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Losing my religion

Space Goat

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My journey from Christianity to agnosticism to atheism

I was not indoctrinated with religion as I grew up. Certainly, I was exposed to religion: I was baptized when I was but an infant or toddler; I still remember my head being dunked into the water, but not much else about the experience. I might have cried, but I’m not sure. Also, I was taken to church a few times. And, with some other neighborhood kids, I participated in a couple summer programs akin to Sunday School.

That said, religion wasn’t drilled into my head week after week. I believed in God because seemingly everyone else did. But—aside from the aforementioned events spread across years, a few references my family made to the evil of atheism, and a sense that religion was “good” and lack of it was “bad”—my Christian belief was scarcely reinforced. My family rarely talked about religion, went to church, or said grace. We had a Bible, but it was usually tucked away somewhere like an old and forgotten book. I don’t recall seeing anyone reading it. Little did I know of its details.

That remained the case for years of my childhood. Through that time, my belief waxed and waned as I wrestled with doubts about God’s existence. After all, I had seen neither hide nor hair of God or Jesus. Prayer seemed neither meaningful nor effective. The most significant relationship I had with the divine was looking at the crucifix on my wall as I lied in my bed. (Contemplate how some Christians complain often about violence in the media, but society thinks little of exposing children to the imagery of a suffering man nailed to a cross and on his way to a painful death. The cognitive dissonance at work is astounding.)

I held onto my belief, though, especially after I perused a religious text I found laying around the house saying anyone who didn’t believe in God was bound for hell. I was terrified! I remember literally telling myself, I do believe in God, I do believe in God, I do believe in God. I was scared that I wasn’t thinking the truth, but I impressed on myself the need to believe in God. I didn’t want to go to hell, and I wanted to be a good person.

I didn’t really start reading the Bible until after I’d gone to school for a while and learned a bit about history and science. What I encountered astonished me: Evaluating the Bible for myself, I found it to be a self-contradictory mess of anti-scientific rambling and bloodthirsty evil. I couldn’t square the Genesis Creation with science. I couldn’t accept God’s psychotic jealousy in such stories as that of the Golden Calf. I thought narratives such as that of the Garden of Eden, the Great Flood, and the Burning Bush resembled fairy tales.

Delving into the Bible placed on life support whatever pretense I had that I believed in God. The pretense died as I learned more about religions across the world now and historically, many of them claiming to be the one true religion and all of them featuring elements just as fantastical as the Bible. On what basis could I believe Christianity right and other religions wrong? None. What support did the world’s religions have other than the say-so of their followers? None.

In my early years of high school, as I discovered more about sociopolitical groupings, I called myself an agnostic. I believed myself to be a reasonable person, and whereas I did not believe in God, I thought humanity wasn’t in a position to rule out God, either. I continued thinking of myself as an agnostic until I was in college.

The summer after my freshman year, I read Atheism: The Case Against God by George Smith, a former editor of Reason magazine. I found these to be the most important points it made:

  • “Atheism” denotes lack of belief in God. Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary will disagree, but dissect the word: “a-,” meaning “without,” and “theism.” Also, check out the etymology on the dictionary page: “Middle French athéisme, from athée atheist, from Greek atheos godless, from a- + theos god.” The earliest historical root of the word means “without god.” Representing theism and atheism with the logical symbols I learned in my Logic class the second half of my freshman year, theism would be T and atheism would be ~T.
  • Agnostics who lack belief in God, ergo, would more properly be labeled atheists.
  • Since atheism doesn’t claim anything, it has no need to prove anything. The burden of proof is on the theist, the religious person, who is making the positive assertion. Logically, as with all positive assertions, the theist must show the locus of his devotion exists.
  • Since the concept of God as presented is inconsistent and illogical, we can safely conclude God does not exist. We don’t need to know anything beyond the scope of our universe to make this conclusion; pure reason rules out God, as much as it does a square circle. Whatever might exist beyond the scope of human comprehension, it cannot comport with the human God concept. (That should be tautological.)
  • Faith is no foundation on which to believe anything. Because faith eschews evidence, it can’t distinguish fact from fiction. Therefore, one can’t claim it’s a path to knowledge. Believing something on faith is simply believing something because one wants to do so. Some people might be okay with that, but that doesn’t change faith’s opposition to reason. Faith and reason are mutually exclusive. (A person can indulge faith and exercise reason, but not at the same time.)
I had no problem calling myself an atheist after I’d read Smith’s book.

