One True Religion?
For those of monotheistic faiths there can be but one absolute truth, one God, and one true religion. But for even casual students of history the idea of one true religion should do more than raise an eyebrow, it should sound absolutely ridiculous. There are numerous religions currently at least two of which boast more than a billion followers. These numbers however can be quite misleading, they seem to suggest that each religion is a united conglomerate of folks who all ascribe to the same dogma and beliefs. The reality is quite different.
A House Divided
One need look no farther than Christianity to see what I'm referring to. While the religion as a whole boasts more than 2 billion believers each and every one of those believers is likely to hold a fairly nuanced and unique set of "Christian" beliefs. Throughout Christianity's long, often sordid, history believers have disagreed on what to believe and what works to do as a result of their faith. There are fundamentalists who seek to take the Bible as the literal and absolute truth spoken by God himself and then there are Christian-atheists who reject the supernatural teachings while focusing on the sense of community and moral teachings the religion offers.
Jesus is credited with saying that a house divided against itself cannot stand, a quote famously mined by Abraham Lincoln (oddly enough it's Lincoln that made the quote famous). Yet Christianity, one of the most divided religions in human history, has actually thrived BETTER due to it's adaptability. Christianity's ability to change itself, to adapt itself to local societies and customs, is what allowed it to survive and grow into so many different forms.
It's no secret that when Christianity was adopted as Rome's official religion it went through some changes. Even modern Catholicism maintains belief in Saints, which, to me, seem like the equivalent of demi-gods. Was this a way of attracting polytheists to convert by showing them Christianity wasn't far off from their current religious beliefs?
Either way it seems that the divisions of Christ's "house" are actually part of what keeps it standing. Each man or woman sees their own values reflected in the Bible when they read it and their minds focus on those hits while rejecting the misses. Slavery is a great example. The Bible clearly condones slavery in numerous passages. In Exodus 20 the Ten Commandments are given. In Exodus 21, direct from the mouth of God himself, regulations on slavery are established. So the God of the whole world condones and imposes regulations upon slavery according to the Bible yet the vast majority of Christians seem content to agree with me that slavery is morally wrong.
When Christianity can be so many different things to so many different people, and passages can be ignored in favor of entering one's own beliefs it's easy to see why Christianity has evolved and survived so well. Fundamentalism is another animal altogether but it isn't free of its own brand of apologetics and twisting scripture to fit modern moral understandings and modern views of God.
Inspired by God
So with everyone believing a vast array of different things even within the confines of the same religion it seems utterly absurd to me when a believer than turns around and says the Bible, or any other religious text, was inspired by God. If any aspect of religion were truly inspired by God why is it so vague, so unclear, and so self-contradictory? If God, an omnibenevolent being of singular mind, is inspiring people to start religions than why can those religions not agree?
Some may argue that it is human beings twisting that interpretation to fit their own ends. Why would God then turn away from those that would twist and turn to those who would be honest? Most forms of deities have ways of testing whether a mortal is trustworthy do they not? Many monotheistic Gods can directly see into the "hearts" of man and know whether or not you're a good honest person or a horrible wicked one. So why wouldn't God turn only to the righteous for help? And who in there right mind would dare twist the words or inspiration of an all powerful being? Wouldn't that just be inviting some Old Testament style smiting?
The Author of Confusion
For Christians the problem is compounded by verses which suggest that God is an honest and Holy being incapable of deception. God is not the author of confusion according to 1 Corinthians 14:33 but is instead the author of PEACE. Yet the history of religion is one of bloodshed, horror, war, throughout the Bible and right up to the present day religion has caused far more confusion than peace. The Bible and Qur'an, two books supposedly inspired by deities, have spawned there own share of confusion leading to multiple interpretations of Islam and Christianity.
If God has anything to do with religion it would seem that he/she/it has authored plenty of confusion.
In the Bible it also states that in the last days God will allow people to be taken by delusion essentially throwing them to the wolves and of course we all know the story of the tower of Babel where God sows confusion to scatter humanity to keep his heavenly abode safe from our intrusions.
The Hallmarks of a True Religion
What might we expect to see if a divine being actually wrote a book or communicated with us? One thing seems certain is that such a communication would not create hundreds of fracturing religions with thousands of sub-sects but would help to unify humanity beneath a singular clear truth. Any truly loving and all-powerful being seeking to communicate with us would have no issue doing so and the message would be impossible to mistranslate or misconstrue. The message would be for all mankind, not for a chosen people and not based upon culture. Such a religion would operate without the need for indoctrination as its truths would be self-evident and easily accessible.
And yet we see the opposite. We see from religion exactly what we would expect if there were no gods at all. We see division and conflict and war and blind dogma to disproved myths that may not have been meant as literal to begin with. We see the imperfection of human beings trying to understand the world around him and inventing gods to promote group cohesion and nationalism. I see humanity in religion and I also see humanity beginning to move beyond the need for the superstitious aspects of these faiths.
Youtuber Aronra tells it like it is
The only conclusion that seems logical is that religion is a man-made endeavor in it's entirety. I see nothing of divine wisdom in any of the religions around me, instead I see a superstitious and often misguided species attempting to make sense of the world using the supernatural. All religions contain falsehoods, errors, and moral absurdities and my guess is that most religious folks would agree with me on that fact. No religion is perfect and the vast majority are so far from perfect that I'm amazed anyone has the gall to claim divine inspiration brought religion or religious texts into the world. I advise these people to re-read their Bibles, their Qur'ans, all their ancient texts and pick out the errors, the factual inconsistencies, the moments when the morality of the gods is worse than that of us lesser mortals.
That's not to say there aren't moments of clarity within religions, or good moral advice contained in them from time to time. It's also not to suggest that these ancient texts are worthless or not worth reading. The point is that people are looking to these religions for absolutes, for a rock upon which to build their spiritual "home". Some of them seem awfully sure that they've found that rock but I'm convinced that all their building on is the shifting sands of ever-evolving human superstition.
There is no one true religion. No one size fits all answer to everything. Some may find that scary but I find it liberating.
More by this Author
An analysis of the Ten Commandments as laid out in the Bible and a discussion on the fundamentalist Christian belief that these commandments apply to them and are morally good.
A hub about atheist youtuber Amos Yee, a young man from Singapore facing death threats and jail time for his insults and criticisms of religion and authority figures. Also Free Speech is discussed.
A brief journey into the bizarre branch of New Age woo called Spirit Science. Can you tell real Spirit Science from stuff I just made up—take the quiz!