Religion Keeps Not Finding God

Religion Keeps Not Finding God June 1, 2018

This colorful drawing is a tree of world religions. From a poorly understood past, represented as the twisting vines of ideology in the trunk, the myriad human interpretations of the divine are shown branching out like tendrils on a vine, groping for something to grab on to. Searching, ever searching, they never find, and yet new tendrils reach out with the continuous confidence that they are the one true religion.

Example 1: Tree of religion

The trunk expands into named religions 3000 years ago. Here’s one small fragment (the outer shell is the present day, with modern denominations named in green, and each curved gray ring line represents 100 years of evolution):

The tree details the evolution of the great Asian and Middle Eastern religions. Though it ignores religion from the Americas, Africa, and the Pacific, it makes a heroic attempt at what it does attempt to cover. It nicely documents the complex project that human religion has become.

Example 2: Church’s many views of government

Consider a very different look at the varieties of church. This one plots American Christian churches on a two-axis chart. The axes consider how big a role government should play in providing social services vs. how big a role it should play in imposing morality.

Here again, we see the dramatic differences in the many variant forms of Christianity (in this case, American Christianity). For example,

  • The Southern Baptist, LDS, and Church of Christ want more government involvement in morality but fewer social services.
  • Unitarians want the reverse: more social services provided by government but less government involvement in morality
  • Black churches want both: more government services and more legislation of morality
  • Anglicans, Congregationalists, and Presbyterians (PCUSA) want neither

Example 3: Map of World Religions

Don’t forget the Map of World Religions (more here). Contrast the stable map of world religions (Roman Catholics in the red region over here, Hindus in green over there, and so on) with the map of world science, which is just one color. New and better ideas sweep the world of science within a decade or two, but an established religion isn’t interested in better ideas. It already thinks it has the truth and has no interest in changing.

Search for the truth

If religious claims were as obviously correct as the claim that the sun exists—that is, if they were firmly grounded in evidence—everyone would quickly agree. But that’s not the world we live in.

Alright then, suppose that religious truth does indeed exist, but it’s fuzzy or cloudy. We see, but as if “through a glass, darkly.” Why then aren’t worldwide religious beliefs at least converging on the truth? It would be like evolution, with false beliefs gradually falling away and correct beliefs encouraged and strengthened, either by divine intervention or because they matched up better with reality.

The tree of world religions above makes clear that religion is doing the opposite—diverging instead of converging. Christianity has fragmented and morphed over time as new cults and sects form. We see that same fertility in other religions. The only commonality we see across religions is humans’ interest in the supernatural.

This disconnect between religion and the reality that would ground it shows that religion is just a man-made institution. The past, illuminated by this tree, makes clear that religious guesses will continue to diverge. The quest is constant, though the goal is nonexistent.

If God exists, why do we need books to explain it?
Or preachers?
The fact that he can’t do it himself
is good evidence he does not exist
— Dan Barker

.

(This is an update of a post that originally appeared 9/10/14.)

Photo credit: The 40 Foundation

 

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  • Mr. James Parson

    That is quite a chart

    • Michael Neville

      I spent about 15 minutes navigating that chart. I hadn’t realized there were so many different flavors of Mormons.

      • Did you notice the yellow area for Shinto on the left? I didn’t expect so much change there.

        • Yeah… There was a lot of influence by other religions, including Buddhism and Taoism, and religions from northern Japan. Also, “Shinto” itself is kind of new, and was in many ways developed by the Japanese government when it created State Shinto. It was kind of the “formal” religion that was called “Shinto.” After State Shinto ended, things kind of went back to their diverse ways. http://www.bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/shinto/history/history_1.shtml

      • ThaneOfDrones

        Smartism is where it’s at

  • epicurus

    Amazing! You’ve shown us something quite new today, Herr Mozart. But there are perhaps, too many notes!

    • Greg G.

      Ah, yes. Mozart! The famous Danish composer, Hans Christian Mozart!

      • Otto

        Ahhh…Bach…

  • Ficino

    Sort of OT sort of not: spinning off from Bob’s chart and OP, I am a bit surprised by the failure of another blogger to grapple head-on with the challenges posed by Grimlock and Anthrotheist. When the blogger asked, what evidence would convince you of God’s existence, and the answer included “continued and verifiable miracles like those recounted in the Bible,” the blogger could offer no examples. The most the blogger could offer was cases of remission of some disease, and at least some of those reports were not well evidenced, to say nothing of the question, how we know that they prove the God of Christianity/Catholicism and do not rest on some other causes. The blogger fairly quickly took refuge in the accusation that atheists move the goalposts and never admit any sort of evidence. I am surprised, because the blogger is erudite and articulate.

