I did not just wake up one morning and decide that there was not a god, or that the way our spirit world may work is NOT the way it is portrayed by our major earthly religions. I came about my beliefs by constantly reading the pros and cons about religion in general and specific beliefs as proclaimed by different Christian denominations.
One of my revelations came to me when I began to work on my Masters degree and learned about peer-reviewed writing. Peer review is more like the scientific method of reality. A theory is presented, but must be backed up by data that can be replicated by your peers. For example, in 1998 Dr. Andrew Wakefield published his studies in the British medical journal, Lancet, that the MMR (Measles/Mumps/Rubella) vaccine caused the spike in autism diagnoses. The only problem with this paper is that no one could replicate his findings and his paper was retracted. He refused to retract his findings and the General Medical Council of the United Kingdom took his license to practice medicine away. (see a recent Newsweek article: http://www.newsweek.com/2015/02/20/andrew-wakefield-father-anti-vaccine-movement-sticks-his-story-305836.html). Here is the perfect example of many people wanting to believe that something is true, when, in fact, the evidence does not prove that it is true. Now future evidence might prove that vaccines cause autism, but Wakefield’s methodology and data will not be the path to this proof.
In my vast readings toward my degree, I learned that there are two ways to study religion—the faith-based way and the scholarly way. And just as it implies, the scholarly way relies on peer-review and the vast amount of past publications that have been handed down through academia throughout the ages. The faith-based way to study religion is based on the way that you FEEL or the way that your BELIEVE while studying the books on which the religion is based. This is also where science and religion tend to butt heads. Science demands proof and replication, which is in one word: evidence. Faith is just that—faith. For the most part, that faith will be shored up by only one source: the Bible for Christians (then add the Book of Mormon for Mormons, etc.), the Torah and Talmud for Jews, the Quran for Muslims. In scholarly writing, the academic begins with the “holy book,” then looks at the writings of the time, the historical context, the socio-economic situation, who is ruling whom, and a myriad of other factors. Simply reading a verse out of context from any “holy book,” then applying it to today without a complete explanation of the history of the time is not only irresponsible, it leads to misunderstanding of the text and often to wholesale anti-Semitism against those who are simply different from the congregation. Such beliefs have lead in the past to the propagation of slavery and the in the present to the continued attempt to treat the LGBT community as second-class citizens.
Two books that I have enjoyed reading are Robert Wright’s The Evolution of God and Reza Aslan’s Zealot. Both of these books give us an historical and sociological perspective on how religion evolved and developed. Religion itself is often forged during a period of upheaval. Take Christianity, for example. If Jesus Christ lived, he was not a Christian; he was a Jew during the violent Roman occupation of Palistine. Christianity and its cult formed after the death of Jesus or whoever was the model for Jesus (keeping in mind that Jesus might be more than one person or a creation of a very fertile mind). There are many books such as these that explore the creation of our religions. These are just two that I would suggest for the reader who is seriously questioning his or her religious foundations. These are not books of faith; rather, they are books that look at the historical evolution of religion and of a religious figure.
Here are two interesting interviews with the authors to give you an idea about their research on their books:
Faith is faith. If you have it and you want to keep it, then that’s up to you. But if you are questioning your faith in general, then your answers do not lie in what your preacher says; they lie in educating yourself so that you can decide for yourself what is real for you and what is fantasy and mythology.