This is a really basic concept, but it was something that I wrestled with for a while when deconverting from Christianity. The night I became an atheist I laid in bed for several hours pondering hell and eternal damnation. The thought of letting go from the ledge and dismissing the intense warnings and threats of hellfire terrified me. Two realizations comforted me and led me to take the plunge. The first was that I must be able to trust my own reasoning skills. Without them I’m not my own person. The second realization was as follows:
Everything we know about religion and gods, we are told by other people.
Think about it. Who told you about god(s)? Your parents? Your friends? Where did they hear about it? Their pastor/priest/rabbi/imam/shaman? Who told them? Another person. But what about the books? People did. People claiming to talk for god(s). That’s all it ever was; one person claiming to know the mind of a supreme all knowing, all powerful super being that created the entire cosmos. All the books, the art, the music, the buildings, the dogma and doctrine, all of it comes from someone who heard about god(s) from someone else, who in turn heard from another someone.
What about this person? What credibility do they have? These are very serious claims they are making. They purport to know the mind of this supernatural being. Entire societies, gender roles, ways of living, eating, procreating, and dying are structured around the claims made by individuals like these. I say that makes it extremely important to determine if they’re telling the truth. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence, so what is their evidence?
“Just trust me…”
Seriously, that’s it. Sometimes they’ll throw in a little incentive like “or you’ll burn in eternal hell-fire!” Sure there are stories of miracles, but these miracles are never documented outside of the story books claiming them, nor are they anything beyond what would impress the local population of that time and location. Water to wine? Multiplying fish and bread? Walking on water? (I’m using christian mythology because that’s what I’m familiar with. There are plenty of other examples from other religions) Those are miracles? Why not something like curing amputated limbs, or transporting people to Alpha Centauri, or dividing by zero? And while you’re at it, just so their can be no confusion or doubt, make sure it’s well documented by a large variety of independent sources. Unfortunately the people who were around when these belief systems were invented didn’t ask for such evidence. They were quick to believe and slow to doubt.
One of the hardest things to wrap your mind around is how just so many people could be so wrong, and yet so sure they’re right. This was another thing I struggled with. “Look around you! Look how Christianity is everywhere! Look how many people believe! It can’t possibly be based on a lie! It’s unthinkable that it could all be wrong! Surely its ubiquity must attest to some level of truth?”
People who are surrounded by Islam think the same thing. So do the people who are surrounded by Buddhism, Toaism, Judaism, animism, voodoo, etc. The people who were surrounded by the worship of Thor felt the same way. As did those who grew up in ancient Egypt with Ra. Your location, your cultural preferences, they are not the world. For ever million believers who think like you, there are just as many equally fervent believers of another faith. They make the same justifications and rationalizations that you do, but they change the name of the god(s).
The problem is that the system reinforces it’self. One person starts a rumor, then more people spread it, and then more until it spreads exponentially. Eventually everybody in a location knows the rumor and it becomes common knowledge, common truth. Children are then raised in a society saturated in the rumor and it’s taken as a given, a natural existence. The more people who believe in the rumor, the more the individual believer feels secure in their belief.
No matter how many people believe something, no matter how many books are written, buildings built, and songs sung, it all goes back to that one individual, god’s middleman.
“Just trust me…”