The biggest problem religion faces in hawking its wares is that its primary product – “god” – is unavailable for examination, mostly because it doesn’t exist. Yet religions continue to insist with zealous ferocity that their god is out there and that it must be acknowledged, worshiped, and obeyed. As a primary result of this, the game of religion necessarily becomes a shell game, which has its deity hidden behind mysteries and obtuse dogma and holy books which require interpretation for supposed full understanding. Part of this necessity has involved playing Hide and Seek with Yahweh, progressively moving him to more inaccessible locations, either on this world or off of it, as human knowledge expanded. The obligatory requirement remains to this day: that whatever god there is must remain undiscovered.
This game of peekaboo at one time even extended to the holy books of religion and was one of the reasons why owning a bible in English in England was at one point a capital crime. The bible in that day was as much a mystery as god was to most people, because it was originally written in Latin, a language of the church and scholars and not available to or understood by the general public. As such, it gave the clergy exclusive access, reinforcing the “we know something you don’t” paradigm and fortifying their authority. The bible in English completely removes this exclusivity and opens up the possibility of an ordinary person reading, studying, and critiquing the contents of the bible. Such a development could lead to parishioners asking questions of their vicar or priest that they weren’t prepared to answer and challenging their previously unassailable authority. Indeed, in the modern day, it has resulted in a thorough-going analysis of the bible by many skeptical observers, among them Steve Wells, publisher of The Skeptic’s Annotated Bible.
Religion faces not one but two problems in the midst of all of this. First, if there were a god out there and it were willing to reveal him/her/itself, the game would be over. The question of god’s existence would no longer be a question to be debated but a solved problem … which instantly creates a NEW problem. If Yahweh (or whoever) is out and about and available to the general public, why would we need a third party to intercede for us? While churches might still stand, those who have hawked religion at us would become superfluous and unnecessary. Thus, maintaining that veil of vagary is essential to the continued health of religion. The only problem with this scenario is that it would require a god to exist, an initial condition which currently fails to obtain and is likely to continue to be so.
The other problem, however, isn't just more pernicious and threatening; it's more likely. If the word got out generally that there was no god, no heaven, no hell, no afterlife, that the whole endeavor was entirely a human invention, the game would be just as over. Yahweh's hand will have been called, and he will be seen as bluffing not just a busted flush but a flush as non-existent as he is. The lie of supernatural beings would become public knowledge. And, as with the first circumstance, the power, prestige, and influence of the church would be irrevocably lost.
This is the fight in which we as atheist activists are engaged: to strip away the mysteries and expose religion for the fraud it is, including the god they peddle, the non-existence of heaven and hell, and the alleged reality of the human soul. These mysteries were never meant to be solved at all, by design and desire of those who promote them. Faith was supposed to bridge the gap between this life and the next. The problem is that faith is insufficient for those who insist on questioning, on examining, or in short, who are skeptical. Once this is accomplished, there is really very little left of substance, but then that’s the nature of make-believe.
That which doesn't manifest – or is hidden to the point where it cannot be found – is indistinguishable from that which doesn't exist ... and that is the message we have to get across.