Cementing my atheism were a talk given by Michael Shermer and two books from Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion and The Blind Watchmaker. They demolished arguments for intelligent design such as irreducible complexity. I liked Dawkins’s quip that God would assuredly be much more complex than anything intelligent design advocates falsely point to as examples of “irreducible complexity,” so the creator concept introduces more explanatory problems than it solves and demonstrates the inconsistency of “intelligent design” to boot. If the idea that the eye could have arisen without a designer strains credulity, would not God as well, to an even greater degree?

In addition, Dawkins’s criticisms of the arguments of those who call themselves agnostics struck me. Agnosticism is a reasonable position when contentions in play are roughly equiprobable. The answers to the question of whether a creator exists, however, are not equiprobable. The existence of a creator is quite improbable, since we have no evidence of supernatural forces, the universe appears evolved rather than designed, and our notions of a creator are illogical and self-contradictory, anyway.

That takes us to the past couple years, wherein my views have remained largely unchanged.

So, when left to decide matters of faith for myself without indoctrination or pushing, I eventually became a solid atheist. Contrary to what many religious believers would seem to think, though, I don’t think I have a grasp on absolute truth.

The same observation and reason that backstops my atheism says human beings are very limited creatures with very finite knowledge; none of them could know absolute truth. Claiming to do so would bespeak too literal an interpretation of Nietzsche’s advice to be one’s own god, since only a god could claim understanding of absolute truth. Such a claim would exude an irrational faith in one’s own rightness. I say faith because science tells us we lack the intellectual capacity that would make such righteousness rational.

I believe the stipulations of reason and the rules of logic point to atheism. And I believe superstition, not rationality, buttresses religion. But, as my choice of verb indicates, I’m under no delusion these are anything but beliefs. And I respect people, even friends, who don’t share my beliefs.

After all, I once supported the Iraq war. The outcome of that fiasco was the ultimate lesson in humility. I shall not wag my finger at what I perceive to be irrationality in others when I’m capable of irrationality myself. And I always try to keep an open mind; that doesn’t entail lacking firm beliefs, but keeping in mind they might, under circumstances I cannot presently foresee and consider unlikely, change someday.

Watch these




(This is cross-posted from my site, Hypersyllogistic.)
 

Civil1z@tion

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I had a somewhat similar road to atheism (a home which was Christian but didn't emphasize it much). I had two differences though. When I started doubting god it didn't take long (maybe a couple of weeks) for me to decide to go to the agnostic (and later atheist) camp. Also, I never read any of the major atheist books until I was pretty securely an atheist (and even then I've only read "God is not Great" by Hitchens) so they haven't had much direct impact on me.

What took me the longest time to get over was the idea of my choices being non-belief or Christianity. For years I kept thinking that Christianity somehow must make more sense than the other religions so if I readopted religious belief it would be Christian. I've finally gotten over that (the arguments behind the Flying Spaghetti Monster, blessed be his noodly goodness, helped me come to the realization of what I was doing there) and now I accept that even if I was convinced in the existence of a god, there would have to be a separate process to convince me of any particular religion.
 

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I grew up in an isolated logging camp 20 miles from a paved road, and 40 miles from the nearest grocery store or gas station. As a result, I wasn't socialized to any degree at all as I had no experiences with anybody but my immediate family and a couple of other families, neither of which had kids. I'm not sure whether this contributed to my penchant for skepticism, but I always felt like the kid in the parable of the emperor's new clothes. A million people could believe in something, but if it didn't make sense to me, it didn't make sense and I rejected it. I've never really understood why so many people believe in things just because other people believe in things, and in a way I see history as one long battle between the iconiclasts, the heretics and the nonconformists vs the dogmatic and conventional. I understand the need for a degree of conformity, certainly, as our very survival depends upon degrees of cooperation built upon mutually accepted notions, and religion acts among other things as one of the glues that facilitates this process, but I have long found myself on the outside as far as religion is concerned. I can certainly respect those with faith, and distinguish between faith and religion, but I will reject dogma in favor of reason.

