You believe what you were brought up to believe or what you dwell on. Just think of how you thought about Santa Claus when you were seven. Everyone around you told you that Santa lived at the North Pole, knew whether you were good or bad, and brought presents. Adults conspired to convince you of this pleasant fantasy. Now, everyone tells you that God lives in Heaven, knows whether you’re good or bad, and brings salvation. The main-stream media keep silent about what scholars know:
* That the New Testament was not written until about 70 years after the reputed lifetime of Jesus.
* That his sayings are largely Hebrew proverbs or Greek philosophy.
* That biblical manuscripts were re-written to make it look as if prophesies were being fulfilled.
* That the first mention of Mary and Joseph was in a letter from a Bishop about 2 generations after the Jesus was supposed to have lived.
* That Jesus’ biography is made up of elements from the classic Hero Myth: descended from kings, born of a virgin, fearful enemies wanted to kill him, parents fled to a foreign country, etc. etc.
* That the story of Jesus rising into heaven is not in our earliest manuscripts of the New Testament.
If you concentrate on anything enough, whether it’s fear of spiders or the life of your favorite heroine, it will seem more real to you.
A wise Greek once remarked that the gods of other countries looked like the people of those countries and that if horses had gods, they would look like horses. We know of over a thousand gods that people have (or do) believe in. People believe in the gods that they were brought up with. In other places, people have tried to replace religion with Communism or other ideals or with a cult of personality, such as the virtual worship of Kim Il Jong in Korea. Others, wanting the comforts of spiritual life without the deadening weight of church authority, turn to philosophical religions like Buddhism or do-it-yourself religions like modern paganism, with its God and Goddess, agricultural year, and be-done-by-as-you-did morality.
In each place, people believe as they are trained and find it almost impossible to imagine thinking any other way. There’s no use arguing with them. And in many small towns in the U.S., the church is the center of community activities. People must believe, or pretend to, or they will be shut out of comfort, friendships, and fun. The cost of publicly questioning becomes to high. And we get the conspiracy of silence that won’t examine the facts of religion for fear of “rocking the boat.” That’s the environment that has formed you. As you grow up you’ll discover that there are other ways of thinking, that being good is natural to us, and that you can be good (and happy) without believing in unicorns. Or in God.
All of us, scientists too, have trouble letting go of the ideas we were brought up with. That’s why the history of science is full of wonderful 30-year debates as the evidence slowly mounts and the old die-hards retire. Examples are
* Life: from other life or spontaneously generated? (from other life).
* Diseases: caused by germs or not? (By germs, at least some of the time.)
* Childbed fever: caused by doctors handling corpses and then delivering babies or spontaneous? (Caused by doctors.)
* (Extinction–does it happen or not? (yes.)
* Geology: uniform processes or catastrophes? (Uniform–usually)
* Genetic material: DNA or protein? (DNA.)
* Universe: steady state or big bang? (Big bang.)
* Birds: descended from dinosaurs or not? (Dinosaurs.)
* Bacterial flagellum: irreducibly complex or not? (Not.)
The good news is, science lets us change our minds instead of clinging to the past.