If you were born yesterday, with your mind and ability to reason as strong as it is today, would you believe everything that you have believed in until now?
Since we were born, our intellect as been swarmed by outside influences, convincing us how and in what to believe. Way before our ability to reason, in fact, even before we knew that we possessed an intellect, our mind was capturing data practically without a filter. Everything sank in to our subconscious and shaped how we were going to think and interact with the world. This process is still taking place at this very moment.
This understanding, which is known to all, should make us deeply suspicious of what we claim to know, or in what we believe. Had you been born into a different family, in a different time, would you not see the world in a completely different manner? Can you really trust your beliefs, if, had you been born into your enemy, you would have waged war against those very beliefs?
It is for this reason that I am, or am trying to become, a rationalist. I say "or trying to become," because I am aware that there is a good chance that a lot of the way I think is directly correlated to the circumstances in which I was raised. I know that much of what I find important is a product of what I saw and heard beginning as early as my infancy, and thus, my ability to reason may be flawed.
However, the advantage of rationalism is that it is open to outside critique. It is open for debate. One can, and I always encourage it, argue with my every word. As the old adage goes: two minds are better than one. If those two minds are of different opinions, the clarity of thought that they will produce will most likely be far greater than that of a thousand minds who agree. Healthy discourse between mankind is the only way to reach some understanding of reality. If two people are committed to reason as a guide, they will be able to penetrate and escape the blind influences of their upbringing, and reach ever-nearer to the Truth.
When man grasps tightly to what he knows to be true -- what he was taught to be true -- without considering whether it is rational or not, the result is warfare. Until people are willing to challenge everything they know and believe, they certainly cannot claim that any of their beliefs are true; only that they believe them to be. Some of the greatest immoralities have been committed by unquestioning sheep "following orders."
There is a place for faith, as there is for love, but reason must precede it! Just as we expect the abused spouse to realize that their feelings of love for their other are not products of reason, but wild untamed emotion, so to, must we hope for the religious dogmatists who commit heinous crimes in the name of their faith. Any system claiming to have divine inspiration must be placed under meticulous scrutiny. Especially those systems that cause it's adherents to harm or hate others. Before accepting what we were taught, let us examine the teaching, and require the teachers to present evidence.
Imagine if all religions would wait until a person reached an age where he could reason, before presenting the precepts of the religion to him. I don't know if it would be the end of religion -- indeed many people convert to religion at older ages -- but in would be the end of blind religious obedience.
Belief, as I have said and explained in previous posts, is not a choice. It is a by-product of one's surroundings. We believe -- much of the time -- what our parents, community, country, and era believe. The question then, is not why you believe, but rather why don't you doubt what you believe?
This is a very difficult challenge indeed. It is to place an enormous question mark on all that you believe to be true. It is to have the courage to face the unknown, and after much mental labor create your own reasonable conclusion. Of course, most people would not be able to make claims about a lot of things, for who has the time to study every aspect of human life. This would not be a bad thing. The ignorant man with a closed mouth is respected, the opened mouth ignoramus is contemptible. Doubt can make the man uncomfortable, but dogma can destroy the world.
Any person who wishes to live a life of truth, must not be afraid to venture into the world of doubt. The honest question mark is far more noble than an inadequate period.