Few would argue that when and where we were born has an enormous effect on what we come to believe. Had we been born on the other side of the world or born 100, 1000 or even 10,000 years ago our beliefs would have certainly been different. We might have actively participated in burning Witches at the stake or personally thrown children into the mouth of a volcano. What's more, we likely would have felt it was morally right and been proud to participate in such acts.
Like it or not, my logical mind forces me to acknowledge that even my most cherished beliefs are more the result of the culture I grew up in than any rational evaluation born out of my own life experiences. I have learned to believe, in large part, what my culture dictated I should believe. No matter how strong my convictions towards a particular set of religious beliefs, the truth is that those beliefs primarily came from the influences of others.
With few exceptions, we have come to accept the teachings of the religion we were born into. This is not surprising when one considers most of us have only a superficial knowledge of the teachings and beliefs of other religions. As children, we were never presented with a list containing all the beliefs of the world's religions. No one ever asked us which religion we wanted to believe in or which set of beliefs appeared to be based upon our interpretation of truth. The question of what we should believe was primarily the decision of our parents and their parents before them.
When you step outside the veil of the particular religion you were born into and look upon all the world's religions, certain similarities become apparent. All religions are specifically designed to address humanity's instinctual fear of death. All religions are based upon a primary premise that human existence is a test in preparation for some form of life after death. All religions have some form of earthly institution made up of a hierarchy of individuals in various roles of power and prestige. All religions provide some afterlife incentive for the faithful to financially support the religious institution or work to increase the religion's membership. All religions possess one or more parental figure idols the faithful can worship and prey to. All religions claim their idol(s) was responsible for the creation of the cosmos with humanity at its center. All religions possess some form of religious document containing divine words of the one true faith.
Over the past 40 years or so, I have had occasion to attend the services of several religions far removed from my own. Each time I was alone and felt very uncomfortable surrounded by those whose beliefs were different from my own. I could feel the unity and sense of family of those around me but knew I was an outsider. I felt the need to show respect and reverence towards the idol of their beliefs though I found myself asking how intelligent people could believe in such nonsense. Perhaps some of the discomfort I felt was the realization my own beliefs were no more valid than theirs.
As television and the Internet bring us closer together, ideas that once flourished within cultural or geographic vacuums, have now been thrust onto the same stage. As one looks out upon all the world's religions, one has to ask how so many different religions came to exist and why they possess so many similarities? Should we believe all the world's religions sprang from one true religion? One true god or gods with one true set of beliefs? Or could it be that all religions were born within the minds of humanity, shaped by eons of the same human fears, needs and desires.
Science continues to challenge and change religious scripture while human ignorance and superstition are slowly replaced by the facts of who and what we are and where we really came from. From my perspective, I have seen nothing during my lifetime that can logically support any belief in a supernatural being responsible for humanity and the cosmos. Surely, if such an entity existed there would be some kind of proof other than the echo of the longings, fears and ignorant ramblings of those who came before us. Surely, if any concrete evidence existed to support gods, ghosts, demons, or any other kind of supernatural being, we would have all seen it by now as "Breaking News" on CNN. It would be the story of all news stories.
Don't get me wrong. I have the same problem with my impending death as the next guy. I want nothing more than to uncover something, anything that can give me even a glimmer of hope I can somehow escape death. I have know faith and I have experienced the warmth and brotherhood of sharing that faith with others. But after many years of faith and hope I have decided it is more important to open my eyes to the reality within and go through what's left of my life knowing the truth.