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Ask most people, and they’ll believe that everything is made of atoms. But if you ask them, what kind of evidence is there to convince scientists of that? You will not likely get an answer from a lay person. Hence, most people take it on faith. We trust scientists to be the reliable authority on the subject. If we were to feel a little baffled or curious about the matter, then, well, we could lean on our scientific inclinations and do a little research for ourselves. But most of us just accept that everything’s made of atoms because we’re told that science says so. Likewise, a large number of theists believe what they do because they’ve been told these beliefs by all the religious authorities in their lives. If any of us were a little confused or intrigued about the matter, then we’d do our own research and become a little learned in theology.
That’s all fine and dandy … to an extent. Most people don’t have the time, energy, patience or interest to research atomic theory or theology. Society functions on its own without everyone being experts on everything. But the thing is, if the answer to a question is really significant and meaningful to you, then you should look at it with rationality and not blind faith and wishful thinking. If you’re wondering what the purpose of your life is, or why the universe is here, or what-have-you, and you really want to figure out the truth, then you’ll have to do more than just listen to others’ opinions on the subject.
For personal assurance, you should take a serious, reasonable look at the important parts of your belief system. (It’s no use wondering solipsisms like if the universe was created last Thursday, if we’re all a part of the Matrix, or if a Cartesian demon is feeding you false perceptions. However, if you’ve lived your life assuming that a certain man has the answers to your salvation and the nature of the divine creator, then you probably want to spend some time with that idea.) Furthermore, if you want to have a reliable and authoritative public voice about a subject, it is your responsibility to sincerely and soberly study that subject.
Now – apply this to the current state of religion. I am certain that the majority of believers, in any faith around the world, do not have sufficient justification for their belief. This is understandable. We grow up, and learn to accept much of what we are told when we are young. But that doesn’t make it right. That’s why it’s our duty to speak our opinions when it’s warranted and when it raises consciousness about the significance of a certain opinion – like religion. (I’m applying this to atheists and believers.) Robert Ingersoll once said, “out upon the intellectual sea there is room for every sail, and in the intellectual air there is space for every wing.” But to stay where you were born and never meet any new places on this sea or in this air is intellectual negligence, and it needs consciousness-raising. Religion is important.