My Village Atheist Reveals his Touching Naivete

writing in the comments box under How Revelation Proceeds, he declares:

“Just about every religion says that they are the One, the True, the Only.” He then lists exactly three (3) religious traditions as proof of this point. Oddly the three he names happen to be the great Western monotheisms.

In fact, the contention that “just about every religion says that they are the One, the True, the Only” is a proposition that would greatly amuse almost any ancient pagan and a huge number of contemporary ones, who could happily belong to several different cults of worship all at once and never see any difficulty with that. Ever hear the term “Pantheon”?

In fact, the idea of a “One True Religion” is largely a phenomenon that comes in with the three great Western Traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. And since Judaism has not been a proselytizing Tradition for, oh, about 2000 years, that pretty much leaves Christianity and Islam.

(Interesting biblical side note, ancient Israelite religion in the time of the Judges and Joshua was not especially interested in “winning converts”. It is not even altogether certain that Israel is, strictly speaking, clear about monotheism at this time. Many biblical texts suggest a vague henotheism (i.e, the belief that there are many other “gods” but that, for Israel, the One God whom they met at Sinai in covenant, is “the God of Israel”). It is appears that only later does it become clear to Israel that there are no other gods. Thus, in the conquest of Canaan, Israel was interested (sort of) in exterminating the Canaanites, not in converting them. And it was interested in this primarily because it was interested in preserving the covenant of Hashem with Israel, not with converting the nations. The Canaanites were not a mission field, but a threat to the covenant because they might tempt Israel to abandon their fidelity to Hashem. The interest is not in God as true “for the world” but simply as true “for Israel.” True, later on it is revealed (particularly to David and the prophets) that Israel is to be a “light to the nations” and that the Davidic Messiah will call the nations to worship the God of Israel. But, of course, this is precisely where the mission of Christianity comes in. Rabbinic Judaism does not seek converts.

As to the rest of my Village Atheist’s picture of the world, he reveals once again that “atheism” is virtually always something that exists only as a reaction to Christianity or Judaism and is nearly always incapable of seeing beyond that provincial little reaction. For, of course, virtually the entire rest of the religious landscape of human history is not a collection of world-converting faiths who regard themselves as the “one, true, and only” but a gaggle of local cults with no universal claims and, very often, no interest in the question of whether they were “true” or not. Much pre-Christian paganism, in fact, had not even advanced to the point where cultic ritual was combined with an interest in ethical or philosophical questions of goodness and right and truth. Over here, the philosophers revolved their ethical problems. Over there, devotees performed mystic rites and never the two did meet.

My Village Atheist, by the way, notes that Christianity bears some superficial similarities with a variety of mystery cults in antiquity and, of course, concludes that it is therefore pretty much the same thing. He also notes that the concept of original sin was allegedly an innovation. So Christianity is therefore incredible because it answers to the deepest intuitions of a wide variety of pre-Christian culture and it is also incredible because it does not immediately appear to fit itself into all that had gone before.

A more simple-minded reader might suppose that a revelation which purported to speak to the deepest longings of humanity could very likely expect all sorts of intuitions and imagery foreshadowing it to appear in the literature of paganism and would, in fact, find the idea of a revelation that had nothing whatsoever to do with those longing and intuitions to be far more difficult to believe. But then, such a reader would also be simple-minded enough to think that the doctrine of original sin is not really a novelty, but merely a clarification and deepening of the age-old awareness, common to pagan, Jew, and Christian, that there is something haywire about us. What even the most simple-minded reader would not do, however (unless he is a Village Atheist), is try to simultaneously keep up the argument that Christianity is unbelievable because the culture prior to it anticipated it and the argument that Christianity is unbelievable because the culture prior to it did not anticipate it.

But, of course, Village Atheists are looking for excuses for Village Atheism, not reasons. Any excuse will do and when one breaks in your hand, you simply grab another. That’s how Village Atheism works, you see.