This was published by The Humanist for the Humanist Network News on May 13, 2010.
In the Beginning….
…there was void, or chaos, or nothing, or everything and nothing, or water, or darkness, or wind, or mist, or a mist of lights, or air and water, or a tree, or a shell, or a blue lotus, or an egg, or many eggs, or many regions, or different planes, or a sky world, or heaven, or heaven and earth together, or heaven and water together, or six heavens and six hells, or ice and fire, or a supreme formless Entity, or several Entities, or Tao, or some combination thereof with various modifications.
In this primordial Initial State, either Kamui, Udan, Hadau, Pangu, Mbombo, Mangala, Damballah, Olurun, Unkulunkulu, Hiranyagarbha, Purusha, Brahma, Vahiguru, Ptah, Dayuni’si, Allah, Jehovah, Tu-chai-pai, Maasaw, Jamahara, Marduk (or Assur), Atum, JoMulJu, Gitche Manitou, Ahura Mazda, Con Tiqui Viracocha, Esaugetuh Emissee, Inktomi, Coatlique, Chaos, a Spirit, the “King Above the Sky,” the “Grandfather of All Things,” the “Holy Supreme Wind,” the Dreamtime gods, a supreme formless Entity and the Archetypal Man, Izanagi and Izanami, Ranginui and Papatuanuku, Langit and Linaw, Tepeu and Gucamatz, Jehovah and Elohim, Olodumare and Obatala, Niflheim and Muspelheim and Ginnungagap, Nu/Naunet and Amun/Amunet and Kuk/Kauket and Huh/Hauhet, Earth-Initiate and Turtle and Father-of-the-Secret-Society, men and women living in the Sky World, the ground of being, the trickster in the form of Raven, the Goddess, a small bearded man inside a white and yellow disc, a water beetle, a bird, two loons, or some other divine, or supernatural, or superhuman, or extra-human being (or beings) or elemental essence or concept that I might have overlooked…
…either dreamed, spoke, vomited, stole, shed, caused, separated, gathered, blew, churned, collected, stabbed, split, made, impregnated, laid eggs, planted seeds, gave birth, brought forth, arranged, formed, melted, sacrificed itself, was sacrificed by others, masturbated, or some other such action or series of events that eventually resulted in the creation of the universe as we know it.
Later, in some cases, either Alcmene, Athena, Chimalman, Coatlicue, Cybele, Devaki, Hera, Hertha, Isis, Juno, Mary, Maya, Nana, Neith, Nutria, Ostara, Rohini, Semele, Shin-Moo, Sochiquetzal, or some other virgin mother whose name is lost to us (or who I may have overlooked), may, or may not have, given birth to other gods or god-men like….
Kukulcan, Huitzilopochtli, Krishna, Horus, Osiris, Serapis, Mars/Ares, Buddha, Lao-kiun, Attis, Dionysus/Bacchus, Quetzalcoatl, Jesus, Adad, Adonis, Apollo, Heracles (“Hercules”), Alcides, Baal, Bali, Beddru, Crite, Deva Tat, Hesus, Indra, Jao, Krishna, Mikado, Mithra, Odin, Prometheus, Quetzalcoatl, Salivahana, Tammuz, Thor, Wittoba, Xamolxis, Zeus’s children, Zarathustra/Zoroaster, Zoar, or a dozen or more others I missed, many of whom were either crucified or executed in sacrifice for mankind.
From there it gets more complicated. In fact, were I to continue, it may become entirely incomprehensible.
What I attempted to do is combine stories from many of the various beliefs of the past and present. The point is to show how many there are (and these aren’t all of them by a long shot).
They can’t all be true, so how do I determine which one to believe in? I’ve been told my “eternal soul” might be at stake and I don’t want to bet on the wrong horse after all.
Should I pick whichever one is the oldest? I don’t know which one that might be since many were passed down orally for many years before they were written down. The oldest ones might have been lost by now anyway.
