But that is what they all say

Google(With a hat tip to Shay) a conversation can often play out like this …

If there was only one religion then that would make it a lot more credible, but having so many makes them all obviously man made.

All man made apart from one.

That’s what followers of every religion say.

Other religions are wrong.

That’s what followers of every religion say.

I feel god in my heart, so I know he is real.

That’s what followers of every religion say.

If you stop denying his existence then you will feel yourself that he is with you.

That’s what followers of every religion say.

The Bible / Quran / etc.. explains so many things in life that it can’t be ignored

That’s what followers of every religion say about their book.

I have god with me always.

That’s what followers of every religion say.

Believers of every other religion have been fooled, but there is no bigger fool than the atheist.

Guess what?

I don’t care what followers of other religions say.

That’s what followers of every religion say.

Such conversations happen so many times, and so you can only step back and wonder what is going on here and perhaps ponder over the question of why it is like this. Clearly religious people are not stupid, but instead most, the vast majority, are smart quite normal decent honourable people who strive to live good lives and live in peace with all those around them.

So what is going on?

As a teenager I had a religious conversion, so if we look at that for a bit then it might give some insights. The fact that it happened had a great deal to do with where I lived, the village of Greystones on the coast in Ireland South of Dublin. Being Ireland you might imagine that I would be Catholic, but Greystones was different, it still is, and is very much an Evangelical community. If for example you google, you will find that in addition to the usual Catholic and Church of Ireland, you will also discover a variety of happy-clappy folks such as the Hillside Evangelical Church (they have been there for over 100 years), and the Nazarene Church of Greystones. Beyond all that there is also the CSSM beach mission that runs every summer for two weeks … games, drums, guitars … all blended with lots of sugar and spice to entice you into accepting Jesus – and they have been doing that since 1896. (Oh and yes, get them young, they target age 4 all the way up to teens). So is that it? Nope, there is lots more, right next to the YMCA they also have Carraig Eden Theological College a Pentecostal centre.

You simply cannot escape religion in Greystones, and so I had apparently no hope of emerging as a free thinker from all this (and yet here I am finally free after a journey through many different beliefs).

I started, as many do, with an invitation to a bible study that was held weekly, and in anticipation of a dull dreary session I went along, not motivated by any religious feelings, but instead driven by the opportunity to meet that oh most alien of species, girls. What I found blew me away, it was an total emotional roller-coaster ride, one that I was caught up by, and so I took a step that soon led to another and another.

Looking back, what strikes me now is that if it had not been Jesus, but had instead been Thor, Loki, Zeus, or any other god on offer, I would still have been in the market to buy, because what enticed and ensnared was not a set of ideas, but rather was the emotional experience, and a tribe that I could belong to and become part of.

There rests the key to the question that I started out pondering over – why are religious people so sure despite any and all conflicting evidence.

It is not about information (or lack of it), but rather is about having an emotional experience and being part of a community that meets the deeply felt psychological needs that we all have. Once we are invested in it, the presentation of conflicting information will not in any way shake us free because that emotional bond trumps facts, and so when presented with criticism or rebuttals to beliefs, the ever so natural response is to simply dismiss and perhaps rationalise it all away with the thought that even if you don’t understand and have no answer, somebody else a bit smarter will, and clearly the conflicting information is wrong because you still grasp for that feeling deep inside that tells you that you are right.

Can anybody so deeply immersed ever escape?

Well yes, here I am, it takes time, but eventually humans can come to terms with things and discover that the world is far stranger, far more poetical, and even more deeply mysterious than we could every possibly imagine when constrained by religious beliefs which are essentially a primitive and quite natural manifestation of our attempts to grasp meaning and understanding.

I can live with doubt, and uncertainty, and not knowing. I think it’s much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers which might be wrong. I have approximate answers, and possible beliefs, and different degrees of certainty about different things, but I’m not absolutely sure of anything, and in many things I don’t know anything about, such as whether it means anything to ask why we’re here, and what the question might mean. I might think about a little, but if I can’t figure it out, then I go to something else. But I don’t have to know an answer. I don’t feel frightened by not knowing things, by being lost in a mysterious universe without having any purpose, which is the way it really is, as far as I can tell, possibly. It doesn’t frighten me. – Richard Feynman

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