My own attitude is that here are simply things we do not know, and it is only our hubris revealed when we say we do.
 

digsbe

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I had the opposite road. I went from being an atheist to becoming a Christian. At first I was Christian, I left it and let my belief in God die, and then I came back to God :)
 

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Life has a way of redefining a person. It sometimes makes one go from one extreme to the other, and it sometimes makes one continue on the same path throughout a lifetime. My background was very religious (Christian) as a child, but in my teens, I began to question, as I still do today in my 50's. I believe everything and I believe nothing at all. I've travelled the road from believer, to questioner, to agnostic, to athiest, and they all lead to the same place.;)
 

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Whenever I start questioning my religion, I tend to start getting slapped in the face to wake me up. Just this last week, I was pissed off about something (personal) and the entire day was about people telling me why I was wrong to be pissed off and what I should do about it. Including people who don't know me or anything about me. The radio. And even a few things on TV. I couldn't escape the smacking. The sermon was pretty uncomfortable to hear, but it contained a truth I sorely needed.
 
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winston53660

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I guess it took a while but I have finally come to the conclusion I just don't care if there is a god and or goddess. One of them or more heaven hell or what ever I just don't care. I find religion interesting as a mode to understand the world, universe around us.
 

Hoplite

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A lot of what I believe and hold dear I do so because that's the conclusion I have arrived at that best strikes a balance between what I can see and what I can feel. To me, sensory input and logic are both valid ways of exploring and interpreting the world, however that must be counter-balanced by an acknowledgement that we are imperfect psyches with artificially constructed ways of looking at the world and interpreting what is or is not logical so room must be made for what we call the "gut" feelings.

Knowing when to trust your heart over your head and vice versa is extremely difficult, but I try my best.
 

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I was raised Catholic, went to Catholic school and everything. I lost my faith very early on. Or I guess it would be better to say that I never had it. I said the words, I did the motions because my mother took me to church and made me. I heard the people talking, but it never felt real to me. During my tenure at Catholic school, I think it was cemented. Too many things didn't make sense. Too much stuff looked like silly human invention. In the end, the most reasonable solution wasn't that there was a god, but that some people desperately wanted there to be a god. But everything I read about, everything I studied, it didn't seem to require a god at all. So around 5th grade or so I was done with religion. It offered me nothing, it performed nothing, it didn't comfort, it didn't explain; basically it seemed to me that it did nothing productive.
 

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I had the opposite road. I went from being an atheist to becoming a Christian. At first I was Christian, I left it and let my belief in God die, and then I came back to God :)
yeah, that's kind of how it was for me. I even spent a year thinking I was Jewish :lol: aie, what a year; that sucked.

basically i have found throghout my life that the period in which i am most "skeptical" is usually the one in which I am thinking least yet building up my own ego for intelligence the most; the teenage years were perfect for that; which is why I suspect so many leave their faith at that point - part of growing up involves that phase where you reject what you have been given to develop yourself; and many, along with deciding that their parents are stupid, decide that faith is stupid. they become susceptible to simplistic 'feel-good' arguments (not saying this is the experience of any on the board), and the first person who makes a solid case for athiesm that allows them to think of themselves as superior to their upbringing wins them. :shrug: and there they either stop and stay in that slide for the rest of their life, continue questioning and often change back again in later years, or feel the need to actively defend their new positions, and entrench.
 

