I do understand your perspective, and I have had this discussion with others of various faiths before. And I have made some observations. Perhaps you can tell me whether you think the conclusions I have come to are valid.

First, it seems that while it is not always the case, it is nevertheless often true that small, local communities are echo chambers of like-minded belief.

I think people tend to believe whatever they were raised with. If one is born in India into a Hindu community, one believes in Vishnu and Ganesh; if one is born in Egypt, one believes in Allah; if one is born in Tibet, one believes in Bhuddism. People tend to believe the dogmas they were indoctrinated with as children. Had I been born in Norway 1000 years ago, I would have believed in Thor and Odin. It is quite possible that had the Roman emperor Constantine not adopted Christianity (for ostensibly political purposes) as the official religion and forcibly converted people, Europeans would have continued to believe in whatever various gods they had believed in up to that point.

People are, generally speaking, the products of their local communities. When people live in isolated communities of like-minded belief, it is hard to imagine that there are other ways of thinking about the world. The vast majority of people on earth do not believe in the same mythologies that you and I were raised with.

I came to the conclusion long ago that community-reinforced indoctrination of children into a religion, while quite common and even socially accepted, is still just a form of brainwashing whether we like to look at it that way or not. Now brainwashing is a strong word I admit, but religious indoctrination does seem to meet all of the criteria. The only difference between the world's major religions and fringe cults is that the major religions have accumulated much more political power and a long history granting themselves a certain immunity from the criticism we reserve for smaller, less well-funded religions.

The problem I have with every religion in the world is the dogmatic belief in things in the absence of evidence. This is the greater issue. Religious doctrinaires believe in religious dogma even where it contradicts the evidence. Religious people will often criticize the absurdities of other religions yet willfully suspend critical thinking in matters of their own religion. I go one step further and recognize that all religions are equally absurd insofar as they believe fantastic propositions on no evidence.

"I've examined all the stock arguments in favor of the existence of God, and none of them seem to be valid." (Bertrand Russell)

The very idea of a supernatural deity or any supernatural entity or phenomenon is absurd because if a thing has effects in our world it must be considered a part of the world and therefore natural and in potentia susceptible to scientific inquiry, whereas if something is not a part of our world it can by definition have no effect on it. I do not believe in ghosts, fairies, or goblins because these things make no logical sense and have no evidence to support them. Similarly, I do not believe in Ganesh, Vishnu, Buddha, Allah, or Yaweh.

The idea of gods or god has been psychologically comforting to humans for obvious reasons. It is comforting to imagine that powerful people or a powerful person in the sky is taking care of things.

The Greek philosopher Xenophanes once said the following and I think it reveals our solipsism:

"if cattle or horses or lions had hands and could draw,
And could sculpt like men, then the horses would draw their gods
Like horses, and cattle like cattle"

The universe is unimaginably vast. It appears cold and uninviting. It makes human beings appear insignificant. We are not the center of the stage. We are just a mote of dust in one infinitesimal corner of the cosmos. The vast majority of space is hostile to life of any kind.  Even so, there is room for hope that we are not alone.  We have found planets that may have the right chemistry for life. Perhaps we will find the universe is not as bleak as we had imagined.

One day humans will leave behind parochial myths born of geography and cruel environments and venture out into the universe. But they will get there not by clinging to comforting illusions but by following the evidence and thinking critically about what they find, by employing the scientific method, the one guard we have against cognitive bias. It is not perfect, but it is the best tool we have. We have no better way of knowing about the world.

I do not pretend to think that I can disprove gods or god, nor can I disprove fairies or pink unicorns or flying spaghetti monsters. There is a near infinite number of fantastic things that can not be disproven, but there is no logical argument or objectively verifiable evidence for these things, so I have no particular reason to believe in them. I prefer to be knowledge positive. In the absence of evidence, we should not believe a thing true. History has shown that this is a vastly more successful way to approach the world. We would still believe in the witchcraft theory of disease if not for the scientific way of thinking. And many people would agree with me. What most do not do however is turn the lens of critical analysis on their own parochial beliefs. They easily find the absurdity in the myths of others but do not stop to consider that many of their own beliefs do not bear scrutiny. I have tried to be fair and apply critical thought and evidence-based reasoning to all beliefs regardless of their origin.

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Comment by Bertold Brautigan on June 5, 2016 at 5:54pm

For my money Robert Anton Wilson's formulation is the best: Convictions cause convicts: whatever you believe imprisons you.

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