    • Kevin K

      It’s a hole in their thinking. I’ve been on that kick for quite some time. Any god worth its salt who wishes to declare its presence and wishes to remain the dominant god (if not the only god) worshiped could think of a thousand ways to unambiguously announce itself.

      Healing all believers … and only believers … in that god would be impressive. Random 1 in 1 million remissions of diseases with known spontaneous remission rates far more frequent than that? Not impressive.

      But I’d settle for a never-ending supply of wine from a water jug — but only for believers; nonbelievers get water. You couldn’t definitively rule out “powerful alien”, but a “powerful alien” that wished to be worshiped by humans with those kinds of powers (water-to-wine and knowing the thoughts of the human in question) … well … I think most people would be in “go along” mode.

      It goes all the way back to the beginning (of the Christian bible, in any event). Where’s the burning bush? Wouldn’t something like that be a wonderful permanent memorial and demonstration of Yahweh the Magnificent’s™ existence? For that matter, the original stone tablets carved by YtM itself. Heck, I could see the Red Sea being permanently parted — for observant Jews, of course. Everyone else gets wet.

      • For all the excitement they had about the 10 Cs and the Ark of the Covenant, you’d think they wouldn’t have misplaced it.

        • Greg G.

          They are stashed in a warehouse according to one of the Indiana Jones documentaries.

        • TheNuszAbides

          We named the dog Indiana.

        • Kevin K

          Especially since their god says their army can’t be defeated if the ark goes before it. The Romans said “say what?” some 2000 years ago or so … and the Babylonians about 500 years before that.

        • That all come to naught (their army can’t be defeated if the ark goes before it) when they encounter low-land armies with Iron Chariots.

          Guess their ark had limitations for inspiration purposes-

          When the Romans came on the scene- they looked and looked but the only place they “found” their illustrious ark was in some ancient scrolls dating back to antiquity.

        • Kevin K

          Makes one wonder, doesn’t it?

          Of course, I have to say Judaism isn’t unique in this regard. There’s a very famous Buddhist temple in Japan where the “Hidden Buddha” is on “display”. According to the story, the statue was miraculously discovered in a stream prior to Buddhism being introduced to the island. So…miracle and everything.

          But the actual “miracle” statue is behind an ancient curtain. No one has ever seen it.

        • Bob Jase

          That’s a lie! The statue of Buddha is in the Arc of the Covenant in Ethiopia. Of course, no gets to see that either but if they could…

      • I have never encountered any evangelist (Judaism, Christian – Christian-offshoot, or Islam) who is able to produce an actual photograph of their deity.

        Before anyone tries to shut-down that question of this complete lack of photographic proof, let me state that there is a sect of worshippers around Yaohnanen village on the southern island of Tanna in Vanuatu who have in their possession several photographs (some in colour) showing the being whom they regard as a divine being. One or two of these photos bears an autograph.

        So, I ask you, is the deity whom members of the Abrahamic Diversions believe-in completely fully unable to supply a personally-autographed image, or portrait, to anyone who requests such an item? Jesus says “ask, and it shall be granted” . . . . . . still waiting!

    • Otto

      He is really good at winning games of chess against himself.

  • Ctharrot

    Just gotta be patient. As long as humanity keeps this up, we’ll hit on the correct god(s) eventually, right?

    • Kevin K

      No kidding, I once had a fairly brief encounter with a Christian who claimed “progressive revelation” was the reason for all this … until I reminded him of the existence of the Mormons and the $cientologists. Never heard from him again.

      • Otto

        Was he arguing for or against progressive revelation?

        • Kevin K

          The context was why we don’t follow all of the OT rules — progressive revelation. Why is the Protestant denomination more “godly” than the Catholics (who invented the religion)? Progressive revelation.

          Then I asked why he wasn’t a Mormon, or a $cientologist…silence.

        • Otto

          But the reason Christianity keeps splintering is progressive revelation because they can’t agree among themselves which progressive revelation is correct. Even the Catholics believe in progressive revelation. That person was damning his own argument imo.

        • Kevin K

          Yeah, of course. After all, without progressive revelation, Galileo would still be a heretic who was spared from the stake only because he had been friends with the Cardinal. And Columbus would never have shown Isabella a globe to convince her to sell her jewels for his little boat trip.

      • That’s an interesting angle. I want to write about progressive revelation at some point. The foundation of the idea–that mankind must be slowly fed the Truth as society matures, as I understand it–is ridiculous.