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My father went to church and even was an alter boy (roflmao) or w/e they call it. One day my grandfather asked the church if they could eat meat on a friday, catholics supposed to eat fish on friday (don't ask me why) and they wanted to eat something else to celebrate my aunts birthday. The church refused, and they bought fish. During the meal my grandfather nearly choked on a fishbone, he had to be hospitalised. He saw the experience as a sign of the divine and never went to church again.
Raised a roman catholic we never went to church. In my roman catholic school, the chaplin would come by once a .. every few months to read from the bible. Nice secular people, never once bored me with religion. I still have fond memories of the way they celebrated xmas, which was about christmas spirit of helping others and being nice to eachother rather than jezus dying for our sins.
I went to a reformed high school and had some mixed experiences. They would force you to stay for certain christian celebrations, eventhough 98% of the school was secular. We used to get back at them for finding a way to suggest a sexual context, insinuate that these hippies (the generation in front of us) were trying to get us high on religion and rape us under the disguise of christian ceremony.

In the end I don't believe it's true nor do I want it to be true, religion is a hoax.
 

cpwill

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I"ve always wondered that; if Religion is a hoax, how is it so successful?
 

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I"ve always wondered that; if Religion is a hoax, how is it so successful?
There is something to be said about the comfort of an afterlife. The idea that there is some great karmic justice. Relief in having something you think can offer intervention with power beyond man that you can talk to and perhaps sway. It's not unreasonable that man has created gods, nor is it unreasonable that we hold tightly to the idea of them. For it offers great comfort for the many questions without answers and the answers with questions we dare not ask.
 

Civil1z@tion

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I"ve always wondered that; if Religion is a hoax, how is it so successful?
You know how marketing works right? Its not always the best product that wins but the best marketing. Religion has great marketing and a few good things to offer. Cultural and societal pressure keep the majority of people in belief on its own (everyone around you believes and those that don't are typically pretty quite about it so the idea of not believing never really comes up).

For those who pass by that and get to the serious questioning stage there are a few different draws. Religion involves giving oneself a sense of control over your life through attempting to placate god(s) and get them to do what you want. It also provides community where non-belief tends not to (most atheists don't have the equivalent of a weekly church sermon with the ability to meet with and socialize with friends...since cults tend to go even further in this sense of community this is one of their main draws for converts). In addition there is the afterlife bonus and threat if one decides to leave the faith (especially prominent in Christianity and Islam, less so in most other faiths). Finally there is the idea of having the answers to life provided for you. Finding purpose and meaning is difficult and having a book tell you your purpose is a handy shortcut that appeals to a lot of people.

Finally, for those who go into non-belief there is societal pressure to rejoin the fold. Especially in families with conservative beliefs, stating a lack of belief to the family can lead to being ostracized or at the very least family members attempting to reclaim their apostate relative. There is also the prevalence of god in society at large which tends to make non-believers felt left out from society (public figures regularly go non-denominational in their references to a higher power but there is still a lot of "all faiths are cool as long as you have faith" which explicitly leaves out the non-believer, though admittedly this is not as bad as it once was). And for those who rejected belief out of rebellion rather than rational thought, the chances of them staying non-believers also drops. However, it should be noted that for the past two decades there has been a major growth in the number of non-believers suggesting that few of those who lose their faith eventually turn back to it, which then suggests that these old pressures are not as successful as they once were. The process is even more advanced in Europe but its even hit the US (the growth of secularists was rapid in the 90s but it slowed in the 2000s, though it is still the fastest growing faith group in terms of absolute numbers).
 

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to see if i can reply to all. I'll stick generally within the bounds of Christianity, since it is the faith I am most familiar with.:

