I’d like to take a moment to write an article speaking directly to those of you that are religious. This is a completely honest, me to you letter, asking you to indulge in taking a step back and evaluating your religion. I promise this will not take long, and I’m not asking you to “become an atheist for a day” or anything like that. We are just considering propositions.
Not all of you are willing to do that, and I get it. If you aren’t open to examining your religion from the outside, this letter will likely not resonate with you at all. But for many of you, your intellectual curiosity may be willing to hear me out. If this is you, then I appreciate it greatly.
Let’s consider the landscape of world religions. All religions. Right now in the world, there are approximately 10,000 religions. Practicing these religions are many intelligent, thoughtful, logical people. I have personally met many of them. If we were to speak to a Muslim or Sikh or Hindu medical doctor, it is safe to assume that this person is no dolt. Medical school, in any country, is a lengthy and difficult process involving memorizing thousands of body parts and chemicals and functions, how they all interact with each other, constant logical evaluation of symptoms, and the ability to make determinations and recommend treatment for thousands of ailments. Yet that doctor still believes in a particular religion that you believe is false.
Have you ever considered, and I mean REALLY considered, why these really intelligent and competent people still believe in their religions? Does it make you wonder why someone that saves lives by being logical and correct also believes in something you believe is completely wrong? Can you actually put yourself in their place and see why they believe, and could you explain where they are wrong?
Let’s consider what many would call outlandish or cartoonish claims of other religions. It is easy from the outside to identify fanciful elements of someone else’s religion, such as the Muslim belief that Muhammed rode a winged horse to heaven. Yet billions of Christians believe Jesus rose body and soul to heaven. As Sam Harris has cleverly noted, why is the addition of a winged horse the only thing that makes the claim absurd? Indeed, every religion has absurd claims. And if true, they would be truly outstanding! If Jesus really flew, or Muhammed really rode a winged horse, it would be a world-altering experience for any witnesses, and a legitimate miracle.
But which one is actually true, if either? What criteria can we develop to determine if these claims are true or false, other than lots of people believing in the one they were taught? What can we study to determine if they are true or false? And since I’m asking you to be completely honest here, if you are able to determine a method to identify a false religious claim, will your religious claim be able to stand up to the scrutiny as well?
Let’s consider the idea of your belief because of how your religion stands above the others. For example, I have heard many people say that only their religion has a god that does such-and-such. The such-and-such could be dying for our sins, or established a moral law, has a personal relationship with you, or grew into a major world religion from humble beginnings. Have you discussed the superiority of your religious belief with anyone? I not only imagine this would be extremely satisfying to believe in a correct and superior belief, I actually used to believe I believed in the superior belief. You really feel comfortable that this is the way you believe it to be, possibly something you couldn’t fathom being any other way.
Now again, let’s take a step back and survey the religious landscape. While every religion is unique in some way or another (otherwise they wouldn’t be different religions), the world religions are on a spectrum. To a non-believer like me, I don’t see anything in any one religion that really stands out as being worthy of consideration. If you tell me your savior died for your sins, I’ll find a half-dozen other religions that claim the same. If you tell me only your religion had a prophet that wrote down the words of god, or that only your religion still follows that original lineage, I’ll find a half-dozen other religions that claim the same thing. If you claim only your religion grew exponentially, I’ll find a half-dozen other religions that also grew remarkably quick or quicker. If you claim it isn’t a religion but a relationship….. that’s literally what every adherent to every religion thinks. The nature of the relationship is the only difference. And if you think your religion is the most moral, I can easily find religions that have moral codes that could be objectively considered more moral.
So if you believe your religion is superior or the only one “true” religion, can you honestly find something in your religion that truly makes it so? I know you can list a whole lot of things about your religion that you think are great, but why do you think they are the best? How do you know they aren’t just “pretty good?” And again, if you were to be completely honest, is there anything about your religion you think could be way better? If you were literally god for a day, with all the power in the universe to set up everything, would you have done anything different? Would childhood leukemia and rape be less frequent, or even non-existent, in your universe? Would clarifying your desires so people don’t kill each other in your name be something you would try?
Let’s consider our fallible senses, and our fallible memories as well. We know the game of telephone results in wrong and often hilarious misinterpretations. We know that a day riding the rollercoasters causes all sorts of odd sensations, sometimes hours later. We know we can be tricked by the illusionists who really are just pulling a trick. We know people can hallucinate for a lot of reasons that don’t involve drugs, including lack of sleep or food, stress, traumatic experiences, and sensory deprivation. We know that people’s memory of an event can be altered through suggestion. We know that people’s memory of an event can just be wrong! We know that damage or pressure to specific parts of the brain can result in quite interesting effects, like the inability to recognize faces despite being able to read and pass any eye test. Damage another part of the brain and you might be able to read or write but become unable to speak. Some people can barely speak, but when singing have a full, rich voice. And certain brain damage or disease results in a change or loss of someone’s entire personality.
Do you think it possible that people of other religions have convinced themselves, based on poorly interpreting their fallible senses, that their religion is real? If so, how are you able to determine that you aren’t misinterpreting your own senses? What is the difference between them praying earnestly and feeling clarity, and you praying earnestly and feeling clarity?
If you have read this far, and not skipped to the end, I think you will at least UNDERSTAND why I am an atheist. But I am interested in hearing what you think. Where am I wrong? Is there really something about your religion that stands out from the “false” religions? Is there any feature of your religion that truly makes it stand above the fray, and is worth considering?
As always, my comment section is open for discussion. And as always, if you don’t address the questions I have posed, and just try to preach and post links to youtube videos, I will delete your comments. Thanks in advance!
The Spartan Atheist