Rigorous intellectual effort applied across the widest possible range of relevant literature, sciences and personal experience is one requirement for reaching a sound conviction on the issue of whether or not a supra-natural and intelligent creator exists to create and/or sustain the entire universe. The conviction that this is a baseless speculation need not be asserted as ‘certain’, but as most extremely unlikely, so much so as to make the all religious belief systems nothing but a deviation from fruitful truth-seeking. Surely, nothing which is based on falsehoods can last much longer where there are true alternatives to belief.
I outgrew the belief system of Anglican Christianity during my last years at grammar school, but had not then developed the necessary skills and experience to take up the so-called ‘eternal questions’ very effectively or thoroughly. I was in the position of many sceptics and atheists who have never really been ‘infected’ with religious enthusiasm and therefore have viewed most religion from the sidelines or the outside. Such a position protects from disrupting superstitious and ‘mystical’ influences in work and the learning processes, but it can fall short when confronted with differing religious theologies and especially reported phenomena, from proclaimed ‘miracles’ to mystical experiences.
Though I cannot advise anyone to take up any religion or get involved in mystic sectarianism, those who do so with serious intent and who become disillusioned through experience and what they learn, are in a far stronger position to know the score than armchair academics, philosophers, sociologists and their kind as regards the possibility of religion being anything more than unfounded and misguided belief. To have lived through the processes involving so-called mystical experience, heartfelt adherence to some teaching or teacher, self-sacrificing practice of the virtues and any other requirements for whatever one hopes it will bring teaches a lot. Then, to have discovered the essential emptiness of all the teachings in practice, the invariable weaknesses or outright fraud of the teacher, the mental-emotional and other character failings of most other believers, and the frustration of nearly all good intents in the whole enterprise… that is a deeply educative process, especially as regards the approach of religious sects and cults and also goes far in giving insight into to the ‘eternal questions’. Those who observe without participation and inside experience can only get a superficial understanding of the processes of conversion, indoctrination, fixation of belief, how control and misuse of adherents’ autonomy and rights by religious ‘authorities’ and institutions operates.
The rational, empirical and other intellectual criticism of religions and theologies are nonetheless also very important as bulwarks against the slide into the ills that follow upon otherworldly fantasy and misplaced faith.