Hoaxes require Hoaxers. For religion to be a 'hoax', it's leadership would have to be deliberately fooling it's followers; and furthermore, it would have been doing tihs for centuries. Yet religious leaders generally do not behave in ways that we would expect of those pulling off a hoax. Oh sure, you get your Jimmy Bakkers, but for every con willing to take advantage of people's better natures exposed we have what? thousands of examples of decent religious leaders? Now, here's the interesting thing: Jimmy Bakkers, when they are caught and confess either try to justify their acts or ask forgiveness. we don't have (as far as i am aware) anything approaching an extensive literature of former leaders in the church breaking down and admitting that the whole faith was a lie. quite the opposite; disturbingly for the "hoax" theorist, they show a disconcerting refusal to give up on their claims, even to the point of death. The original 'Hoaxers' in Christianity would have had to have been the original Church Founders, the Apostles and their community, who claimed to be eyewitnesses to Jesus' life here on Earth. Yet they repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to be beaten, jailed, tortured, and killed; when all they would have had to do to save themselves would be recant. They were the ones who knew the truth (the hoaxers required for our hoaxes), and so this was what? the most successful conspiracy in the history of man designed in order to ensure the conspirators a life of poverty, trial, torture, and death? they were then able to convince a select few to carry on the hoax down through the millenia, and nobody has ever come out and said "okay, it's all a fake and this is how we did it"? No, the ony people claiming that religion is a hoax are those who would - seemingly by definition - not be in a position to know. It's as if i were to accuse all athiests of secretly knowing there was a God, but not wanting to admit it because then they would have to admit that they should probably follow His moral proscriptions; I have no way of knowing what all athiests do or do not think or have or have not experienced.

and you can't even defend a 2-thousand year conspiracy among those select few. we are talking about huge numbers of people who would have to be involved. I myself, as one who publicly advertises that they have interacted with God, would have to be among them. millions of your fellow Americans who claim to have been born again and experienced first-hand the touch of the Divine are all making it up?

let's go through a couple of the misconceptions presented:
Religion involves giving oneself a sense of control over your life through attempting to placate god(s) and get them to do what you want.
incorrect. in fact it is the reverse; you have to give up control of your life. it's something even the most faithful often admit they struggle with; choosing to do not what you want to do, but what God wants you to do is a difficult enough decison, and an extraordinarily difficult lifestyle.

In addition there is the afterlife bonus
odd then that they don't really focus on that in the Gospels, if that is their big bonus, is it not?

and threat if one decides to leave the faith (especially prominent in Christianity and Islam, less so in most other faiths)

Islam demands death for the apostate, and certain sects of Christianity certainly have in the past; however, Christianity no longer does. This provides the advocate of this position two problems: 1. if Christianity is now devoid of a "threat" (the only thing someone who leaves the faith nowadays has to worry about is a hell they no longer believe in) then why is it growing and 2. if people make faith decisions based on how that will effect their physical safety, how do you explain the people throghout history who have converted despite the threat it put them under? if they were not experiencing something truly real; why would they risk their lives?

Finally there is the idea of having the answers to life provided for you. Finding purpose and meaning is difficult and having a book tell you your purpose is a handy shortcut that appeals to a lot of people.

:lol: oh i almost wish i just had lifes' answers given to me. firstly, religion doesn't give you purpose or meaning in life (though God can); your goal is simply different. How do I best serve out God's plan for my life? right now, i've barely figured out the next step (if indeed I have). plenty of folks don't even have it that far. nowhere does the Bible say anything like "cpwill, you will grow up and become a car salesman for God"; it says to serve Him as I have gifts; but what the heck does that mean?

if anything, religious faith increases the amount of self-examination and questioning that one needs to do.
 
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tacomancer

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Ultimately, I think there is no point in arguing for against holding a religion. If you are inclined to believe than you probably will, it not, than you won't.

Personally, religion seems illogical to me when I really look at it, but things have happened that I cannot explain away to my own satisfaction and to me, that is enough for me to believe on its own evidence. So, I go where the evidence takes me and I think it is the right path because I think there is a true interaction there. Either that or the universe is intelligent on its own, but I have a lot of trouble believing the things I have experienced are random chance or personification of unconnected events.
 

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that's what has always gotten me, as much as i have wandered back and forth; i can't deny that - logically - the things i've seen and interacted with require a source.
 

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I"ve always wondered that; if Religion is a hoax, how is it so successful?
So penis enlargement pills, weight loss pills, crystals, special magnets, and magic hair loss creames must all work and be true! Afterall, the people and companies who promote these debunked claims can't be successful if their product didn't work, right? :roll:
These companies make MILLIONS peddeling products that are demonstrably useless, ineffective, and sometimes harmful.

