If we had a motto (which we don't) it would be "question everything".
This doesn't go down well with authoritarians who prefer: "I know best - so do as you are told - or else!".
With religion this often becomes: "do as the holy book says - or else!" - awkward when people can't agree on the meaning of holy books. Religions are "god-given" so they are intolerant of questioning by outsiders.
For each question below we have provided our own short answer or comments in red. We don't expand on them here (it would take too long) but we are happy to respond to questions and to provide references for our answers.
- Why is religion so divisive?
Many people take religion very seriously, they are passionate about it, it becomes the primary driving force in their lives, it is the frame of reference against which they judge everything, they are convinced they are right so, by definition, everyone else must be wrong. Many become evangelical, spreading the "good news" and trying to force their religion onto others, particularly children - "for their own good", "for the good of their souls".
Holy books instruct believers to be intolerant of others and, in some cases, to take action against non-believers and those who renounce their religion.
When religion becomes mixed with politics it becomes deadly. There is no example of a successful, democratic, liberal, open, free-thinking and tolerant country where religion plays a major role in politics. Religion becomes a negative force laying down laws about what people should not do - "thou shalt not!"
Pakistan is a basket case because of divisions within Islam. The government of Israel, under pressure from religion, has passed (July, 2018) a "nation law" which enables exclusive communities to be set up on the basis of religion and nationality - rather like the "No blacks" laws under apartheid in South Africa and in the USA before the passage of Civil Rights laws.
- Why did you choose to become a Hindu/Muslim/Judaist/Christian/etc?
We get two main types of answers:
- I accepted the religion of my parents/family/community/ethnic group/school.
- I examined the alternatives and decided it was the one for me.
Number 2 is very rare. We follow up with: "what specific aspect of Zoroastrianism led you to reject it?"
- Do you think young people should be allowed to make a free and informed choice about what to believe?
Many (most?) people say "yes". We follow up by asking what they think "free" and "informed" mean.
- A free choice means one without undue external pressure.
- An informed choice requires understanding a wide range of beliefs: religious and non-religious.
Some people say "no" - young people should accept the religion they are taught "for their own good" or "for the good of their souls" or because "it would cause trouble in the family/community if they didn't".
We consider this to be a form of intellectual and emotional abuse - it denies young people the knowledge of alternatives, it denies freedom of choice and it applies unfair emotional pressure on them.
- Who first came up with the god idea and why?
We have no idea though we picture two cave dwellers sitting at the mouth of their cave trying to explain why the sun rose each morning, why the year had seasons, why lightning was followed by thunder etc.
- What exactly is god?
This can be a difficult question for many religious people so we offer: "a supernatural and unprovable entity invented to explain the unexplained".
- Why are there so many gods and so many religions?
This puzzles us since god is supposed to be all-powerful. Why is she so vague about everything?
- Why do the Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) refer to god as "he"?
God was created in the image of man because men wrote the holy books which were (are) used to justify the patriarchy. It might help undo 2,000 years of the oppression of women by religion if god was referred to as "she".
- Do we have any examples of things having a beginning, i.e. popping into existence out of nothing?
No - everything is a rearrangement of things (mass and/or energy) that already exist. We recommend a little more study if you answer "Higgs Boson" or "Big Bang".
- If everything has a beginning, how did god begin?
The normal response is: "god is everlasting" - which means that everything does not have a beginning.
- If god created everything, what created god?
The normal response is: "god is everlasting and needed no creation" - which means that everything does not require creation.
- If god is good, why do bad things happen and why do the innocent suffer?
The get out is "free will" - which does not explain how a good god could conceive of bad things.
- If god is the great designer why do men have nipples?
There are a million and one examples about why god is a very poor designer
- Why do some people need god and religion while others don't?
Freud is quite good on this and much has been written on the psychology and psychopathology of religion.
Christianity hinges on the existence of an alleged person called "Jesus" as described in the New Testament but, like all religions, Christianity rarely questions its own roots.
We say "alleged" because we would like to raise some questions which we never heard when we were at school and which are never heard in Sunday services.
Some (few) Christians are happy to concede all the problems created by our questions. However, they believe in the ideals of Christianity (the "sermon on the mount" etc.) rather than its historicity.
- Was Jesus a real historical character? No.
- What was Jesus? A mythical exemplar for a break-away proselytising religion based on Judaism.
- Had there been "Jesus-like" characters before Jesus? Many - virgin birth, son of god, miracles, execution, etc.
- As "the son of god" why was Jesus illiterate?
Most central characters in religions, including Jesus and Muhammad, were illiterate. This makes it impossible to tie down exactly what they said and leaves things open to hearsay and interpretation. It keeps things nicely vague.
- Did Jesus' twelve disciples write anything about him? No. They were conveniently illiterate.
- Was anything written about Jesus during his lifetime? No.
- Jesus is alleged to have worked spectacular miracles - were they recorded at the time? No.
- Do we have Roman records written at the time that name and describe Jesus? No.
- Do we have Rabbinical records written at the time that name and describe Jesus? No.
- Who wrote the four Gospels? No one knows.
- Were the Gospels written by people who met Jesus? No.
- When were the Gospels written? We don't know. Possibly 30 to 80 years after his alleged death.
- How many Gospels were written? A lot more than four.
- Who decided which Gospels were included in the New Testament? "Early Christian fathers".
- When was this decision made? We don't know for sure, possibly as late as 325 AD.
- Was there a settlement in Nazareth at the time of Jesus? No.
- Who was Josephus? A Jewish historian who allied with Rome after the Jewish rebellion of AD 70.
- Who edited Josephus (18:3:3) to make it appear that he had heard of Jesus? "Early Christian fathers".
- Was Paul a real historical character? Possibly.
- Did Paul meet Jesus? No.
- Why did Constantine adopt Christianity? To unite a crumbling empire.
- Why was it necessary to call the Council of Nicea? Constantine needed a clearly defined religion.
- At the time of Nicea did Christians agree about Jesus - who he was, what he was?
No - Christians were killing one another over the nature of the alleged Jesus.
- Do Christians agree now about Jesus - who he was, what he was? No.
- Why do Christians remain so fragmented in their beliefs?
We have no idea - but all religions have the same problem. God appears to be illiterate and vague.