I was raised and have lived most of my life as a fundamentalist Baptist. I believed the Bible was the inspired Word of God, God-breathed and perfect as originally given by God to the writers. I believed that events in my life were of God’s design and purpose, that I would be eternally blessed by placing my faith in Jesus’ death for me, and that I owed him my life. I believed in miracles, in Satan, in the Noahic worldwide flood, that dreams could be messages from God, etc., etc..
I no longer believe. In the time since I’ve realized my error I’ve tried to figure out how I could have been so deluded about truth. It’s absolutely amazing to me that at one time I was so convinced that the Christian view of reality (let alone the fundamentalist Baptist view!) was true. I gave a very large part of my life to it, sacrificed for it, absolutely convinced I was following truth. I believe the reason why I and others can believe falsehoods lies in the foundations on which belief systems are built.
We as humans try to understand our existence, try to predict what’s coming at us in the future. It’s part of our survival instinct. We try to arrange the information coming at us in a way that makes sense. We all work from the same basic motives and yet we arrive at very different conclusions about what we see going on around us. Some of these differences can be explained by differences in experiences, but I think the major reason we have such extreme conflicting explanations for what is going on around us is that we accept different starting points in building our system of understanding.
I have a mathematical background. Math is a logical, structured reasoning system that begins with basic, unprovable postulates and uses them to construct a massive series of conclusions. Take geometry, for instance. Euclidean geometry is built on basic premises, one of which has to do with parallel lines. Intuitively this premise, or assumption, appears to be valid and, if assumed to be true, you can go on to “prove” that the sum of the measures of a triangle’s interior angles must total 360 degrees. In fact if you also assume the other Euclidean postulates you can build the huge Euclidean geometry system of understanding.
However, if you change your assumption about parallel lines, many of your “proven” conclusions will become false. The sum of the measures of a triangle’s interior angles must in fact be less than 360 degrees! You arrive at an entirely different geometric system of understanding which is “proven” from your basic assumptions.
Another way of thinking of “making assumptions” is “having faith in”. What do we put our faith in when we can’t prove something? I believe this is the key to explaining why people arrive at such widely divergent views of reality. None of us knows for sure what the truth is regarding our existence. We must make assumptions. So in our search for the truth what basic assumptions do we need to make? By the way, I acknowledge that not all people want the truth. They want to believe in what gives them hope and comfort.
Christianity readily acknowledges the role of faith. “And this is the victory that overcomes the world, even our faith”. “By faith Abraham pleased God”. The faith spoken of is faith in a religious source, a god-source for truth. Someone was told something by god and we take it by faith. The Bible is the main source for truth for christians. For Muslims faith is in what Allah told Muhammed. For Mormons it is Joseph Smith, and so on. People who seek truth through religious faith have one of these or a similar starting point and build an entire system of belief on it. Once the basic assumptions of faith are accepted it is very difficult to help a person see error in their ‘logical’ belief system. This is a key point that makes reasoning with most people of faith futile.
An alternative is to have faith in scientific observation. Of course this beginning point in reasoning results in an entirely different structure of beliefs for most (all?).
I believe that for many religious people to realize that their belief system is largely false, they must be confronted with the weakness of faith in religious teachings as a tool to find truth. People using faith to find truth have arrived at absolutely irreconcilable results. Islam vs. Christian vs. Hindu vs. Mormon vs Buddhism and so on. Faith is the fault! People of faith need to be challenged to seek the truth whatever it is and to use reasonable techniques to find it, not faith in ancient religious writings. The key to my ‘awakening’ was to turn off faith and look at my beliefs critically with my rational reasoning.