It is my opinion, as an atheist, that everyone who is in a church is in a false one (false in the sense of “not true”, not false in the sense of “not really a church”). Religious people who subscribe to the “only one True Church/True Religion” idea should almost agree with me, because most other people who are religious aren’t in their particular church.
Given that at least most religious people in the world are wrong about their beliefs, I have said for a while now that apparently, being convinced in the truthfulness of one’s religion, and yet being wrong about that, is very, very easy.
You’d think that people would take that sobering fact with a little more introspection, and seriously question why they, of all people, should buck the trend and actually be right about their church, when so many others get it wrong. But they don’t. Why not?
Psychologists have long known that people tend to overestimate their own judgment, their own virtue, their own charity, their own wisdom, and underestimate these things in others. This could help explain why it is that so many religious people can take it as simply a matter of unremarkable fact that so many people around the world can be so comprehensively wrong, and yet not even consider that they might also be just as wrong about their own religious beliefs.
I’ll consider the LDS Church specifically, because that’s the church I still nominally belong to, and almost all of my family members on both my side and my wife’s are LDS. I’ve had many conversations with some pretty smart LDS people in my aquaintance, who simply cannot, or will not, see that the LDS Church is a manmade institution, like all the other churches out there. And it’s not just that they don’t agree with me that the church is manmade – it’s like they can’t even fathom the very possibility that the church might not be right.
I am convinced that the approach that is required, from my side, is not to just present them with all of the unsavory history, all of the un-Godly things Joseph Smith did, the evidence relating to the Book of Abraham, etc. This approach is doomed to failure in many members, because they simply do not take seriously the possibility that the LDS Church is in fact not true, therefor none of the counter evidence can have its intended effect. I believe the approach most likely to succeed in the long term is to help LDS believers to see the necessity of considering the LDS Church claims with the same critical thinking that they would apply to everyone else’s church.
To succeed with many members, they will have to see how unlikely it is that they really are the exception to the rule that almost, if not everyone’s religious belief in the world isn’t really true. They will have to be brought to see, and recognize, the absurdity of assuming that their beliefs are so justifiable, and obviously true, while everyone else’s can be so wrong.