So I have read quite a bit of psychology research on this phenomenon that people will frequently profess a belief in a religion, yet not actually practice the religion. The reasons are not simple, they are in fact as varied as the people involved. However, there are some overall themes that repeat. The first and foremost is the concept that a stated belief is a way to project an image of oneself, which the membership they profess provides that credibility. The dissonance is that the person actually does not have any faith. Meaning the person does not really trust that action toward that professed belief will actually produce any results for them. They actually believe that the time invested is not as important as the time spent doing other things. This is a separation between projected self image, manifest via proclaimed belief and the actually willingness to exercise faith that following the religious practices will actually benefit them.
This is really interesting actually. If you separate the argument for discussion about truth for a moment, meaning set aside the actual existence of a life beyond death, or a Supreme Being, or an eternal divinity. Suspending that for a moment, you could ask the question, does a religious practice actually benefit people outside of miracles and divine boons granted by heavenly beings? The fun thing is that most studies on this subject prove that there actually is a benefit. People that are religious still get divorces, still have addictions, still commit felonies and any other unfortunate circumstances that you might consider. However, they consistently have less of those things per population. People will always point out the “church leader” they know that committed some horrible act, or some hypocrisy, but on balance and as a whole religious people, across all dominations, tend to have less of these unfortunate occurrences than people who do not.
However, it is usually for people that are actively practicing their religion, meaning they are going to Church (or synagogue, or temple, or fellowship, or meetings). This should not come as a surprise. This is because people that do not go are usually very open to explaining the reason. The most common reason is that they “are not ready yet,” or some derivative of that concept. Not ready for what? Well at the core of practicing a religion is the concept that putting faith toward that practice will produce results for them. However, almost every major religion asks for commitment, sacrifice, or some demonstration of faith as part of that practice. People are asked to stop certain practices, abstain from substances, pay a portion of their income to helping others, serving others in some capacity, teaching, attending classes, and a wide variety of other activities. This means that the faithful person has to subscribe to a few commitments, namely setting aside personal interest for community or group interest. This is why they “are not ready.”
Ask this question, it is a fun one. Religion at the core (eastern and western religions) all are basically asking us to do the same thing. Establish that there is another ideal, that is not us, that is better than we are. This makes us look at ourselves in comparison and determine that we have a lot of things to work on, to improve, to get better at. The belief in God is the very idea that causes humanity to reach higher, to strive for improvement, to attempt to obtain the impossible. The admission that the ideal is there and that the ideal is not us, requires us to consider what we are not. This is the very definition of humanity, and requires action or just the acceptance that we are not the ideal. So religion is designed to teach us to get better as a people, to put aside things that hurt us or prevent us from becoming better. Religion asks us to set aside our greedy personal ambitions, to help others. We are told to sacrifice our money and time for the benefit of the collective rather than selfish interest. We are taught to be better people, participate in better communities, and to constantly strive to improve. So the question is, is going to Church a good idea?
This concept of going to Church, or effectively reminding people of their humanity, has been in existence for all of human history. Abandoning this is to abandon ourselves. Abandoning this is to claim that we are the ideal. Looking around me and seeing what is going on in this world, I am not ready to say that yet. We are certainly not even close to the ideal. Should we really be abandoning the core methodology for defending our own nature? I do not think so. When we think of self improvement, people think of eating better, exercising more and those sort of things. Perhaps we should stop and consider that going to Church might also be something to consider.