General Question

syz's avatar

There are roughly 42,00 religions in the world. There are 2870 documented gods invented by men over history. Why are fanatics so vehmently convinced that theirs is the only God and theirs is the only correct religion?

Asked by syz (35649points) June 27th, 2015

Isn’t that evidence that the religion that can collect the most followers wins?

How can people delude themselves so strongly that their book is the only one that can possibly be right, that their rules are the only ones that matter, that only they have the capability of going to some great reward in the sky when everyone else thinks the same thing?

Doesn’t it seem silly?

This post brought to you by a reaction to holier-than-thou, judgmental bigots who’s idea of religion means exclusion, suppression, and hate.

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25 Answers

cookieman's avatar

Life for us humans can be very difficult. Often daunting. We all possess a basic level of understanding and intelligence. We are also self aware. This ability to think leads to questions about that which we don’t understand. At the same time, we are often fearful anxious about the unknown.

Religion, for thousands of years sought to provide answers to these questions and thus calm much of the anxiety. Religion’s motivations for doing so notwithstanding, there is one undeniable truth they hit upon. Most people want the big answers given to them. They don’t want to think to hard (despite having great capacity for intelligence) and they want to feel secure so they can instead focus on their day to day lives. Religion has been able to provide that for so many.

What’s more, religion focusses on lineage and has been passed down through many generations. So there’s also this sense of heritage that believers have.

So we’ve got:
• Big, scary questions answered.
• A sense of calm about these things.
• A legacy that everyone “like you” believed the same stuff.

We’re talking about the bedrock of most people’s basic existence here.

Now, you come along and say, “Have you considered that maybe that religion over there might have it right?”

In many cases, sadly, that is simply a bridge too far for them.

It is not dissimilar to rabid sports team allegiances based on nothing more than geography. I live in Boston so therefore I should love the Red Sox and hate the Yankees. Why? Because I live here? Because that’s what’s done and has been done by thousands of people for dozens of years.

To question these “truths” and spend time, and energy investigating other options is simply too much for many people. Even worse, some folks define themselves so much by these “truths”, that can’t even consider other options.

Why? Because not having the answers scares the shit out of them and unrest that basic foundation of who they are, who their family was, and who their people are.

ARE_you_kidding_me's avatar

Because goddammit, I must keep this chip on my shoulder. My crappy life only has meaning if I have a deity that feeds my anxieties and justifies the way I want to live.

stanleybmanly's avatar

Of course it’s silly. People want answers and don’t want to settle for “no one knows.” Some will find an astrologer, others a ouija board. Most will do what their parents did, because it’s what their parents did. Unfortunately this urge to know the unknowable is so strong, that there are career paths awaiting those with the temerity to announce “I have the answers”.

SavoirFaire's avatar

Location, location, location! It’s the same reason that some people call soft drinks “soda” and others call them “pop” (or whatever else). The best defense of this anti-evidentialist approach is probably “The Will to Believe” by William James.

The abominably short version goes something like this: some choices are forced (i.e., there is no possibility of not choosing) and momentous (i.e., the stakes are high and there is an important point past which the decision cannot be reversed).

When faced with such a choice, we can only choose between live hypotheses (i.e., ones that, for whatever reason, seem like a real possibility). A dead hypothesis is not genuine because there is no way we will choose it. A choice between two live hypotheses, then, is called a “live option” (there is a real question here, and neither hypothesis is the clear winner when we begin our inquiry).

According to James, the question of whether to believe in God is forced, momentous, and live. We must choose, it is important which we choose, and both belief and non-belief (whether it be in the form of disbelief/atheism, lack of belief/non-theism, or suspension of belief/agnosticism) are live hypotheses. That is, James starts by granting there are reasons in favor of both claims.

But, says James, not all gods or religions are live hypotheses. It may be a matter of sheer circumstance that some are live and others are dead, but it is nevertheless the case that some strike us as more possible than others. We discard Greek polytheism and theosophy not because we have strong evidence against them, but because they are not live hypotheses in the first place. They are not among our starting options for reasons that are pre-theoretical. But the anti-evidentialist is undisturbed by this, and in fact holds that there is no way out of this situation anyway.

For the record, I in no way agree with James.

LostInParadise's avatar

@SavoirFaire , I defer to your knowledge of philosophy, but I thought that James’ reason for belief was based on pragmatism If believing something makes you better off then it is true.

I also have a pragmatic view of truth, but in a different form. If believing something increases the range of possible actions then it is true. For example, believing in the laws of physics makes it possible to do a whole lot of things that could not have otherwise been done. Since religion does not widen the scope of the things that we can do, it fails this test of truth.

Regarding the original question, an atheist is a person who disbelieves in only one more religion than a theist. Even if we limit ourselves to current religions, that still comes to, I would guess, at least several hundred.

