Let’s take a few everyday “beliefs”.
- You believe that if you jump off the bridge, you will die. You do not jump.
- You believe that your friend will be angry if you stand him up. You respect him.
- A thug threatens you with a gun in your face and demands your wallet. You believe that if you do not comply, he will kill you. You give him your wallet.
- You believe your good work will get you paid. You show up at work.
Compare them to some religious beliefs.
- You believe that if you sin, you will burn in hell forever. You sin.
- You believe god is watching you and expects you to behave in a certain way. You don’t.
- Your priest (or whoever) threatens you with damnation if you give into your urges. You give in.
- You believe your good deeds will earn you eternal bliss. You sin.
To not be an atheist, you have to really believe in god. Your live choices have to strongly reflect that belief. This a life defining position, the foundation of reality. Actually believing in god must influence your behaviour.
- If you don’t jump, but you sin, you believe in the consequences of your fall more than those of your sin.
- If you are more respectful of your friend’s time than of god’s will, you believe in the importance of human relations more than divine consequences.
- If you are scared into obedience by a gun, but not by the promise of hell, you believe your life is more important than your afterlife.
- If you do good actions to get rewarded in this life, but not to get rewarded in the next, you believe in this life more than you believe in the next.
You don’t let your attention waver, even for a second, because you know that the consequences will be bad.
If your belief does not affect your actions, how can you pretend to really believe?
We are all atheists.
Why do we all lie to ourselves like this?
Religion, from childhood, teaches us to stop thinking, to not question. We develop a split personality. Every time reality contradicts part of the fairy tale, we put that part in the fairy tale box. And we keep on living. In the end, we learn to act rationally, to function in our everyday life, while hanging on to our fairy tales, but kept at a distance. Asked if we believe, we take the answer from the fairy tale box: “It is the literal truth”. When we act, our rational brain functions normally, disconnected from the religious injunctions.
It is called cognitive dissonance.
To be able to keep our fairy tale box, we must pretend that it is part of reality. On the surface, everyone acts as if their belief is true. We have developed a social standard where appearances are paramount. God isn’t watching, society is. When someone breaks the spell and refuses to act according to the rules of make-believe, our fairy tale box could be shown for what it is! We are outraged. So, the sinner that cannot be hidden, the atheist, the gay, are chastised.
A priest molests a child, he doesn’t really believe. The church hides it to preserve the illusion, more important than saving the child.