        • Otto

          But on the other hand it is almost necessary to deal with all the new knowledge that comes about. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

  • Greg G.

    I can’t find the First Bible Church of West Alfalfa, the First Bible Church of East Alfalfa, or the First Bible Church of North Alfalfa on the chart, let alone the heretics from the First Bible Church of South Alfalfa.

    • epicurus

      Merged with the Flaxseed Full Gospel Church, which them split into ground and unground denominations.

      • Greg G.

        How did they settle that feud?

        • Illithid

          They didn’t. The groundites were winning the holy war, but then they schismed into coarse and fine sects.

        • Greg G.

          they schismed into coarse and fine sects.

          I have heard that there’s great sects and really great sects. But I may have heard that wrong.

        • Otto

          I have heard there are out sects and in sects

        • epeeist

          I have heard there are out sects and in sects

          I understand that these can bi sect, but in general not tri sect.

        • One can have those out-of-a-sect (disfellowshipped or excommunicated), and those who are still insects.

          (you may laugh now)

        • TheNuszAbides

          just don’t get any schism on the furniture.

    • Otto

      Just down the street from the Church of the Insufferable Spanky.

    • Joe

      Did you remember to take a left at Albuquerque?

      • Greg G.

        I thought you said to take a right at Santa Fe.

        • Joe

          I don’t know the way there.

    • Kevin K

      I’m gonna join the Drunkard Brethren … just as soon as the court gives me back my car keys.

  • RichardSRussell

    “I was walking across a bridge one day, and I saw a man standing on the edge, about to jump off. So I ran over and said ‘Stop! Don’t do it!’

    ‘Why shouldn’t I?’ he said.

    I said, ‘Well, there’s so much to live for!’

    He said, ‘Like what?’

    I said, ‘Well…are you religious or atheist?’

    He said, ‘Religious.’

    I said, ‘Me too! Are you Christian or Buddhist?’

    He said, ‘Christian.’

    I said, ‘Me too! Are you Catholic or Protestant?’

    He said, ‘Protestant.’

    I said, ‘Me too! Are you Episcopalian or Baptist?’

    He said, ‘Baptist!’

    I said, ‘Wow! Me too! Are you Baptist Church of God or Baptist Church of the Lord?’

    He said, ‘Baptist Church of God!’

    I said, ‘Me too! Are you Original Baptist Church of God, or are you Reformed Baptist Church of God?’

    He said, ‘Reformed Baptist Church of God!’

    I said, ‘Me too! Are you Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1879, or Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915?’

    He said, ‘Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915!’

    I said, ‘Die, heretic scum!’ and pushed him off.”

    —Emo Philips, comedian

    • Greg G.

      And that is how we know that the God of the Reformed Baptist Church of God, Reformation of 1915 does not do rescue miracles.

  • John MacDonald

    If you take the example of a paranoid schizophrenic, that paranoiac may find herself caught up in a world of terrible conspiracies. This conspiratorial unifying theme casts terrible colored light on the events/things she encounters. For example, walking down the road she may get anxious, turn around and see someone “following her.” This conspirator following her is interpreted as a sign that points to the truth of the worldwide conspiracy, but at the same time the innocent bystander isn’t a sign at all because it’s all in the schizophrenic’s head. I think this is the sense in which some secular people think the religious are nuts, because the religious person is reading religious significance off the events they are encountering which no one can see but them and other theists. It’s like that children’s story The Emperor’s New Clothes. If this kind of network of experiences happens for secular reasons, the person is crazy. If it happens for religious reasons, the person is holy. lol

    • John MacDonald

      A alternative to framing an understanding of religious life as analogous to that of the paranoid schizophrenic is to consider the model of being in love. When a teenager experiences puppy love, the whole world seems to glow with a warm radiance, even though he is the only one experiencing this. Just because he is seeing something others don’t, he isn’t crazy. He’s just in love.

  • Kit Hadley-Day

    it’s almost like when you have no evidence to keep you grounded, any old theory can produce a valid school of thought. This continual divergence is the far and away the best evidence for the lack of a god, outside of the actual utter lack of evidence, as the OP states, if we lived in a world with an actual deity evolution would take care of all the wrong religions.

  • Kevin K

    Wow. That’s cladistics.

    Something that evolutionary biologists are interested it.

  • Kevin K

    Some of the splits seem to be a bit artificial…in the Universalist-Unitarian clade, the divisions seem be to based on geography/language, rather than any theological dispute.

    Swedenborg seems to be missing, which I’m fairly confident is not the Swedish Lutheran church.

