by Jay Johansen | Mar 11, 2014
I read an article by an atheist in which he said that if any religion was true, then presumably the followers of that religion, the believers in that God, would have the favor of that God, and therefore would so obviously prosper and be so much better off than everyone else that it would be apparent that this was the one true religion. Everyone would quickly convert to that religion and that would be the end of it. As everyone in the world does not follow one religion, therefore no religion in the world can be true.
There are so many flaws to this argument I hardly know where to begin.
What religion claims that it will make its followers rich?
Christianity certainly doesn't. Christianity is presumably based on the life and teachings of Jesus Christ. Jesus repeatedly said that his followers would be hated and persecuted. He said that wealth can be a trap: that people must sometimes choose between worshiping God and worshiping money. The "hero" of Christianity is not the rich man, but the man who freely chooses to be a servant to his neighbor.
Hinduism and Buddhism certainly don't. They teach that worldly wealth is an illusion. The hero of Hinduism is the man who renounces all worldly wealth and is content.
Islam certainly doesn't. One of the Five Pillars of Islam, their key teaching, is giving to the poor. The hero of Islam is the man who gives his life fighting for the faith.
You can find cults here and there that tell people that if they just send money to the cult leader God will make them rich. But such cult leaders are routinely disavowed or condemned by mainstream religions.
So who is this atheist proving wrong? If I never said X, how does the fact that X is shown to be false prove that I am wrong? You can't put words in someone else's mouth and then hold him responsible for them. Suppose I said, "If the theory of gravity is true, then the Democrats will win the next election." If the Democrats then lost the election, would that prove that the theory of gravity was false? Of course not, because the theory of gravity does not say or imply any such thing.
Even if it was true that following a certain religion would make one richer, it does not necessarily follow that everyone in the world would join that religion. This argument is based on the assumption that people always do what is in their best long-term financial interest.
But this is obviously false. Lots of people fail to do things that could make money for them because they don't want to do that much work. I could make more money if I worked two jobs, but I don't, because I don't want to work that hard. Lots of people drink excessively or use drugs, even though it is well known that this is bad for you.
Or in a different direction, I could probably make more money by stealing from my employer, and maybe I'm smart enough that I could get away with it. But I don't do it for moral reasons. Etc.
Even if joining a religion would make people richer, they might not do it because the demands that religion makes are too great. Maybe the religion forbids drinking and they don't want to give up their drinking, or it forbids sexual practices that they want to pursue. Maybe that religion has teachings that they strongly disagree with -- like many atheists say the Bible's teachings on the role of women are out of date. Etc.
Suppose people did see that God or the gods blessed the people of one religion with money as a reward for their faith. And so they decide to join that religion so they will get some of the money. Even if you don't suppose that God is all-knowing, I think any definition of God would presume that he's pretty smart. He would know that these people were just joining this religion for the money. Would he reward them for that? Or would he say, No, I want followers who truly love me and worship me out of sincerity of heart, not just out of greed.
But, just for the sake of argument, let's grant the key element here. And this is where I just have to laugh. Because let's ask ourselves, Is there any religion in the world whose followers are clearly and obviously more prosperous than followers of other religions?
Think about it. What are the richest countries in the world? The obvious answer is, The United States, Canada, and Western Europe. And what is the dominant religion of those countries? Hmm, that would be Christianity. Are there countries with other religions that are equally prosperous? The only example I can think of is Japan. Most countries dominated by other religions are pretty poor. Of course Europe is abandoning its Christian heritage and become more secular. Europe isn't really Christian any more. But their economies are running into trouble today. So when they were Christian they became rich, and as they have abandoned Christianity, they are becoming poorer.
So hmm, maybe there's something to this guy's argument.
Not really, though. Yeah, by his argument, Christianity is the one true religion. So maybe as a Christian I should embrace it. But I can't, because the argument is dumb.
© 2014 by Jay Johansen