Should I pick whichever one has the largest number of adherents? I’m not sure that would be right. There have been times in the past that more people believed something different than they do today. Christianity has the largest number of adherents now, but that wasn’t always the case. Did the truth change at the moment belief in Christianity exceeded whatever beliefs were more popular before it? If Islam overtakes Christianity in number of adherents in the future (considering it is growing faster), would that make a difference in whether or not it’s true?
Also, since the majority of the world’s population doesn’t believe in Christianity would that outweigh the fact that it had the largest number of adherents? What if people stopped believing in it entirely?
OK, I just sent my Southern Baptist brother an email. I asked him hypothetically if in 5,000 years (more or less) no one believed in Christianity anymore, would that mean it was wrong.
He said no.
Although this in no way constitutes a scientific survey by any stretch of the imagination, I suspect this would be the opinion of most believers. Obviously there have been many things in the past that most people believed that turned out to be wrong, so I can’t decide this based on the number of adherents.
I guess that rules out my next question; that is: “Could I dismiss all the ones no one believes in anymore simply because no one believes them?”
It would also rule out my question: “Should I decide by whichever one was oldest that still had adherents?”
Should I believe in whichever one is the most recent? Since new religions keep popping up, I would have to expect to have to change my beliefs every so often. That doesn’t seem to be very smart.
What if I picked based on what my parents’ believed? Would that make sense? I guess that’s no way to tell which one is true for sure. It appears that believing what your parents’ believed has resulted in people coming to many different conclusions.
I think Newton was a pretty smart guy… should I choose based on what he believed? I know there have been other very intelligent people that had other beliefs, so I can’t go by that.
What if I picked based on what most people around me believed so that I won’t be shunned or ridiculed? I don’t think that would be very courageous or any more likely to result in me choosing correctly.
Should I pick based on which one I like best? Would that be the best way to decide which one is true? I know from experience that the truth about something is not always the most appealing thing I might want to believe. What if I pick one I really like and it turns out to be wrong? I might spend eternity in hell-fire or something.
Maybe I should believe the one that makes the most terrible threats for not believing it? If I do that at least I’ll know I won’t suffer the worst fate among all the options….
The problem with that is that there are several of them that seem equally bad. Also, what if a new one comes along that threatens something worse?
What if I just come up with my own? Evidently some people have done it; why not me?
I suppose coming up with my own wouldn’t necessarily make it true (no matter how fun it might be).
What if I put a list of all the gods I know down on paper, close my eyes, and ask for guidance before I put my finger down somewhere on the page without looking?
It looks like the old Korean god JoMulJu wins! Believers have always told me to ask for guidance and put my faith in something and I would get an answer. If that is true, JoMulJu is the one true God!
Hmmm… The problem with that is it seems when other people do it they get other responses. Maybe that isn’t the best way to do it either.
Are there any of them that seem to have anything special about them, something to recommend them above the others? Hmmm….
Let’s see… several claim that their prophecies have been fulfilled, so I can’t go by that. There are many that claim a Son of God figure, death and resurrection, healings, revelations, miracles and such things, so I can’t go by that. We have already ruled out judging by whichever one is the oldest, has most adherents, is oldest that still has adherents, is most recent, is most threatening, is most appealing….
Can I judge based on the effects various religions have on adherents? Maybe that is the something special I could look for?
Buddhism might be the least violent, but then there are the Quakers and Jehovah’s Witnesses…. Christians might have the most material wealth overall, but that seems like it might be contrary to their own scriptures…. Jews seem to have survived as a people for a long time despite facing some really harsh attacks over the years…. Islam seems to be more dynamic lately….
It seems there are some unique things about each one, but how do I pick which unique thing is more important (or relevant), or if being unique in some way is any more likely to make something true?
Can I eliminate some based on how silly or absurd they seem? Some of them seem pretty strange: a god vomiting the sun, a god being impregnated by an obsidian knife, a god placing land on the back of a golden frog, a god making a woman out of a bear, a god making a man out of clay, a god making a woman out of a man’s rib…. If you get into them you find everything from winged horses and virgin births to “stopping” the sun and parting the seas. Most of them are filled with hard to believe, miraculous, or supernatural claims.
I guess if I had to pick one that had the least absurd aspects, Buddhism might come out on top (or maybe some of the ones I didn’t cover like Jainism or the Baha’i Faith).
