Almost everybody has believed in imaginary things.
God. Angels. Bigfoot. Flying saucers. Soul. That the barista at the coffee shop is really attracted to you when he/she smiles while handing over your drink.
The list is endless. Because it feels good to believe in things that we want to be real, but almost certainly aren't.
How do we tell the difference between reality and illusion, fact and belief, actuality and hope? By using an everyday form of the scientific method: predict what would happen if your belief really is true.
If that prediction comes to pass, or if the experiment is repeated, turns out to happen more often than would be expected by chance, you might have yourself a real live fact here, not a hoped-for belief.
Here's a problem, though: it's tough to test predictions when the thing being tested is nowhere to be found.
You could see how the barista reacts to a friendlier than business-like conversation, but how is it possible to see how God, angels, Bigfoot, or flying saucers react to an experimental interrogation?
I'm not saying that only readily evident things exist. Gravity is real, yet invisible. All we see are its effects, not the thing itself (which, according to Einstein, is curved space-time). But predictions about invisible entities can be made if the thing has demonstrable regular effects in the world.
So this is one reason beliefs about God, soul, angels, the afterlife, heaven, hell, and such can't be tested. There is no sign that they even exist. Not surprisingly, religions usually stress faith over experimentation.
I used to believe in God. Also, in a guru who was considered to be God in human form. I believed that I had, or rather was, a soul which could travel back to God -- either after I died or in this very lifetime. I believed that God, guru, and karma were directing what happened to me, which meant that both pleasant and unpleasant experiences were linked to a Big Cosmic Picture.
All of those beliefs felt good.
They felt like a warm coccoon, sheltering me from the harshness of reality. Though I followed an Eastern meditative practice, I wasn't much different from a Christian who takes comfort in believing "Jesus loves me; He has a plan for me."
I can still recall, even reexperience, those enjoyable feelings that came from believing. All I have to do is put myself back into the state of mind I was in during my true-believing days.
Impossible? Self-deception? Not really. I look upon this as being akin to getting a benefit from a placebo, even though the patient knows there is no active ingredient in the fake treatment.
Patients can benefit from being treated with sham drugs even if they are told they contain no active ingredient, scientists have found. The finding suggests that the placebo effect could work without the need for any deception on the part of the doctor, as had been previously thought.
I talk to God, even though I don't believe God exists. I also talk to my mother, even though she is dead and I don't believe she still exists in any conscious form.
I do these things because they make me feel good. Almost as good as when I did believe in God, and when my mother was still alive. Why not? Pleasurable feelings aren't out there in the world; they are in here, in our personal brain-based consciousness.
So if, like me, you have given up believing in this and that (such as God), try remembering how you felt when you did believe.
What produced that feeling? Does the feeling still exist? Do you need to believe in the exact same thing(s) with the same faith-based fervor to re-experience the feeling? If everything seemed right with the world when you believed in something that you now consider to be untrue, what prevents you from having that same warm feeling right now?
I don't claim to have firm answeres to these questions. I'm just suggesting that whatever benefits someone gets from a belief system don't have to be given up just because belief has been replaced by doubt.
Those benefits were produced by the person's brain. Non-existent things like God or soul can't produce effects. Whatever warm and fuzzy feelings religious people have come from themselves, their own brains, not from an invisible entity that has no demonstrable effects in the world.
Just as it appears that a sugar pill can have positive health effects, even if recognized as a placebo, so can a belief, even if recognized as being untrue. Novels, television shows, and movies are recognized as being fictional, yet generate strong real emotions nonetheless.
No need to give up the good feelings a false belief brings. Keep the feelings. Give up considering the belief is true.