From Atheist Revolution
Daniel Dennett, author of Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon, has offered what I consider to be one of the most intriguing arguments about the nature of contemporary religious belief. He suggests that very few people alive today actually believe in gods. But if that’s true, why do we atheists often feel like we are surrounded by believers? Obviously, we feel this way because the majority of people around us claim to believe. But why would they do this if they don’t actually believe? Dennett suggests that the vast majority of people today believe in belief in gods. That is, even though they do not actually believe in gods, they do believe that trying to believe, promoting belief, and telling others they believe are advantageous.
Dennett’s suggestion that few people actually believe in gods certainly seems consistent with the observation many of us have made that most people who claim to believe in gods do not behave as if they believed in gods. As just one example, wouldn’t the world be a vastly different place if people really believed in prayer? If religious believers believed much of what they claimed to believe, they would behave in very different ways from how they do behave. Again and again, their behavior betrays them as not really being sincere about their claimed beliefs.