Wherever there is uncertainty, fear of the unknown, hopelessness, or a lack of self-confidence, there is a conman, moron, or an ignoramus sure to have a solution. Hairloss, penis size, an afterlife, the lottery, weight, are just some examples where critical thinking and skepticism all too often take a back seat to credulity and wishful thinking.
 

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So penis enlargement pills, weight loss pills, crystals, special magnets, and magic hair loss creames must all work and be true! Afterall, the people and companies who promote these debunked claims can't be successful if their product didn't work, right?
well, we shall have to see if they are still here in 2,000 years.

Hairloss, penis size, an afterlife, the lottery, weight, are just some examples where critical thinking and skepticism all too often take a back seat to credulity and wishful thinking.
hm. and how do you explain those who come to faith through critical thinking.
 

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Ultimately, I think there is no point in arguing for against holding a religion
Indeed. The fight comes down to specific intepretations. For instance, I don't see how you can be a Christian who believes and loves God and believe in Young Earth Creationism as it requires God to be the supreme liar and deciever. Just doesn't make sense. But believing in the general teaching of Christ is another story.
 

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So penis enlargement pills, weight loss pills, crystals, special magnets, and magic hair loss creames must all work and be true! Afterall, the people and companies who promote these debunked claims can't be successful if their product didn't work, right?
well, we shall have to see if they are still here in 2,000 years.
If they weren't around in 2000 years would that make them unsuccessful? Are you applying a very strange and abnormally narrow definition of "successful" or are you just moving the goal posts?

Hairloss, penis size, an afterlife, the lottery, weight, are just some examples where critical thinking and skepticism all too often take a back seat to credulity and wishful thinking.
hm. and how do you explain those who come to faith through critical thinking.
First you should define what you mean by "faith". It seems every theist has their own unique, sometimes conflicting, definition.
 

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Indeed. The fight comes down to specific intepretations. For instance, I don't see how you can be a Christian who believes and loves God and believe in Young Earth Creationism as it requires God to be the supreme liar and deciever. Just doesn't make sense. But believing in the general teaching of Christ is another story.
Well, I am not young earth and I strongly believe in evolution (and have a lot of faith in science in general). I am curious about your conclusion that God must be a liar and deciever. My experiences don't lead me to that conclusion at all.

Edit: I really screwed up the grammar in the post you quoted. It should be "Ultimately, I see no point in arguing for OR against religion"
 
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Civil1z@tion

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to see if i can reply to all. I'll stick generally within the bounds of Christianity, since it is the faith I am most familiar with.:

Hoaxes require Hoaxers. For religion to be a 'hoax', it's leadership would have to be deliberately fooling it's followers; and furthermore, it would have been doing tihs for centuries.
Let me stop you right there. A religion could have been started as a hoax without current leadership realizing it. All it takes is the first generation to make stuff up and then for everyone else they can sincerely believe. That's not to say you don't have modern manipulators and people who don't believe but use belief to their advantage, but religion can still be a hoax as long as the original leaders were being deceptive. Everyone else can be considered a kind of victim.

The original 'Hoaxers' in Christianity would have had to have been the original Church Founders, the Apostles and their community, who claimed to be eyewitnesses to Jesus' life here on Earth. Yet they repeatedly demonstrated a willingness to be beaten, jailed, tortured, and killed; when all they would have had to do to save themselves would be recant.
Well first off that assumes all the matyrdom tales are true and they were written by Christians for Christians so that can send up a red flag right there. But assuming that they are true, there are still other reasons why Christianity as a religion could be a hoax. For instance, the religious trappings of Christianity could have be designed to sell people on a different moral code. After all, in Hebrew tradition up to this point the only way to get a change in the moral code is to have it sanctioned by God. A moral code is a lot easier to sell if its got divine backing than if its only backing is the words of some random dude. However, if the Founders cracked and admitted the religious stuff surrounding the code was bs, then that would discredit their work on people's morality. Things like love thy enemy and turn the other cheek might be tossed out with the messiah idea. Thus this religion is still a hoax, but a very well meaning one.