But some may make the argument of fideism, that is, credo quia absurdum or “I believe it because it is absurd.” So I might not be able to rule out something just because it seems absurd.
Can I judge by their “holy” books?
I’ve read most all of the holy books of the major religions. They all seem to have internal problems that their adherents have to do tortured and convoluted back-flips to explain. Another problem is if I pick any one of them, I will find their adherents interpreting the same holy book differently, which leads to different sects within each of the various beliefs….
That compounds my dilemma. Even if I pick one out of these, I’ll then need to pick among the different sects. There might be just enough difference between the Baptists’ and the Catholics’ requirements for salvation, for example, that it would significantly affect my fate. And then there are all the different Baptists, and the different individual interpretations even within the same congregation…but I’ll not worry about that right now.
Some people claim to have had personal revelations from their God, but you can find people claiming personal revelations in every religion that has adherents. I’ve had my own epiphany moments, but I’ve never had some supernatural being providing revelations to me even when I was open to receive them. The only person I found I was talking to when I prayed as a kid was myself. Even if I did have some God come down and talk to me, how could I distinguish it from some mental delusion (or some powerful demon posing just to lead me astray)?
There are people in every active religion that think they hear their God speaking to them or claim some personal revelation, so I can’t go by that.
So how do I pick? If I want to bet that one of these is correct, if I want to bet that there is some absurd or supernatural explanation (rather than a natural one that we don’t yet understand), how do I decide?
See, it isn’t a 50/50 chance here. It isn’t like I can just bet there is a God rather than bet there isn’t to cover my ass (Pascal’s Wager), I’ve got to decide which supernatural explanation of the ones that have been proposed is the correct one (and I’ve got to consider the possibility that there is a supernatural explanation that no one has conceived of yet — or that there could be some supernatural explanations that might never be conceived — that could be the correct one).
I know there will be some believers that read this and think they have some convincing reason for their belief that I didn’t cover. I’ve been studying this most of my life and I haven’t seen or heard a convincing one yet. There is nothing they can say that I haven’t heard something similar about regarding another religion. If there is something they think is unique, then believers of other religions have some other unique thing they can say about their religion as well.
“True” believers of any of these religions should try to talk to “true” believers of some of the other religions. If they spend some time listening to the other believer’s argument, I’m sure they will find things that will seem absurd to them, things that don’t make sense, and things that appear outrageous. That is how they all sound to me. If they can understand why they don’t buy what a “true” believer of another religion is saying (or why they reject most all the other beliefs I’ve touched on here), they will begin to understand why I’m not buying what they are saying.
I’m sitting here in a default position of not actively believing in any of these, just like a newborn baby. I’ve been told I should take a “leap of faith” in one direction or another into belief, but how do I decide which way to leap? It seems to me that leaping in the wrong direction might be worse than not leaping at all.
I don’t actively have to do anything not to believe something, I don’t have to believe one thing to not to have a belief in something else, and I don’t even have to know with absolute metaphysical certainty if something is true (or not true) not to believe it.
What would cause me to take such a leap into belief?
I would have to be provided some compelling reason and, as Carl Sagan said, “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.” Until and unless someone or something provides me with that evidence, I see no reason to move from my default position.
I don’t have to prove that all these beliefs (and the gods that go with them) aren’t true. If people ask me why I don’t believe in God, I have a right to ask them which one they are talking about. Since some people have a different idea about what they mean by God (e.g.: Nature, a “force” as opposed to a being, etc.) than anything I’ve covered here, I think I have a right to ask them to define what they mean by “God,” so I will know what they are asking me. If they don’t want to define what they mean, then how can I know what they are talking about? I’m not aware that I possess any mind-reading abilities.
If they can describe what they mean, then I might be able to answer them. If they can’t, then the best answer I can give is that I’ve not seen any compelling reason or evidence that would motivate me to take that “leap of faith” into belief in any one of these many supernatural options.
On the most basic level; theism is “a belief in a God or gods,” a-theism is “without a belief in a God or gods.”
I guess that makes me an atheist.