    Also, I could not find Satanism (of which there are several varieties, so would be interesting to track). Think these would have to be a modern outgrowth of Christianity … yes?

    Nor $cientology or Rastafarianism — which would be abiogenesis. Nor Pastafarianism, which would be delicious.

    • Yes, while there is a lot to like in this project, they do omit much. Fringe-y religions like Scientology isn’t there. And it omits the indigenous religions of the Americas, Africa, and more. But adding those would only add the the point: religion is ever-diverging, not converging on one Cosmic Truth.

      • Phil

        What about Pastafarionism?

        • Greg G.

          Check the Olive Garden menu.

    • Bob Jase

      Heck, every mid-sized town has at least a couple of churches that used to be small momm & pop grocery stores a few decades ago – there is no way to count the tens of thousands of tiny Christain splinter groups out there.

      • Greg G.

        I see some going into former computer stores, too.

        • Bob Jase

          Those must be splinter sects from Scientology.

        • Greg G.

          The splinter sects are down at the old saw mill.

      • Kevin K

        True that. I can count several of those within a 5-mile radius of my house. Warehouse spaces, a former restaurant, an ex-one-room schoolhouse — those as well.

        • The trend in England seems to be the opposite problem–trying to find a use for an empty church. My favorite use was a small-ish stone church that had a permanent cafe in the back of the sanctuary. On Sundays, it’s a church, and it’s a cafe for the rest of the time when you can walk around and admire the church if you’d like.

        • epeeist

          The trend in England seems to be the opposite problem–trying to find a use for an empty church.

          Apparently the Church of England is closing churches at the rate of about 1 a week. In the next town to me (Glossop) one church is now a timber yard and another an antique shop.

        • MR

          A church I attended for a while will shortly be celebrating their 134th anniversary; two weeks later they will shutter their doors.

          In London a few years back a friend of mine took me to a fine pub in Muswell Hill that had been converted from a cool looking old church. Seems appropriate. They went from serving wine to serving beer.

        • Phil

          I think they have given up on churches. They now spend all their time, effort and money in establishing religious school.

        • Kevin K

          I often look with envy at enormous church structures … sitting there empty and cold 6 days a week (well, except for choir practice on Thursday nights, and some sects that have Wednesday cash grabs worship services).

          What fantastic community centers those would be. Health clinics, eldercare, daycare, recreation, homeless shelters, refugee shelters … the list is endless. Instead … cold and empty.

      • Pofarmer

        Heck, our little town of 11,000 has at least 3 or 4, although at least two are Southern Baptist spin offs.

  • Otto

    One of the Nuns in Catholic school used to say that all the Christian churches will unite before Jesus returns, I guess we have that going for us.

    • Greg G.

      Otherwise, Jesus’ prayer in John 17:20-23 would be a failure. Not only do all Christians have to agree, it is supposed to be impressive enough that everyone else believes.

      I suppose she had her money on all the other churches uniting with the RCC.

      • Otto

        Why yes of course all of the Churches would unite with the RCC, how could they possibly unite if that wasn’t the case…;) Good luck with that!

  • Bob Jase

    Can god make a rock so heavy that we cannot turn it over when turning over every rock in our search for god?

    • Greg G.

      God cannot weave a rug so heavy that theological problems cannot be swept under it.

      • Bob Jase

        That’s what magic carpets are for.

      • Matt 17:20
        And Jesus said unto them, Because of your unbelief: for verily I say unto you, If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you.

        So, who has met someone in one of these sects who can “talk to a mountain, and order it to move to a ‘yonder place’ “?

        • Kevin K

          Sure … if the definition of “yonder” is “exactly where it was in the first place”.

        • I was quoting that because of the irony involved.

          The NIV renders it as:

          Matt 17:20
          He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”

          My point was really pointing to the idea that a mountain might be able to hear, understand, and respond to a spoken human command. Ancient folk, apparently, were just that gullible . . . .
          . . . although, we can not really exclude present-day christians from that category.

          Of course the words “Faith” and “Gullibility” are fully interchangeable.

        • Greg G.

          Those damn disciples with their mustard seeds put all those mountains right where we want to put highways and now it takes huge dump trucks to put the mountains back where they came from.

        • Kevin K

          Ha. You misunderstand me. I was completely agreeing with you. The only way “move mountains” makes sense is if “there” is precisely and exactly the same location as “here”.

        • Greg G.

          I attempted to reply to your comment at http://www.patheos.com/blogs/crossexamined/2018/06/religion-keeps-not-finding-god/#comment-3933980947 but Disqus says “You cannot reply to a post that is not active.”

