This topic is so interesting, I tried to write a bit of an essay about it! :laughing: Here it is:
For me, there is no rational argument for or against the validity of any religion, though I sympathise more with the values of some than others.
Since I tend to think very rationally, I can only think in terms of what I know for sure. I know for sure that humans exist, that humans will have to co-exist for the duration of their life, that there is a definite beginning and end. I also think it is desirable to have everyone exist happily. From the fact that we exist and the urge to live together happily, which I am inclined to think is part of human nature (this is, indeed, a belief, since I cannot prove it), I sympathise with humanism: Loving my fellow human beings and letting everyone do whatever they like to do best (within certain boundaries, of course).
However, I think there are strong signs that there might be something like a religious feeling. The first one is purely numerical: Religion is extremely widespread: Even the most primitive cultures in remote areas have some kind of belief. The second one is rather subjective; I feel that it is hard not to experience a feeling of wonderment when looking at the world in detail. Certainly, science can describe nature quite well; but it cannot say why it is this way, and I find that if you look at things long enough, like a tree for instance, you start to realise that things are quite amazing.
There might be an alternative explanation: Possibly, religion is man's attempt to find explanations for everything. I have yet to hear about a religion which does not offer some explanation for life after death or for how the world was created. These are questions that cannot be answered rationally, and there are gaps in human systems of thought without answers for them. We always look for a reason for things to be the way they are, so perhaps this is why we created religion. It is very tempting to accept the ''absolute truths'' a religion provides in order to have a system of thought in which all questions are answered. I am too much of a sceptic to do that, though.
Since I tend to believe in the feeling of wonderment I described earlier, I think that the reason religions exist is this religious feeling, upon which systems of thought, providing explanations, are then built. It seems to me that the rituals involved in practically every religion cannot be explained if religion were merely a rational construct, and brain analyses have shown, I believe, that there is a centre in the brain which is active when a person is in a religious mood.
Another question I would like to discuss is whether the emotional feeling is more of a rational ''revelation'' which provides all the rational answers or just an emotional feeling that does not provide information. I think there are some facts that point towards it being the latter:
If there were one absolute rational truth revealed in the experience, why then are there so many different, conflicting religions? One could argue that most must have been lying about their experiences. But which one? And wouldn't the absolute truth, if there were such a thing, be obviously enlightening to everyone? Why then are there so many large religions, who are all sure they are right?
To me, the emotional explanation seems more logical. If you just have a feeling of wonder, perhaps you try to explain it and make a system out of it with your rational mind. Perhaps, these days, every religion tells a person who has had the experience that it is their god who provided it, which turns the person into an avid follower.
Finally, I would like to add that I think Christian values are generally very good. However, I think that the good ones can also be justified objectively; also, I do not think it is wise to hang on to a potentially wrong idea merely because it creates good people, like the Christian religion often does -- although since Christian ****-phobics and creationists show that the opposite can be true, too. I have read St Matthews Gospel, and it seems to me that Jesus's main message was: ''Follow your inner light!''. Though mentions of hell and punishment put me off, I heartily agree with his core message.
I hope I have succeeded in outlining my thought process and in being as objective as possible, and am looking forward to your answers!