Tuesday, July 19, 2011

on options

Let's play a game. 

I will give an overview of a religious icon--life events, associations, consequences--and you can try and guess whom I'm referring to. I'll try and give details that may sound familiar to you. Ready?

Icon A:

This bearded religious figure is often associated with being a shepherd. Although loved and revered after his death, many of his contemporaries were jealous and conspired against him. As a result, he was mutilated, tortured, and killed. Thankfully, by the grace of divinity, he was resurrected. After resurrection, he joined the heavens and remained as a symbol of divinity. He is assumed to pass judgment over his people and allow them entry into heaven, reject them and send them to eternal torture, or an in-between place where they must atone before entering heaven. It is also worth noting that there is a woman in this story who was supernaturally impregnated with the son of a god, and was thus viewed as a symbol of maternity, nurturing, and love.

Icon B: 

Like Icon A, this figure is bearded and robed, but is from a different culture. He was born of a virgin mortal woman who was made pregnant by the mightiest of gods. After dying, he was reincarnated by his father, the god. He is often associated with miracles and wine, notably when he turned water into wine for his followers. After claiming to be a god (or, at least, the son of one), he was put on trial before the state, as led by the state's ruler (a certain someone beginning with the letter "P"). After his death, he gained a devout following that introduced a sort of monotheism to a previously polytheistic culture.

Icon C: 

This figure was born quite unnaturally, without any human conception, through the intervention of a god. He was born out in the wild, and his birth was attended by shepherds. His birthday is celebrated on December 25th. He became known as a symbol of redemption, able to absolve humanity of sins. The practice of baptism became associated with him, as a way of cleansing one's soul and being reborn. After taking part in a symbolic death, he ascended to heaven. Prior his ascent, he had a divine meal with his closest peers, composed of bread, meat, water, and wine - this scene is the most common artistic depiction of him.

Unsurprisingly, many scholars claim that these religious icons influenced the Christian mythos. After all, there are certainly some common threads between these figures and Jesus Christ. I will freely admit there are discrepancies and, besides, some themes are simply commonplace among all religions. However, my intent is not to claim that Christianity is a "knock off" religion or that it is completely unoriginal. 

Instead, I simply want to note that there are religions with strikingly similar ideals, symbols, figures, and practices. With this in mind, I'd like to posit a question: 

Why Christianity? Why Judaism? Why Islam? Why Hinduism? 

Why are any of these religions more credible and believable in today's world than, say, Zeus and his Olympian contemporaries? Why has Egypt abandoned Ra? Why has the prehistoric practice of animal worship not caught on? At least animals can be seen and undisputed. We've gone from worshiping real creatures, to worshiping gods that represent real things and walk among us, to worshiping an abstract god who relies entirely upon our faith of him. It seems that the most popular and convincing religions are the ones that require the greatest suspension of disbelief.

So again, I ask: What makes one religion more believable than another? If aliens visited our planet and studied all of our religions from the dawn of man, what could they possibly see in one that another does not offer? Similarly, if a devout Christian of today were born into a religious family in third century India, would s/he not be just as devout toward Vishnu?  No religion has more intrinsic credence than any other. This includes the Church of Latter Day Saints and Scientology, by the way.

It also includes our noodly friend watching over us:

For posterity, I ask one final time: Why should Jesus Christ, or any religious figure, be chosen over the multitude of figures that preceded him? All religions have "historical texts." All religions include supernatural events that allegedly occurred. All religions have followers who unwaveringly believe that they are right and others are wrong. If history is any indication, then there will eventually be a new religion that somehow claims all other religions of the previous 2 million years were wrong.  

I would encourage any religious folk to ask themselves why they believe in their god or gods. Do they believe because they've made an honest and thorough investigation of all religions, and find theirs to be the most believable? Or is it simply how they were raised? 

1 comment:

  1. Good stuff. This is one of those questions that really seems to stymie devout theists. A form of this argument I've used before usually forces the person to admit that religions are more malleable and fluid then they would have you believe. I followed the link from your profile on Atheist Forums, if you were curious where your readers might come from. I'll be sticking around.