a few of these points are obscure, or do not argue in favor of the “God” that most people think of, most of these arguments are ignored in debates about the existence of God.

What I find sad is that most modern theists have chosen blind faith as the main driver of their religious lives over reason. I do think that basing everything around “reason” without a spiritual element is dumb in regards to religion. But, I do think that you need to base the core of your belief on reason in order to live a healthy life. The sorry state of some Christians of the modern world would have greatly saddened the Christian intellectuals of the past. Nearly every prominent scientist, philosopher, engineer, or campaign of human rights was religious prior to the enlightenment. If reason where incompatible with faith, we would never have evolved at all.

Many people feel, or say it outright, “I won’t believe you unless you can prove it to me.” They fail to realize that some things cannot be proven, but are true nevertheless. How does one believe something that can’t be proven? By experiencing it. Consider this conversation:

Person A: Is there someone whom you love?
Person B: Yes.
Person A: Prove it.
Person B: I do such-and-such, and they do such-and-such.
Person A: You’ve proven that you act like you love each other. You haven’t proven that you actually love each other.

Experience cannot be proven to outsiders. Yet it is real. SmartBulbInc has given us a very deep and personal account of experiencing God. Some of us might say that SmartBulbInc is mistaken about those experiences, but there’s no denying the sincerity of their belief.