I grew up in a very straight forward christian home in a West African country. A lot of people may not know this but coming out as atheist in most african countries is not a very good idea. You alienate yourself from your family and pretty much 99 percent of the population.
I remember ‘giving my life to christ’ when I was 4 years old, and at that point I had no doubt in my mind that there was a God and he loved me dearly. I was in sunday school every sunday and won many awards for being the best student. I understand most of the scripture in the bible from the countless sermon I’ve listened to in church, so I think I understand, for the most part, the mentality of a christian.
Now when you grow up believing something that everyone around you does, you have no reason to question it. Especially when it’s something that promises eternal life once you believe and accept. These concepts are of course abstract because it is impossible to measure someone’s true belief (which is a massive loophole that religious leaders exploit when things don’t go according to plan). And you definitely won’t question what you believe when you think you’ve seen or experienced something supernatural.
Something I struggled with even when I fully believed was the way a simple prayer is all a loving God needs to accept you, but when you think about having sex with someone and you risk burning in hell forever (hard to accept from a loving God). But God will always forgive you, so when you think about it you can do anything you want as long as you’re sorry you did it. Who measures how sorry you are? God of course, so it’s a constant psychological battle to know if you even passed the test of forgiveness. Another thing I struggled with was the fact that other people believed in other religions just as strongly as I believed in mine, how is it fair that they were pitched the wrong religion early and should suffer for that eternally.
I’ve seen a lot of supposedly supernatural things from supposed witch confessions to all her crimes to sick people being healed and exorcism. Why doesn’t this convince me of the existence of the supernatural? Because I can explain them with things that we are sure exist like hallucinations, schizophrenia and con artists. Religious people are sure because they believe their experiences to confirm what they’ve always known to be true.
I personally first started to doubt my faith when I was in a prayer group and this supposedly strong prayer leader prayed for us individually and my friends fell to the ground, when it got to my turn I was so worried about not falling down because it could imply that spiritually there’s something wrong with me. so I fell on purpose. I started to wonder if it was all deep psychological mind games.
Religious books are also factors in play. Take the bible for example, people are told to see this as a guide to life. Yet the violence, sexism and slavery that is portrayed and endorsed is typical of the people who lived in that time not of a timeless God. People who believe have justifications for these conflicting parts of the same book and they counter different arguments with loopholes. The Principal one is: you must have faith. It basically counters all arguments because once you have faith in anything, facts become useless. But counters and loopholes exist throughout the bible, for example,the people who are enlightened enough to know idea of the 7 days it took to build the world, the garden and the talking snake is ridiculous would tell you most of the stories are allegorical. People who don’t endorse the violence would tell you the times are different. Most would tell you the new testament is what christians really follow and the old testament is simply a history lesson. Even the new testament describes homosexuality as satanic, even though it is exhibited in many of God’s (pure and good) animal species. And conveniently it also guards against people like me who question its credibility, so when you talk to a believer and you see a smile come up when you question the bible, It’s because they’ve already been warned about you(I know because I used to have that smile).
I don’t want to go down the elaborate conspiracy route. I think some of the people who wrote these books actually believed most of what they were writing was true but we all know con artists have existed at every point in our history.
Now I’m not going to quote stats because when billions of people believe something, stats are never going to be very helpful. This is how I feel:
Religion makes me unhappy, I feel I could have become a better human being if I didn’t spend most of my childhood not being me but being who I thought God wanted me to be, I feel I was told who to be the same way magazines tell young girls how to look. I tried so hard to live up to this unrealistic sense of perfection. But perfection to me is the complexity of the human mind, the way were all different yet the same. The way 7 billion of us coexist on a spherical mass orbiting another very hot spherical mass in a galaxy which contains several other spherical masses and in a universe that contains several galaxies. The ability to make choices is perfection to me. Yet we have to live up to another person’s standards from 2000 years ago who believed being perfect was obeying a set of rules and dying for his cause( which is very overrated especially when you consider suicide bombers do the same).
When everything is said and done it comes down to proof for me. Why were people 2000 years ago extended this courtesy of seeing someone do so many supernatural acts and then literally ascend to heaven. Anyone who sees that and doesn’t believe would understandably be classified as crazy. It is who I am I cannot believe something without some proof. And if there is a God who made me as I am and refuses to give me what I need to believe, then it begs the very simple but valid question of : Does God make people who he knows are going to be eternally damned? I simply cannot accept this.