and you can't even defend a 2-thousand year conspiracy among those select few. we are talking about huge numbers of people who would have to be involved. I myself, as one who publicly advertises that they have interacted with God, would have to be among them. millions of your fellow Americans who claim to have been born again and experienced first-hand the touch of the Divine are all making it up?
In most cases its a combination of group psychology and the production of a certain set of brain signals (which any religion can produce which is a real problem for any religion claiming exclusive truth like Christianity) which can be reproduced by machines hooked up to the brain. Its possible to not make up the experience you define as contact with God, but to still misunderstand what is actually happening.

let's go through a couple of the misconceptions presented:
Religion involves giving oneself a sense of control over your life through attempting to placate god(s) and get them to do what you want.
incorrect. in fact it is the reverse; you have to give up control of your life. it's something even the most faithful often admit they struggle with; choosing to do not what you want to do, but what God wants you to do is a difficult enough decison, and an extraordinarily difficult lifestyle.
That's what most people say they do and what a few actually do do. But look at how everyday religious people act. They ask god to do X for them or Y for them. They pray to get what they want. A select few actually give themselves over to their conception of what god wants but the key words here are "their conception". This means that while what they do is often difficult its still what they want to feel like a good or pure person. And they almost always ask for god to assist them in this lifestyle and so again are in control. And given that living such a lifestyle almost always put you above the control of the other members of your faith, its a great way to seize control of yourself from other humans.

In addition there is the afterlife bonus
odd then that they don't really focus on that in the Gospels, if that is their big bonus, is it not?
Odd that they focus on it so much since if its not that important to the survival of Christianity as a belief system is it not?

and threat if one decides to leave the faith (especially prominent in Christianity and Islam, less so in most other faiths)

Islam demands death for the apostate, and certain sects of Christianity certainly have in the past; however, Christianity no longer does. This provides the advocate of this position two problems: 1. if Christianity is now devoid of a "threat" (the only thing someone who leaves the faith nowadays has to worry about is a hell they no longer believe in) then why is it growing and 2. if people make faith decisions based on how that will effect their physical safety, how do you explain the people throghout history who have converted despite the threat it put them under? if they were not experiencing something truly real; why would they risk their lives?
Christianity is growing in the already religious third world. Its replacing other local religions there. In the developed world Christianity is shrinking, even in the United States. When the options are old religion vs. Christianity, Christianity does pretty well. When the options are Christianity vs. non-belief, it tends to falter.

As for your second point, threats to safety or social acceptance don't stop everyone. But they do stop most people. That's why matyrs are considered heroic. They do something the vast majority of people wouldn't do. So pointing out a few exceptional people is in fact the exception that proves the rule.

Finally there is the idea of having the answers to life provided for you. Finding purpose and meaning is difficult and having a book tell you your purpose is a handy shortcut that appeals to a lot of people.

:lol: oh i almost wish i just had lifes' answers given to me. firstly, religion doesn't give you purpose or meaning in life (though God can); your goal is simply different. How do I best serve out God's plan for my life? right now, i've barely figured out the next step (if indeed I have). plenty of folks don't even have it that far. nowhere does the Bible say anything like "cpwill, you will grow up and become a car salesman for God"; it says to serve Him as I have gifts; but what the heck does that mean?

if anything, religious faith increases the amount of self-examination and questioning that one needs to do.
You as a religious person have a baseline to go off of a a person you can supposedly ask for guidance. Your baseline is "is this what God wants me to do?" which provides a yardstick to measure your actions by. Non-believers have to decide if they should do what they want to do, what society wants them to do, or whatever moral code they've got wants them to do. So that's already giving you a leg up there. Then you have god to ask for guidance. If he's not answering you that's what your supposed to have priests/preachers for. If god has decided he has a plan for you but won't give you any guidance then that's kind of a dick move ("hey I've got a plan I want you to carry out." "sure God, I'm with you 100%, what is it?" "I don't feel like telling you good bye!"). If you are introspective then it is over whether you're interpreting god's sign correctly which again, is a step ahead of the non-believer who has the more fundamentally question what is even a good basis for deciding if my actions are good. At worst, the believer already has the basis to work off of and at best they've already got the plan provided for them.
 
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