by Jay Johansen | Dec 28, 2012
I recently came across a website by an atheist that made this interesting argument:
There are many religions in the world. If one of theee religions was true, than the people who followed that religion, the people who followed the "one true God", would be richer than everyone else, have more freedom, and in general be better off. Everyone else would see how much better off these people were, and so would convert to this religion. It would quickly become the only religion in the world. As there is more than one religion in the world, it therefore follows that no religion is true.
There are several problems with this argument.
One: Who says that believing in the "one true religion" would make the believer richer and so forth? I don't know any major religion that claims that following their faith will make you rich. Christianity routinely warns that wealth can be a trap. Jesus said that it is difficult for the rich to enter the kingdom of Heaven. The Apostle Paul said that Christians should enjoy wealth if they have it but to be content if they do not have it. Etc. Hinduism idolizes, not the rich man, but the man who has nothing and is content. Buddhism warns of the illusion of wealth. Etc. A few cults promise riches, but they're the exception. Is it legitimate to judge a philosophy by how it meets a standard that it explicitly rejects?
Objectively, it is not clear why believing in some idea that is in fact true would necessarily make someone rich. I suppose this might be true if it is an idea about how to run a business, but that's about it. Suppose we are trying to resolve the question of whether Columbus discovered America, or if it was the Vikings. Would it be rational to conclude that it must have been the Vikings because Norwegians have a higher average annual income than Italians? How would that even be relevant?
Two: Who says that the fact that you are convinced that some religion is true, by an arbitrary standard that you invented, means that everyone in the world would likewise be convinced? Some issues are controversial, not because the facts are in dispute, but because people can't agree on what standard should apply. If we are deciding which model automobile is the best, I may well concede that your pick gets better gas mileage, but still say that I prefer some other car because I think the most important thing is safety.
Even if the writer of this article honestly believes that the right religion would make someone rich, there are plenty of people who don't accept that as the standard. I don't accept this standard. Indeed some would say almost the opposite, that the right religion would make someone renounce riches. I personally don't agree with that position either, but that's not the point. Even if we agree with the writer and conclude that people who think differently are naive fools, that doesn't stop them from existing and thinking the way they do. Right or wrong, they will not be convinced by this standard. So even if some religion managed to meet it, it does not follow that everyone in the world would then join that religion.
Three and funniest of all: By this writer's standard, to determine which religion (if any) is true, all we should have to do is look at what culture in recent history has been the richest, freest, and most technologically and scientifically advanced, and then ask what the religion of that culture is. The obvious answer is that the winner today is the United States. If we look back to the 18th and 19th centuries, the answer then was surely Western Europe. And what is the dominant religion of the United States? Hmm, that would be Christianity. What was the dominant religion of Western Europe in the 18th and 19th centuries? Again, that would be Christianity.
Well, the writer is an atheist, so in fairness let's consider how well cultures dominated by atheism have done by his standard. There have been three notable atheist cultures in history: Soviet Russia, Maoist China, and revolutionary France (that is, the France of the guillotine and the Terror). All three are mostly remembered for killing millions of their own people through mass executions and starvation. Hmm.
As a Christian, maybe I should throw out my first two points and just accept this atheist's standard.
© 2012 by Jay Johansen
Sasquatch May 23, 2014
I agree that wealth is hardly an accurate measure of the validity of a religion. However, it seems perfectly reasonable to use suffering as a measure. Surely a god who genuinely loved his people would do everything he could to ensure they did not suffer. Even when I play a game of Sims I try to keep my people happy. So it stands to reason that if there was a god his most pious followers would suffer the least. Given the universal nature of suffering, there doesn't appear to be a god that cares.
I am willing to entertain the notion that there is a god and that none of the extant religions are the right one.
Jay Johansen May 23, 2014
But you run into the same problem I try to discuss here: To the best of my knowledge, no major religion says that it's followers will not suffer. Christianity certainly does not. For example, Matthew 5:11-12 "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you." Your position appears to be that you will only believe that the Bible is true if the things that it says about suffering could be proven to be false. But of course if statements that are repeated many times throughout the Bible were proven to be false, you would surely declare that that proves Christianity false.
The fact that members of all religions do appear to suffer does prove that any religion that claims that it's member will not suffer in this life is false. But I don't think there is any such religion in the world, so this is rather a moot point. I can understand that you would like there to be a god who would prevent you from suffering. But apparently there is no such god. That doesn't prove that there isn't a god who behaves in ways that are not what you would like, whatever his reasons for that may be.
Sasquatch May 23, 2014
"That doesn't prove that there isn't a god who behaves in ways that are not what you would like, whatever his reasons for that may be."
Right. Which is why I choose not to worship anything. To me, a god has to earn his worship, not simply demand it.And any god that allows his followers to suffer is unworthy of worship. We punish parents who allow their children to suffer. Why should we honor a god who allows his children to suffer?
The quotes about suffering have no bearing on my lack of belief. I wouldn't even necessarily call it lack of belief. Even if your god came down and personally introduced himself to me I would not worship him because he has not earned it.