General Question

Charles's avatar

Why are there so many religions?

Asked by Charles (4786 points ) April 14th, 2012

I would assume there is either one god or no god. If there is only one god, then why are there so many religions?

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30 Answers

Aethelflaed's avatar

Many religions have many gods, and aren’t always in contradiction with the existence of other gods.

ragingloli's avatar

When you start from a wrong assumption, it is no wonder you get confused.
It is not “one god or no god”. There could be many gods, sky is the limit.
The first religions were polytheistic (now called by christians by the derogatory term “paganism”). Monotheism is a recent invention. That is the first reason why there are many religions. Then people have different opinions what those gods are, what their attributes and powers are, and what those gods want. That is the second reason for the multitude of religions.

Trillian's avatar

Why would you assume anything, one way or another? Start with Joseph Campbell if you really want to know why there are so many religions. Religion fills a need which is hardwired into many of us.
Google Dr. V. Ramachandran and his work.

thorninmud's avatar

Well, there are plenty of religions that would take exception to your “one god or no god” assumption, but for the sake of simplicity, let’s just consider monotheistic religions.

Assume you had absolutely no knowledge of Christianity or Judaism. If I gave you a copy of the Bible and asked you to read it and independently derive from it a coherent picture of what God is like and how to worship him, chances are you would emerge with a description of a religion that’s not exactly like any other already out there.

Then consider that it’s been common over the centuries to allow for periodic “updates” from God that supersede previous theologies (the New Testament, the Quran, and the Book of Mormon would be examples), and may or not be accepted as legitimate by all of the followers.

Then consider that followers will have their own agendas, political or personal, and will “fill in the blanks” in whatever theology they espouse in a way that furthers those agendas.

Linda_Owl's avatar

Fear is the reason that there are so many religions. Humans are fearful of the unknown & they seek to placate whatever “God” to which they have sworn to be faithful. They are fearful that how they act will be used as an excuse by whatever “God” to punish them for their transgressions. They are fearful that they must, personally, spread the word about the “God” to which they have sworn to be faithful or they will be punished. They are fearful of anyone who is not affiliated with the religion that they have chosen, so each sect sets its own parameters & seeks to draw others into their religion – in order to placate the “God” to which they have sworn to be faithful. They are afraid to allow people to live without fear of the “God” to which they have sworn to be faithful. So FEAR is the over-riding factor in the sheer number of religions.

Sunny2's avatar

The answer is in the details of each variation, and the details are so important that people sometimes kill each other because of them. Idiotic, if you ask me.

SavoirFaire's avatar

I’d just like to remind everyone that there are atheistic religions. Solving the God question wouldn’t solve the religion question. Consider a world in which it was somehow known for certain that there were no gods whatsoever. There still might be multiple religions, and fear wouldn’t be a sufficient explanation if there were no gods to fear. Instead, it might be simply that people disagreed over what there was instead of gods, or over what the best way to reach some spiritual goal might be. Alternatively, it might be that they all track different ways of getting to the same goal and don’t actually disagree that the other ways would work (meaning that there would not need to be any antagonism among them; they would simply cater to different demographics).

PhiNotPi's avatar

Even if you adopt the idea of “one god or no god”, people will always disagree on how to worship the god.

Muslims (Shiite, Sunni) and Jews (Orthodox, Conservative) and all of the many versions of Christianity (Roman Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Protestant) all worship the exact same god, the Abrahamic god. There is much more variety to religion than just the choice of which god you worship.

The whole idea of one perfect god is not as intuitive as it seems. Most religions are actually polytheistic. Why would you think that fire was controlled by the same god that controlled the tides? It’s not like there is an obvious link between fire and tides. Nowadays, we have secular explanations for both of these phenomena, but it’s not like the ancient civilizations understood covalent bonds.

