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Each religion thinks it owns the truth…

Posted by on 04/12/2009

In this era of instant communication, and widespread literacy, each religion still holds that it is the true religion, and that all others have to a greater or lesser extent got it wrong. Whilst people of each religion believe only in their own concept of ‘God’, and disbelieve in the thousands of other ideas of God or gods, the difference between atheists and believers is not as immense as commonly thought. Atheists also disbelieve in the thousands of other Gods, from Baal, to Odin, and their high priests and prophets, and for the same reason that believers in any particular God disbelieve all other Gods. There is nothing there that they find credible.

The great historian Stephen Henry Roberts (1901-71) put it well when he said,  “I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.”

There is another way to express this point in what has become known as the ‘Argument from Conflicting Revelations’.

If you are in a supermarket with three checkouts, only one of them can be the fastest one, so you have only a one in three chance of choosing the right queue to get out fastest. If there are fifteen checkouts, the chance of being in the fastest queue is reduced accordingly.

In the same way, if you have two people who believe in different and mutually exclusive religions, each with a strong faith, and each with the pseudo-evidence of hearsay and personal revelation, or experiential knowledge, either may be right, or both may be wrong, giving them a one in three chance of having chosen the correct belief. But there are hundreds of religions, and millions of people who have come to their own individual belief system that would be effectively another religion if it were organised. Since any one of these could be true, rendering all others wrong, the chances of any particular individual holding a belief system that is the correct one is reduced by the number of belief systems in existence, the number of belief systems that have been in existence in the past, and the number of belief systems that will come into existence in the future.

With that in mind, it seems rather arrogant of any particular individual to claim that he or she is in possession of the truth, and that all other belief systems, including Atheism, which is the belief that there are no gods,  have got it wrong. And that’s a bad thing about religion.

John Bremner