Polytheism spread over the planet several thousand years ago to produce a majority belief among humans. Almost everyone was a polytheist.
Polytheism lasted thousands of years unopposed by a late arriving monotheism. And then, tardy monotheism arrived.
And then several sects and denominations of monotheism arose. Then other new religions emerged. Then several thousand denominations and even newer religions appeared, so that, today, there is no uniformity in religion and no majority religious option at all. In religion, your view is inevitably a minority view.
Whoever you are and whatever your view, you are vastly outnumbered by all the other options combined. You are Protestant, but the vast majority of humanity is not. You are Catholic, the vast majority of humanity is not. You are Orthodox, the vast majority is not. You are Muslim, the vast majority is not. You are Hindu, the vast majority is not. You are Buddhist, the vast majority is not. You are Atheist, the vast majority is not. And on and on with many thousands of religious choices.
Such diversity (which is just a pretty word for ‘disagreement’) can only mean that a small minority has the correct view and the vast majority is wrong. That the vast majority is wrong is a very powerful proof that real obstacles exist to firm knowledge. Humanity has a mental defect that permits it to be fooled with fake knowledge about religion. Our brains didn’t evolve to easily recognize metaphysical truth. And so the vast majority of humans can be hoodwinked over the course of an entire lifetime and indeed over the span of millennia. Some ancient creeds that we label ‘dead religions’ flourished for thousands of years before they faded away. Do any of us for a moment think those dead religions imparted to their millions of devotees any true knowledge about the way things really are?
Don’t be tempted by the claim that, if properly understood, all religious options are true. This is not acceptable because religions make opposing claims, and irreligion opposes them all. For instance, either there are many Gods, one God, or no Gods. As three distinct declarations, these cannot all be true. Only one of them is correct. Either there is one lifetime to live and nothing after, or there are multiple lifetimes to live, or there is one lifetime to live and a heaven or hell as a postmortem terminus. All of these cannot be right.
How to proceed with your own worldview?
Take these four steps.
Step One. If you’ve a tempering measure of self-doubt, ask yourself what is the likelihood that your minority view is the right one. Billions upon billions of people are wrong and you are right? The religious option you made was probably not even a true option at all but the accident of geography and time. You were born in X place at Y moment in time, and that place and that moment determined your religious choice. Almost no one chooses a religion. They inherit it. Geography is fate. Of course the true option can be mediated this way, but we do have room to doubt our inherited geographic worldview, don’t we? Doubt can have a civilizing effect here. Can we utter the humane words, ‘I could be wrong’?
Step Two. Get very serious about freedom of expression and freedom of religion and affirm that error is permissible and protected speech. The vast majority of people (whom we are admitting are wrong) have a right to ascend pulpits and platforms and declare their error is true. They have a right because, though they are probably promoting falsehoods, they might be offering truth.
Step Three. Perform due diligence and study your options and then make a choice you believe is true. Is there somewhere a pile of evidence against your worldview that you have not explored? Are you aware that, for instance, a trove of artful and sophisticated atheistic literature was written over the last 300 years in Europe? New information might force you to change your mind. Practice these words of intellectual capitulation: ‘It’s the Buddhists who are right, after all.’ Or ‘It’s the Hindus who are right, after all.’ Or ‘It’s the Catholics who are right, after all.” Or ‘It’s the Muslims who are right, after all.’ Or ‘It’s the Protestants who are right, after all.’ Or ‘It’s the Atheists who are right, after all.’ You may precede any of these admissions with the shocked expression, ‘Oh my my, I was wrong all along!’
Step Four. When you arrive at what you think is truth, you can stand as stiff-backed as Buddha or Jesus or Muhammad or Mahavira or Nanak or Nietzsche and revel in your truth. Now you owe it to the rest of us to teach us the truth and to show us the error of our presumed truth. Freedom of speech benefits not only the speakers but also the hearers. Don’t curtail anyone’s speech, because you may need to hear that speech. That speech might be the portal of certainty for you. That speech might be the entryway to Minority Truth.
Cicero said it best in his book On the Nature of the Gods, written in 45 BCE: ‘It is possible that none of the religions are true. And it is absolutely impossible that more than one can be true.’
In our own day, this must mean that only a minority is right.
Featured image ‘7 Lucky Gods of Japan’ by Steve, via Flickr