Take a journey with me through time, space, and the imagination. You won't have to pack much, just everything you know and believe. Oh, and maybe a bow tie and a fez (because they're cool). Take your luggage with you as a carryon and let's go.
The first place we are going to travel is back in time 2,500 years to ancient Greece. As we walk around and visit the local sites, we notice the large temples to various gods. People worship these gods and leave offerings at the temple for the various gods in the Greek pantheon. We have all heard of these gods of course: Zeus, Poseidon, Ares, Athena, and Apollo. But we also know that none of these gods are actually real. To us they are just characters from the myths of ancient history.
As we walk up to the great Temple of Delphi, we encounter a poor old woman with her grandson presenting everything she has as an offering to Apollo. She has faith that her offering will ensure good health to her and her young grandchild. Here is the problem; we know that Apollo isn't real and that by giving away everything she has, this old woman is actually endangering the health of her grandchild and herself. They are willing to risk starvation in the hope of winning favor from a deity that does not exist.
Not to worry, you know that the one true God will hear her prayers even if Apollo cannot. You know that the God of the Bible is a god of mercy and that he will provide for this woman and her grandson even though the Gospel hasn't been written yet, Mary has yet to be born let alone impregnated by the Holy Spirit, and Jesus has not yet been crucified and resurrected for their sins. You tell yourself that God is timeless and you have faith that he will allow these ancient Greeks to have other gods before them even though he is a jealous god.
What other choice do you have anyway? It isn't likely that you will be able to convince her that her deeply held beliefs in the Greek pantheon of gods are all just myths. You certainly aren't going to convince them that God will come to Earth as a man to be tortured, killed, and resurrected for her sins... in about 500 years.
Gather your baggage, because we are getting ready to travel to our next destination. This time we are taking a journey back to the present, moving in space with our imagination to a small tribal village in West Africa. There we meet a man who is praying to his god, Nyame. Obviously this guy's god is also a false god. He is primitive and must not have heard the "Good News." Living in this remote village, he ought to hear all about the sacrifice of Jesus.
The gentleman laughs at you. He tells you that some Christian college kids were in town just last week giving the same pitch. You didn't even come with food and medical supplies. He reasons that you must be new at all this and pities you.
Continuing the conversation, he tells you that he has believed in the ancient stories all his life and that he has faith that they are true. Your story of God being his own son seems silly to him just as his stories of how Nyame created his own mother seems silly to you.
There is no swaying him from his primitive beliefs. Besides, it is time for us to move on. Where we are going we don't need roads; the future awaits. One hundred years from now, society is very different. There are solar panels and beautiful green plant-life siding on all the houses. The air is so clean it burns your lungs at first.
You stop a happy young couple and ask them about these advances. They tell you that about 50 years ago, climate change got so bad that the nations of the world were forced to acknowledge the problem and deal with it. I jump in and ask them the location of the nearest house of worship. I'm told that there is a non-denominational Christian church around the corner. You seem overly excited about the news. Your reaction amuses them, and they offer to go with us and to even buy us a prayer.
Around the corner we find a tacky, old storefront with bright neon signs all over the place. It looks like one of those palm reading places from our own time. As we walk in, there is an old man wearing a priest's collar in the middle of a holographic football game. He's running in place, not noticing us for a moment. Then he shuts down the hologram and asks how he can help us. Our traveling friends tell him that they are buying us a prayer and that they too would like a prayer to Jesus. The priest informs us that by law he has to let us know that these prayers are for entertainment purposes only and that he is not responsible for any prayers that do not come to pass.
The young woman laughs at this and says, "Of course it is for entertainment purposes only. Who would take these primitive beliefs seriously in this day and age?"
Who indeed? Just as the religions of the past are today's myths and the tribal religions of the present are seen as primitive to modern society, the religions of today will be the primitive myths of tomorrow. Still, it is the baggage we took with us on our journey. Perhaps now, we can leave that baggage behind.
Learn more about atheism with the Atheism 101 series.