There are individuals who view religion as a whole as one big lie. It’s a bunch of stories—perhaps a grandiose delusion—Just a bunch of people who made up systems by which they could gain power, prestige, riches, etc. I used to think like this. These were pretty much my exact words. I would ask Christians, “why be a Christian and not a Muslim, or a Hindu?” Of course, I would receive various valid answers, but I still needed to investigate for myself. So I began to look at each of these major religions critically. I looked at the foundations thereof and would ask myself, “could this be a lie?” I would graze through the historical recordings and think, “why would these people do this?”
When we look at why people lie, in our personal lives and historically, we can see that people usually lie to gain something. Even I myself have lied for gain before. I would tell my mom I didn’t do something which I obviously did in order to escape punishment. Maybe even omitting some truths to avoid being in trouble. We see big, powerful men who got big and powerful by lying and extorting and bribing their way to the top. My thoughts were, “these religious systems are just the same, all established by men in order to gain.” But when I looked at what these religious founders gained, something caught my eye—a discrepancy—one group of men seemed to gain far less than the others. Let’s examine history and the three largest religions.
Muhammad (“The Glorified One”)
Muhammad is the founder of Islam and considered by Muslims as the last prophet of God. Muhammad lived from AD 570 until AD 632 splitting his time between the Arabian cities of Mecca and Medina. Muhammad was orphaned in Mecca at a young age and lived his life illiterate. Muhammad eventually became an employee of a wealthy and powerful woman by the name of Khadija, the two later got married. As the Quran records (Sura 96), Muhammad’s first revelation came to him via the angel Gabriel while Muhammad was meditating in a cave. Following this revelation, Muhammad gained followers, mostly consisting of his wife and family members.
After gaining more popularity, Muhammad and his followers, now referring to their belief as Islam (submission to God), were driven out of Mecca. Muhammad’s claim of their only being one God, and man’s need to submit to said God did not sit well with the leaders of Mecca who profited from the idolatrous worship and pilgrimages that put Mecca on the map. Muhammad and his followers fled to Medina where he was welcomed. Muhammad while in Medina ordered the execution of hundreds of Jews (guilty or not) after a supposed assassination attempt on the last prophet of God. While Muhammed was faithful to his wife Khadija and her alone while she lived, as Islam grew in popularity, so did Muhammad, eventually surpassing the Allah-ordained wife count of four.
As a prophet, Muhammad enjoyed special standing, acquiring at one time 12 wives, including a 5-year-old by the name of Aisha, as well as Muhammad’s paternal cousin (who was also the ex-wife of his adopted son), Zaynab bint Jashs. While in Medina, Muhammad gained enough power, influence, and allegiance to march back to Mecca, overtaking the city by force, cleansing it of its idols and establishing it as the religious capital of Islam. When Muhammad died in A.D. 632, he was the religious and political leader of most of the Arabian Peninsula.
The Aryans (Indo-Iranian speaking tribes)
When one looks at Hinduism, they will see that what is known as the “caste system” is a paramount aspect of this long-established religion. In fact, accepting the caste system is of grave importance in Hindu philosophy, and one of the distinguishing features between Hinduism, Buddhism, and Jainism (the latter two reject the caste system). The caste system is a hierarchal system of “social stratification” which separates people into several different groups based off of birth-status and other features. These groups are known as varnas and consist of, in descending order: “Brahmin, Kshatriya, Vaishya and Shudra. Certain groups, now known as ‘Dalit’, were excluded from the Varna system altogether, ostracized as untouchables.”
The Sanskrit “Varna” (“caste” in English), which is used as a title for these groups literally means “outward appearance,” “color,” or “race.” In fact, the caste system has often been criticized as racist and as a promotion of segregation. My question is, where did this rigid, heavily criticized, stratified system originate?
Enter: the Aryans. The Aryans were a group of Indo-European/Iranian speaking tribes which migrated from the Middle East into the Indus Valley (northwestern corner of modern-day India). The Aryans began to settle in India in 1500 B.C., bringing with them language, culture, and religion. In fact, the earliest forms of Vedic (sacred Hindu) scriptures came from the early Aryan culture (the idea of Aryan migration has been questioned by a few modern historians, but mostly for ideological reasons rather than for any historical evidence. Especially by some nationalistic groups in India who affirm that India was the birthplace of humanity and Hinduism the supreme and first religion.).
