Another recycled post, a short one this time. This was first published on this blog in April 2010.
Several religious friends of mine have, through the course of conversations, admitted that they are only members of their particular religions because that is the religion they were raised in. Because those are the beliefs their parents taught them. They recognize, or at least claim to recognize, that if they were born in another time or another place, they would probably have been followers of a different religious tradition.
For me, as an atheist, this seems like the endgame. If one’s faith is just an accident of birth, then it doesn’t reveal any special truths about the nature of reality, and one should leave that faith behind! But for some reason, this is not the reaction of my friends. They just nod and smile, and I imagine they are thinking that they are lucky to have been born into a family that knew the right religion to be.
If I were more brave, less worried about the social stigma that can come with positively advocating atheism, I would tell these friends of mine: When you say you are a member of a religious group, you are asserting that the ideology of that group is correct to the best of your knowledge. You are telling me that you agree with that group’s claims about the origins of the universe, about human consciousness and moral development, about what happens when we die, lots of claims about various aspects of reality. You are telling me you think these claims are true. But truth has nothing to do with the source of your genetic material, or the people who fed and clothed you as a child. (Surely you can think of times when your parents were wrong!) Truth has to do with what actually exists and what actually happens. Now that you are an adult, it’s high time to think about these issues and decide for yourself what you think is true. Start at the beginning, and question everything.