'It is possible that none of the religions are true, and it is absolutely impossible that more than one can be true.' -- Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods, 45 BCE
'Each religious disputant triumphs in his turn while he carries on an offensive war and exposes the absurdities, barbarities, and pernicious tenets of his antagonists. But all of them prepare a complete triumph for the skeptic.' -- David Hume, Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion, 1799
'All of the religions are right in their mutual accusations, though each false in its own claims.' -- Preserved Smith, A History of Modern Culture, 1930
Polytheism spread over the planet several thousand years ago to produce a majority belief among humans. Polytheism lasted thousands of years unopposed by a late-arriving monotheism. But then the monotheisms arrived. And then several sects and denominations of monotheism arrived. Then other new religions arrived. Then several thousand denominations and even newer religions arrived. Today, there is no uniformity in religion and no majority religious option. In religion, your view is inevitably a minority view.
Whoever you are and whatever your view, you are vastly outnumbered by all the other options combined. You are Protestant, the vast majority of humanity is not. You are Catholic, the vast majority of humanity is not. You are Orthodox, the vast majority is not. You are Muslim, the vast majority is not. You are Hindu, the vast majority is not. You are Buddhist, the vast majority is not. You are Atheist, the vast majority is not. And on and on with many thousands of religious choices.
Such diversity (a pretty word for 'disagreement') can only mean that a small minority has the correct view and the vast majority is wrong. That the vast majority is wrong is powerful proof of real obstacles to knowledge. Humanity has a mental defect that permits it to be fooled with fake knowledge about religion. (Our brains didn't evolve to easily recognize metaphysical truth.) The vast majority of humans can be hoodwinked over the course of an entire lifetime and indeed over the span of millennia. Some ancient creeds that we label 'dead religions' flourished for thousands of years before they faded away. Do any of us for a moment think those dead religions imparted to their devotees true knowledge about the way things really are?
Don't be tempted by the assertion that, if properly understood, all religious options are true. This is not acceptable because religions make opposing claims, and irreligion opposes them all. For instance, either there are many Gods, one God, or no Gods. As three distinct declarations, these cannot all be true. Only one of them is correct.
How to proceed with your own worldview?
- If you've a tempering measure of self-doubt, ask yourself what is the likelihood that your minority view is the right one. Billions upon billions of people are wrong and you are right? The religious option you made was probably not even a true option at all but the accident of geography and time. You were born in X place at Y moment in time, and that place and that moment determined your religious choice. Almost no one chooses a religion. They inherit it. Geography is fate. Of course the true option can be mediated this way, but we do have room to doubt our inherited geographic worldview, don't we? Doubt can have a civilizing effect here. Can we utter the humane words, 'I could be wrong' ?
- Get very serious about freedom of expression and freedom of religion and affirm that error is permissible and protected speech. The vast majority (whom we are admitting are wrong) have a right to ascend platforms and pulpits and declare their error is true. They have a right because, though they are probably promoting falsehoods, they might be offering truth.
- Perform due diligence and study your options and then make a choice you believe is true. Is there somewhere a pile of evidence against your worldview that you have not explored? (Are you aware, for instance, that a trove of atheistic freethought literature exists from the last 500 years in Europe?) New information might force you to change your mind. Practice these words of intellectual capitulation: 'It's the Buddhists who are right, after all.' Or 'It's the Hindus who are right, after all.' Or 'It's the Catholics who are right, after all.' Or 'It's the Muslims who are right, after all.' Or 'It's the Protestants who are right, after all.' Or 'It's the Atheists who are right, after all.' You may precede any of these admissions with the shocked expression, 'Oh my God, I was wrong!'
- When you arrive at what you think is truth, you can stand as stiff-backed as a Buddha or a Jesus or a Muhammad or a Mahavira or a Nanak or a Nietzsche and revel in, and be proud of your truth. Now you owe it to the rest of us to teach us the truth and to show us the error of our presumed truth. Freedom of speech benefits not only the speakers but the hearers. Don't curtail anyone's speech, because you may need to hear that speech. That speech might be the portal of truth for you.
The Morning Email helps you start your workday with everything you need to know: breaking news, entertainment and a dash of fun. Learn more