The social-historical theory of the Hindu caste system describes how the system came to be prominent in India. This model outlines how the lighter-skinned Aryan peoples migrated into India and established a religious system in which they themselves were at the top (Brahmin and Kshatriya varnas) while the darker-skinned indigenous Indian people of other origins (Mongoloid and Dravidian) were assigned to be subservient to the Aryans, thus assigned lower varnas, or castes, by the Aryan settlers. 
The Aryans established religious and social rules which left them and them alone straddling the top of the system as warriors (Kshatriya) and priests (Brahmin). For example, in the Maharashtra (a name deriving from an early caste designation) region of western India, the darker-skinned Mahars were notoriously cast out of society and labeled as untouchable. Notice the racial hierarchy established in the form of religion which benefits the founders of said religion:
In Hindu religious stories there are many wars between the good Aryans and the dark skinned demons and devils. The different Gods also have dark skinned slaves. There are stories of demon women trying to seduce good Aryan men in deceptive ways. There were also marriages between Aryan heroes and demon women. Many believe that these incidences really occurred in which, the gods and the positive heroes were people of Aryan origin. And the demons, the devils and the dark skinned slaves were in fact the original residence of India whom the Aryans coined as monsters, devil, demons and slaves.
– Aharon Daniel, “Information on India—Caste System”
Jesus (“The Messiah”)
Jesus Christ is, at least in the western world, probably the most well-known historical and religious figure. Written about him are the four synoptic Gospels which Christians accept as a part of the canon of scripture, a few forged, spurious (at best) “Gospels”, and multiple accounts from 1st Century historians such as Tacitus of Rome and the Jewish Josephus. Jesus is undoubtedly the founder of the Christian religion (Mt. 16:16-19), but what did he gain from founding such a system of faith?
Jesus himself was from the modest Jewish city of Nazareth, which apparently had a poor reputation (Jn. 1:45, 46), was born in a lowly manger in Bethlehem because there was no room in the inn (Lk. 2:7), lived a poor life despite having multitudes of followers (Zech. 9:9; 2 Cor. 8:9), encouraged his disciples to “give without pay” (Mt. 10:8-10), admittedly had no place to lay his head (Lk. 9:57, 58), did not resist an unjust arrest (Jn. 18:1-12), accepted beating and mocking without a word (Jn. 19:1-6, 9), and was executed in the most excruciating way possible (Jn. 19:16-37). Jesus Christ, the founder of the most wide-spread religion in the world, lived poor and humble until the time of his death.
Jesus didn’t have a scheme to amass wealth, or power, or prestige—but because of his preaching was put to death, shedding his own blood, in his own words, “for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Mt. 26:28).
Even the men who carried out Christianity after Jesus’ death (Apostles and others) lived hard lives. History tells us that nearly all of Jesus’ Apostles died poor martyrs. Many early Christians sold nearly all of their belongings (Acts 4:32-35).
The Apostle Paul was stoned, shipwrecked, snake-bitten, and beaten (cf. the Book of Acts). So the question becomes; did these individuals do this for something they made up? Was the whole Christian story just the imagination of some bored 1st Century Palestinian fisherman? If so, why? So they could live poor lives, get stones hurled at them, and volunteer to have nails driven through their extremities while they hang on a piece of wood?
Quite frankly, it doesn’t make sense. If Christianity is made up, a fabrication—why? For what gain? Who would lie to lose all that they have, even their life (Mt. 10:39; Jn. 12:25)?
Here is the discrepancy I mentioned—Muhammad gained wealth, prestige, and power with the introduction of Islam to the Arabian Peninsula. The Aryan people gained social supremacy, influence, authority, and slave labor with the introduction of Hinduism to the Indian sub-continent. Jesus and his followers gained empty pockets, family desertion, and death by introducing Christianity to the Mediterranean world.
Usually, when people lie, it is for the gain of prestige or material possessions. Yet all Jesus and his followers did was lose material possessions, and even prestige under the hostile 1st century Roman Empire.
If I were to invent a religion, I would do whatever possible to avoid my own death and destitution, not run towards it. If I invented a religion, I would prop myself atop a social hierarchy, I would gain as much money as I could, I would obtain several wives. If I were to invent a religion, it would look nothing like Christianity, and I would look nothing like Jesus—and that is one of many reasons why I am a Christian, and why I choose to follow Jesus.