I have 16 years of Catholic education, was an observant in a Benedictine Monastery, have a sister who was a nun, and have a solid grounding in Jesuit theological training. Then I had a "crisis in faith" resulting from some encounters that were abusive and destructive. After leaving that sick environment I took a long hiatus where I simply didn’t think about "faith."
Then I became a Buddhist. This was a religion that I thought would not carry the baggage of the religions that I had left. I was wrong. Buddhism required me to adopt a whole canon of incredible nonsense that defied reason. Still, I went along. Call it "denial", a "crisis in faith", say what you will. But long after I began to harbor doubts about the absurd tenants of this new "faith" I continued to practice this religion.
The God Delusion forced me to face this fact and to stop fearing the truth about reality and about life itself. For the past year, I have had a different perspective.
Why did I do all this? How could a lawyer who is trained in critical thought and who has three post-graduate degrees subject himself to such absurd, delusional, and ultimately self-destructive, behavior?
As I look back I think the reason is loneliness and the desire for a community to belong to. The ionic bond that holds any religion together is the community that the believers share as a result of their shared view of reality. And that sense of "community" reinforces the believer’s commitment to the faith that he purports to believe in.
America is a highly individualistic culture where everyone seems to be looking for a group of friends to interact with a community. And religion offers this, ready-made and free of charge (initially). Americans don’t have the local settings for social interaction that Europeans have–the pub, the piazza, the sidewalk café, the beer hall. In America, there is no single place where everyone can go to meet, and interact with their neighbors. All we have in America is the Mall, and you don’t go there to meet people. You go there to shop. We work and then, when we come home, we live our own individualistic and isolated lives.
So we go to church where we find an instant, ready-made community of believers who are happy to see you. There are singles groups, teen groups, softball teams, and other social activities. There are answers to every question, and, if you don’t think too much, a sense of relief and comfort in the idea that everything has been figured out. Just follow the line, and you’ll be fine.
And the price is cheap. All we have to do is surrender our reason, our money and control over our own lives.
I am now free of that. But there has been a price. I am lonelier. My old friends now avoid me. I am, to use a Catholic term, "anathema". Instead, I am starting the slow process of learning how to create a new community of people who will accept me for who I am, rather than what shared mythology we all pretend to believe in.