Religious believers ask me all the time if I think all religious believers are stupid. My answer to this question is almost always the same. “Of course not; smart people can believe really stupid things too.” There is no doubt that the belief in the all-powerful god as described in the Torah/Bible/Koran based off of no valid evidence is stupid. Depending on how serious this belief is taken, it can even be ridiculously stupid. It would be like me telling people that Voldemort is real based off of my reading of the Harry Potter books.
It is important to note that all of humankind’s technical advances were made off the shoulders of those who came before us. Alan Turing couldn’t have invented the computer if Thomas Edison had not created the light bulb. But progress isn’t the only thing that advances of the shoulders of giants. Religious persuasion does too. Just as no person is smarter than the collective wisdom of humankind, no person no matter how smart is immune to the collective system of religious manipulation.
Christianity is over 2000 years old and Judaism is even older. Over that time, religious systems have developed. They have evolved in such a way that they have become engines of indoctrination and manipulation. These systems start working on people almost immediately after they are born and they pervade our entire society and culture. It is very hard to reach the age of five without being exposed to religious belief and religious institutions. Some people will surely slip throw the cracks and other will just not focus on that belief. But by the time a child is five years old, whether they believe in an imaginary god or not, they are at the very least aware that many adults do believe these things. Adults are authority figures for children and as such, a child is more likely to take ridiculous stories seriously if an adult let alone many adults believe these stories to be real.
Walk through any town in the country and you will find more churches than schools and libraries combined. These churches often ring very loud bells throughout the day. The average curious child walking through town would surely ask about these things… that is if their parents have already taken them to some house of religious worship already. There is no escaping the influence that religious has on our society. It is always there in the background even if it isn’t there in the foreground… and it usually is.
The religion engine isn’t content with just indoctrination however. No, the religious system of belief has evolved to deal with the possibility that people can slip through the cracks of indoctrination and so other systems of manipulation developed. The religious system has learned to attack people when they are most vulnerable. When emotions run high and people aren’t thinking rationally for a moment or two, religion takes advantage of the situation. Funerals, weddings, when people are down on their luck, hitting bottom due to an addiction, after a devastating event, or when someone narrowly escapes death, religion is right there ready to manipulate.
The religious people who do the manipulations aren’t doing it out of malice either. They too have usually been manipulated into thinking that manipulating others when they are most vulnerable is a good thing. They usually don’t even realize what they are doing is wrong. They see it as part of a greater good.
We are all human and we all are subject to these same systems of manipulation. Even smart people are not smarter than the collective system of manipulation of religious belief. It is only when people are faced with significant questions which religion can’t answer and when they start to focus on the holes in the religious system that they start to question and doubt. Sometimes, believers start to see those holes on our own. Sometimes, they debate or discuss religion with us non-believers as a way of hiding their doubts. But one thing is certain, how smart someone is has little to do with religious belief. However, smart believers may be more willing to investigate the claims of their religion and they may end up being less satisfied with poor answers. The more people know about their religious beliefs the less they are likely to believe them.
When discussing religion with smart believers, I tend to encourage them to find the answers themselves. I prefer challenging them to see beyond what their religious leaders tell them. Use their curiosity and intellect as an advantage and force them to be skeptical and think critically.
There are smart believers out there who may even be very knowledgeable. But they just haven’t thought about their beliefs critically. The system got to them and they might need some help getting out. Not too much help however… just a little nudge here and a nagging question there.