          __________________________________

          1994 movie title Pulp Fiction

          You made me feel old before I finished my first cup of coffee. That movie is closer in time to Nixon’s resignation than to the present day.

          “synagogues in Palestine were built after the Second Temple was destroyed – Palestinian synagogues served more as municipal buildings and men’s clubs and lacked the prayer-house function of the Diaspora synagogues.”

          I had read that there were no synagogues in Galilee but it is news to me that they were significantly different than Diaspora synagogues.

        • TheNuszAbides

          That movie is closer in time to Nixon’s resignation than to the present day.

          how dare you point that out?!

        • Otto

          That is just mean…wow

        • Raging Bee

          They move mountains of bullshit every day!

        • We can certainly lay that indictment on such folk as televangelists, and their more lowly kin.

          There are those ones who are making threats like: “Send us a shitload of money or . . . . . . .” [Fill in your favorite here!]

          But if one looks around without god-tinted glasses obscuring one’s vision . . . each variation (of faith, or lack thereof) outputs a slightly different stink . .

          https://78.media.tumblr.com/ad011a8a5549286b571cd8025c26af0a/tumblr_n1ukwgPx5W1r8x8h2o1_500.png

          Highly recommended! Expanded version of religious shit at following URL:
          http://www.generationterrorists.com/quotes/misc/shit_happens.html

      • Raging Bee

        Apparently he can’t make any theological problem shrink to a size where it can be swept under just any ordinary rug…

  • Damien Priestly

    Maybe this is not supposed to be all encompassing — I see a lot of things missing. Don’t know if I agree with the five root branches…Chinese-Folk, Japanese-Shinto, Israelite, Brahman-Vedic (Hindu) and Shraman (Buddhist).

    I think it was a lot more complicated than that before 1000 BC…where does the Sumerian and Mesopotamian religions fit in, pre-Israelite? Maybe if a religion has died out then it is not in there, e.g. Greco-Roman paganism? And Buddhism was really closely associated with Vedic Hinduism…same ideas on reincarnation, etc. So I don’t think they should be on different root trunks.

    • Oh, yeah–there are lots of omissions.

      In fact, the twining of the branches in the ancient past doesn’t make much sense. The different cradles of religion (northern India, China, Mesopotamia and Egypt, and so on) were not in contact with each other. They did share some ideas, but not initially. Maybe if they had them separate and then coming together.

  • Syzygy

    This has certainly rekindled my lack of interest.

    • ted-

      LOL

  • ted-

    If there’s a god, may it strike down every last GOP members in office. *cricket, cricket* No…? Guess he doesn’t exist.

  • Say, which god do Egyptians invoke if they want freshly-worked cement to harden swifter?

    • Greg G.

      The Medusa?

      • No, since its a god familiar to period Egyptians – – I mention their god: Set!

        You’ve got to be aware of just why I earlier choose that word “harden” instead of [blank] !

        • Greg G.

          I have read that Egyptians started the circumcision tradition because they wanted to be a little bit like Set when he judged them in the afterlife. That theory makes more sense than the Hebrew Bible for the practice, which seems to be to keep God from getting in a fist fight with you.

        • Zeropoint

          Yeah, that’s an almost sensible reason to do it.

  • Peter Ridgers

    Diversity of religion could be “Hey, that’s a good earner – think I’ll make one of those!”.

  • Kevin Alexander

    A missionary is sent to convert the heathens but is shipwrecked. He is the only survivor, washed up on a desert island. “If God has spared me it must be because he had a purpose for me” For all his prayers there’s no answer so he sets to work making a life for himself on the island.
    The years pass.
    One day a pilot flying past sees the coral SOS on the beach and sends help. A ship arrives and a rescue party lands on the beach to find the castaway on his knees praising God for his deliverance.
    “Looks like you’ve made a nice life for yourself here.” says the captain, impressed by the ingenuity of building with only coral stone and palm trees, “but why do you need three buildings?”
    “This one is my home” he says, pointing to a small humble cabin. “This one is where I worship” looking at a much grander house.
    “What’s that other one?” asks the captain
    “Oh, that’s where I used to worship.”

    • Ficino

      Clever. I heard a version like it:

      Two rabbis are stranded on a desert island. After a few years, rescuers come. They see three synagogues. “Why are there three synagogues?” they ask.

      Rabbi Shmuel: “This one is my synagogue.”

      Rabbi M’nachem: “This one here is MY synagogue.”

      But what about the third synagogue? the rescuers ask.

      In unison: “Oh, we don’t worship at that synagogue.”

  • Kevin K

    That’s a really good point.