Who can say with absolute certainty they will be saved after they die and go someplace better? Anyone who says they know with 100% certainty where exactly they will go in death is not making a claim they can support with any kind of hard evidence. God has not told how salvation can be found in a way that leaves no doubt.
Risks and rewards
There could be no greater contrast than the difference between an eternity of heaven or hell. With the stakes as high as many believe, it would seem rational for any being that wants people to avoid the most horrible torments to do everything possible to help them make the right choice. How convincing is the evidence? What can faith be based on?
If there is a right choice, it certainly is not clear to human minds. On top of the great variety of religions and gods that people worship, even the major religions are divided into sects. If there is an objective way to prove that any god exists, let alone that any particular religion is the word of that god, it has not been found yet.
Finding the right religion
Not only does religion lack hard evidence to support it claims, but rationality and science go against any kind of literal truth of many of the stories of religious traditions. For example, the story of Noah’s Ark, in both Christianity and Islam, is a rational and scientific impossibility. There is simply no way two of every species could have made it to a boat and survived for a day, let alone as long as the stories claimed, when logistics such as the size of the boat, keeping the animals fed or clean are considered.
The moral lessons of religion also fail to offer hard evidence of divine origins. If their teachings had definitely set an example that was distinct and higher than the societies they emerged from, it would perhaps be evidence of divine will. However, from the sometimes bloodthirsty nature of the Old Testament god and Allah of the Quran, to Christianity and Islam giving every indication of condoning rather than clearly condemning things like slavery, there is no way to argue these religions are teaching a perfect morality. In addition, the idea of sending people for eternal damnation is alien to notions of justice, mercy and humanity.
Finally, there does not seem to be any hard evidence of divine will in either the way the world works or the example of the followers of any of the major religions. While people have tried, nobody has ever given a really satisfactory answer as to why a merciful god would create forces, such as natural disasters, that cause massive and indiscriminate human suffering, or sit and watch a child suffer and die. Furthermore, there is no indication the followers of any particular religion consistently act better and more moral that the rest of humanity as a whole.
What determines religion?
It is no secret that most people follow the religion of their parents. In addition, the religious traditions of different families are usually due to political events of the past. For example, the inability of the Persian Empire to resist the Arabs is the reason Iran is primarily Islamic now. The fact that most of Europe is Christian has a lot to do with the Roman Empire, and the fact that Europe was later able to stop Muslim invaders.
This, and the fact that many people can live their lives without ever really hearing of many of the major religions to this very day, all points to geography, related to forces in the past, being a primary determinate of what religions people follow. Since nobody chooses their birth mother and where they are born, accident of birth matters the most when determining one’s religion.
Intelligence and reason do not bring people closer to any particular religion. Actually, studies of religiosity and intelligence show that those who are the most intelligent and rational tend to be the least religious.
Belief and blind faith
Apart from the accident of where and when someone was born and the level of religiosity they are brought up in, the only major determinant of religious belief seems to be the ability to have faith without hard evidence or logic to back up those beliefs. Why would something as important as this be decided on what amounts to one’s level of gullibility and chance of birth? While morality enters the picture to an extent, it takes a back seat to blind faith and the chance of being born at the right time and place. Note that the most horrible murderer can be forgiven if he asks for forgiveness before he dies. However, those who cannot believe what they do not see evidence or logic for, or those who are born into the wrong religious traditions, are damned for all eternity.
It is more than a little difficult to see perfect, divine, merciful justice in all of this.
Those who say that god works in mysterious ways, and that we cannot hope to understand god’s will, are some of the same people who claim to know divine truth. To claim to know what god wants on one hand but be unable to explain basic logical inconsistencies in what this supposed divine truth says, let alone offer hard evidence to support it, is irrational and arrogant. Until we have hard evidence to support something as being divine truth, nobody should simply assume any religion knows what it is talking about when it claims to know a path to salvation. It is not a good idea to assume that salvation would come from following wild claims on bad evidence.
Some of these questions are examined in more detail in the following video.