Aethelflaed's avatar

Religion is a human creation. (Note: I am not saying that deities are human creations, I’m not having that discussion now. Religions – the various practices, customs, traditions, laws, histories, etc surrounding the worship of a deity or deities – are human creations). Humans seem to have a hard time agreeing on pretty much anything; it’s not surprising they would have disagreements over how to worship.

filmfann's avatar

Satan stays busy.

TexasDude's avatar

@Linda_Owl, not every religion is based on fear. In fact, I would argue that mostly only certain sects of the large Abrahamic religions are based on the kind of fear you attribute to the rise of religions.

LostInParadise's avatar

If we make the assumption that man created god rather than the other way around, then it would be surprising if any two religions were the same. The major religions are in agreement over what a rational person would consider the most important issues, like the Golden Rule, not killing and not stealing. Oddly though, all these rules are broken when the various religions fight against one another.

wundayatta's avatar

Because religions are a creation of societies, and there are so many different societies.

ETpro's avatar

Leveraging on what @Aethelflaed and @wundayatta already said, I think the accurate answer is that there are so many religions because there are so many people. Religions (and as @Aethelflaed notes, not necessarily a deity or deities) are the invention of men. They allow the priestly set a lucrative gig with little work and enormous power. And they often afford their inventor a cherished place in leadership of the sect.

prasad's avatar

I guess, different religions came out at different places, may be different time periods, to guide human beings. Circumstances might have played a role too.

Jesus is the central figure in Christianity (I guess, he founded the religion).
Muhammad founded the Muslim religion.
Hindu religion was formed by people that formed the civilization in Indus valley. The civilization was formed around the river Sindhu (which is called Indus in English). Because it sounds similar to Sindhu, people living there were called Hindu. Surprisingly, in the holy book, considered by Hindus, Bhagavad Gita, there is no mention of the word Hindu!

Aethelflaed's avatar

@prasad That’s because “Hinduism” is just the label British colonizers put on all the varying Indian religions, so that they didn’t have to deal with various complexities and regional differences.

cheebdragon's avatar

Who wouldn’t want to start their own religion?

Avangelo's avatar

Most likely religions began in different areas of the world without the awareness of the other ones. Then they got more civilized and started noticing other religions. Sometime they merged, other times they evolved out of other religions.

The_Idler's avatar

Religion was invented before globalisation and generally has a strong sense of traditionalism, so, like beer and cheese, there are many varieties.

ETpro's avatar

@cheebdragon I knew we’d find a point on which we agree. :-)

Sunny2's avatar

@cheebdragon You mean, like L. Ronn Hubbard?

rhianna_kimura's avatar

yes there is only ONE GOD AND THAT IS JESUS CHRIST, don’t let false prophets deceive you.

LostInParadise's avatar

Well I guess that settles it. I wonder why a majority of the world disagrees. They must all be unenlightened heathens.

ragingloli's avatar

Jews consider Jesus a false prophet, what do you think about that?

filmfann's avatar

I never discuss Jews with Germans.

GrandmaC's avatar

There really aren’t very many major religions that are followed by a signifiant number of people. There’s the 3 Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Then there’s Hinduism and it’s offshoot, Buddhism. Aside from those, there are some very small religions which only a small number of people follow.

ETpro's avatar

@GrandmaC That’s right now, which is decidedly not all of human history. Mankind has invented over 3,000 creators in our brief history. A significant number of those belief sustems at one time ruled all the civilized world.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@GrandmaC You might be interested in this list of religious groups ranked by number of adherents. Note that “religious group” is used in a sociological sense for the purposes of the linked website. Secularists are counted together, as are the practitioners of thematically similar but numerically distinct primal religions. Removing these oddities, however, we still see that the situation is a bit more complicated than you let on.

There are more Sikhs, for example, than there are Jews; and there are more followers of the traditional Chinese religion (a blend of Taoist, Confucian, and Buddhist elements) than there are Buddhists. Indeed, much of our impression about which religions are the “major” ones is a matter of historical and/or political influence rather than numbers, which is why Zoroastrianism is still considered a major religion despite having very few adherents these days.

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