The human mind is capable of many different mental states. Influences of chemistry both external and internal (LSD and LOVE for instance) but also meditative states and euphoric states, change the way we think and perceive the world around us. Religion actively seeks to make people experience these states and then teaches them these are evidence of God. They are just temporal mental states.
Faith is like donning a pair of rose colored glasses.
Religion teaches that not only is faith good, it is the highest form of good. Christianity in particular teaches people that they are so wretched their own God is unable to have direct contact with them. The situation is so dire because of Adam’s sin that God is forced to become a human and allow himself to be horribly tortured and killed in order to allow humans to once again “feel” him. They tell you that despite your being so horribly flawed God loved you so much he voluntarily underwent this savage torture and death, just for you (and everyone like you). Many will even ask you what that must have felt like. They say things like “How much must God have cared about you to do that?”
Now, unless you’re a truly broken human being (like Hannibal Lector broken, a sociopath), this contemplation on your part will evoke emotions. We are emotional beings and those emotions give us empathy for our fellow man. Anyone who honestly contemplates what that must have felt like, and how much someone would have to care about another to willingly undergo such treatment; especially since they are really God and could have with a wave of their hand have ended it all, will be overcome with emotions. A deep sense of WOW, of admiration for such a deed, of love for someone caring that much overcomes you.
Now that you are in this mental state they will seek your salvation. They will ask you to accept Jesus into your heart. They ask you why you would waste such a precious gift from God. They ask you why you don’t love God enough to accept this gift. Most people succumb at this point and convert.
The more rational person has some doubts, and this is where the fear of not accepting this gift comes in. Since Adam’s sin God has not been able to be in your life (in other words this emotional state they have worked you up into cannot be yours unless you accept the gift). If you fail to accept Christ you are doomed to never have God in your life! Worse, when this life ends, which it might at any moment, you will be forced to go to Hell, where you will be tortured endlessly. God does not want you to go to hell, that’s why he sent Jesus. Please accept God’s gift, don’t waste it!
Now if you believe and accept the “gift’ you acquire faith. You have put on the rose colored glasses of faith. At that point everything you see is tainted by faith. If the sun shines on your face you feel it is the love of god and if you get a promotion it is evidence of gods caring for you. The inverse is also manipulated by this emotional state, if you get into an accident and are unhurt God spared you and if you lose your job god has other plans for you. If your child gets ill with cancer and dies it is Gods will and we are too small and stupid to understand God’s mysterious ways.
The problem with all this is that it is a con, the greatest con of all time. Christianity works you up into an emotional state and then takes advantage of that state. The religion then actively seeks to keep you in that emotional state, for life. If your emotional state weakens you are having a “crisis of faith”, if you fall away from religion you are a “backslider”.
Perhaps the worst and most devious aspect of this con is the fact that people “of faith” are taught to evangelize to others and spread the “good word” or “good news”. This aspect of religion makes the con victim into a willing con man, who believes with all their heart they are trying to save the souls of others from hellfire. It takes the best aspects of our own humanity and uses it to convince others of what the believer has been convinced of, without a shred of evidence.
This makes religion like a disease or virus that spreads from person to person. Most people infected with religion remain so for their entire lives because they keep reinforcing these base concepts over and over, re-invoking the same emotional states again and again. This is termed the “Love of God” and many denominations wallow in these emotions. Other denominations use other tact’s, some more cerebral, some more emotional, some more mystical or magical, in this way it spreads to more and more types of people and self-reinforces.
Christianity also often teaches that this way is the only way to God. This is the true faith, the pure faith, God’s chosen faith, etc. This aspect of religion has led to wars too numerous to count. Wars justified by religion; because the other fellow is deceived by his religion, but you have the right religion; and so are honor bound by God to prevent the spread of that false religion over there. By killing those other people you are actually saving souls. This is the rationale of the Crusades and the Inquisition. It is the rationalization of Westboro Baptist Church and the KKK.
If you take off the ruby lens of faith and look at the issues presented critically, like you do for everything else in your life, it does not look the same. Things pop out immediately that make no sense. Religion does not want you to dwell on such things and actively teaches people not to think too much lest they destroy faith.
“Reason is the enemy of faith”–Martin Luther
For instance, the biblical god is all knowing, but was forced to destroy his own creation with a flood because it became too evil. In Genesis chapter 6 it reads God had regret for making man. An all knowing being would never suffer from regret as it would have perfect hindsight ahead of time, always. By definition it could not have been surprised by man’s actions, and hence could not regret. So either God is not all knowing or the book has problems.
God is all knowing, so he knew when he put the tree in the garden that Adam would eat of it. God knew he would “have” to punish them for all time (because he cannot control himself or cannot forgive). In order to obtain forgiveness God required blood sacrifice, which kept the priests conveniently in BBQ for thousands of years.
As society evolved, so did religion, so the endless blood sacrifice became a single human (divine) sacrifice (Jesus), whom you eat and drink (ritual cannibalism). Replacing the endless BBQ is the endless tithing, and laws and principals around tithing (for whatever you give you shall receive seven fold) unless of course your faith wavered. So now many pastors and preachers are millionaires and teach that god wants us to live well (Look at me, God has blessed me with abundance!) and if you had as much faith as I you too could live like this now. And if you don’t get those millions, it is on you and your lack of faith.
If prayer worked, really worked, there would be no childhood deaths from cancer, because it is cruel for such a thing to happen, but it does, every day. Thousands of children prayed fervently for the servants of God (his pastors and priests) to stop raping and molesting them. None of these prayers were answered. What does that say about God?
The question of Evil . . .
“Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able?
Then he is not omnipotent.
Is he able, but not willing?
Then he is malevolent.
Is he both able and willing?
Then whence cometh evil?
Is he neither able nor willing?
Then why call him God?” — Epicurus
Nature is cruel, nature is impartial, and nature is merciless: at the same time we are a part of nature and depend upon nature to survive. A long time ago some empathic humans invented religion as a way to soothe the fears of their fellow man. Fears of all the things we don’t know or understand, fear of nature’s cruelty. Other men saw that this religion was a means to control the population and get themselves well fed doing so.
“Gonna get me religion, gonna join the Baptist church, gonna become a Baptist preacher, Lord, so’s I don’t have to work”–Son House
Now for many years I struggled with all this. I thought surely this can’t be right. Surely all of humanity has not been conned for all this time. Look at all the bright minds that were religious. I had issues with that and so kept studying religions and philosophies. I came to understand over time that yes we have all been conned. I came to understand that your intelligence does not make you immune to this con because of the emotional state invoked at the beginning. Often this emotional state is evoked when you are most vulnerable, when you have suffered a great loss, a death, or loss of a job or spouse.
However the most despicable aspect to the spreading of the disease of religion is childhood indoctrination. Children are biologically programmed to trust the adults in their family to teach them to survive. Religion teaches the infected to infect their children from birth; “raise a child up in the Lord’s way and he will not part from it”. This indoctrinates many people so soundly it glues the lens of faith to their very eye and often they are never able to remove it.
It may be that this is the case with you, I hope not. Nothing better has happened to me than seeing the distortion of the rose colored lens. No longer did I live in fear of accidentally pissing off God, of falling short, of lacking faith. Now I was free to just be a good man, to love my family and friends without fear of punishment or promise of reward. I was free to “be good for goodness sake”.
And that lovely emotional state of the religious experience you enjoy? I have it all the time without god. I feel extraordinarily lucky to be alive, and conscious and able to enjoy the sun on my face, the laugh of my grandson, and the taste of my morning coffee (slurppp). I hope you can get beyond religion someday to a more bountiful life.