To believe something is to accept it uncritically—without having direct knowledge of it through your own experience. Religions are generally based on the uncritical acceptance of written doctrines and scriptures.
As such, religious leaders don’t typically permit believers to question the origin or truthfulness of the religion’s writings. If that happened, believers would leave the religions—and religious leaders would lose their paychecks.
Religious leaders’ income depends on the continued acceptance of certain beliefs among their followers.
Religious believers defend their beliefs because they are afraid to admit being wrong. That would mean a complete change in lifestyle on top of being wrong. Anyone with strong beliefs is the same, whether religious or not.
The way out of religious-minded thinking is to replace beliefs with direct knowledge and experience of life. Lots of people have done this, and anyone who really wants this experience can have it. It can be a long road, depending on what wrong beliefs you have now.
All religions teach something good (no matter how tiny that thing might be), and they all have something bad about them, too. Still, there is such a thing as following your own path, using gems from different religious systems to help guide your way. Most people don’t do this, though, because they believe they can’t.
Instead, they accept the religion of their family or community and just go along with whatever the religious leaders and writings tell them. (This is how suicide bombers are made, by the way.)
For more spiritually mature people who have gotten tired of asking questions and not getting answers, looking inward and following your own path is often a more attractive option. It’s a lonely road sometimes, but nothing is more rewarding.
The way to start on your own path of understanding (not belief) is to think and act with extreme honesty and an open mind. The rest is almost automatic. This works because life functions in a certain way, no matter what religious writings say about it.
(Written in 2005 and freshly edited on December 19, 2016.)