SavoirFaire's avatar

@LostInParadise There’s a reason I referred to my summary as “abominably short.” James’ version of pragmatism is behind his anti-evidentialism, but the actual argument he gives in “The Will to Believe” is based on an analysis of choices. I also wouldn’t want to give the impression that pragmatism leads to anti-evidentialism. Charles Peirce was also a pragmatist—though he eventually started using a different term to distance himself from those he thought had perverted the idea—but he was a strong critic of James’ view.

Personally, I am not remotely sympathetic to pragmatist views of truth. Whether something is true and whether something is useful are two separate issues, as are being true and treating as true. Pragmatists tend to conflate both of these things in a way that undermines their own position (since the syntactic nonsense of it all makes it very difficult to convey to others—a quintessentially unpragmatic result).

As for whether or not religion widens the scope of things that we can do, I think the words of Steven Weinberg are appropriate here: “With or without [religion] you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.” Religion widens the scope of live options, but that isn’t necessarily for the good. And, of course, people were inventing things in accordance with the laws of physics long before they were believing in them.

Apparently_Im_The_Grumpy_One's avatar

If you don’t believe in any God, it seems like it would be a waste of time to skip that step and discuss the differences.

Talking about spiritual intricacies with those who aren’t spiritual usually ends up tumbling painfully as there is no foundation from which to launch.

That said, this question has been asked more times than there are religions out there.

jca's avatar

I say let people be as fanatical and positive about God or god(s) if they want to be. It’s only when and if they start harming others in the name of God that it bothers me or might affect me. Otherwise, they can have at it all they want.

josie's avatar

Don’t know. But it is proof of something undeniable about the nature of Humanity. As far as anybody can tell, human beings have always been possessed of a notion that there is something out there that is bigger than we understand. And they have come up with remarkably similar ways of trying to describe it.

cazzie's avatar

Basically… humans suck at math and science and can’t fathom the the actual passage of time and invent ways to cheat to explain things.

Pachy's avatar

Either because one thinks he thinks he’s right or because he fears he’s not.

kevbo's avatar

(This is based on my religious tradition.)

All human experience is based on ascribing reality to that which is unreal. This is done via belief, attention, and identity. We identify as persons, which we are not, and we believe that we are separate from everything we see, which we are not, and we inflate the significance of some of those things via our attention. Karma drives all of this to the extent that we participate. The more hard and fast the hold on the unreal, the more karma (as defined more or less as a spirit-level fascination with a particular experience, positive or negative) drives the bus.

Everything is a concept that originates from the sense of “I.” This includes thoughts, feelings, events, experiences. Everything that happens (that appears to happen) emanates from the “I.” This applies to regular people and religious fanatics. If there’s no “I,” then there’s nothing that happens.

So God is a concept that emanates from the “I.” Commonly, we believe we are persons, and that there is a separate God. If we invest heavily in this arrangement, karma and the mind serve up said fascinating experiences and the “I,” believing the experiences are “other,” tastes them until it is satisfied. A dogmatic person of whatever variety, is powered by an “I” that is in the midst of eating that experience. Similarly, the “you” that is bothered by what you see, is also tasting experience. Your reaction is comprised of your “I” ascribing belief, attention, and identity to your vantage point and those people over there with their bad ideas.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with this. You might say it’s the spirit’s proving ground, but it’s also just the play of consciousness, which appears divided and appears to contain every experience on the spectrum of possibility. Eventually (and over many lifetimes) the “I” tires of experience an turns inward away from personhood and the mechanism that sets karma in motion. This leads to the greater, natural state that is all-encompassing and contains within it the sum of all experiences. Then there’s no “I” and no fanatics and bigot and their ideas somewhere over there to be upset about. All of that is subsumed in a flow that is fine because it contains everything. Identify with the flow, and there’s no concern about conflict.

Back to your question, the “why” is the natural mis-identification with and investment in unreality.

Kardamom's avatar

I have not yet read the other comments, will do so after posting.

Because it’s neither fun, convenient, nor comfortable to consider the alternatives, or that one’s own beliefs regarding unprovable ideas, might be false. If one’s beliefs turn out to be false, it can be very hard and very scary, or downright impossible for some people, to try to figure out what might actually be true or worthwhile. It’s a lot easier to just keep doing what you’ve always done, no matter how much harm your belief or adherence to those ideas might cause.

Plus, it’s much more enjoyable to claim, regarding a particular Christian (B)bible, when asked which book a person was referring to, to give an example, ”^ I will tell you, the one God inspired the prophets to write, and was found on the Dead Sea scrolls and other ancient text. The Bible that came from that.” I find statements like that to be somewhat suspect and funny, considering that I find more profound statements written on the walls of public restrooms, or in phrases that have been translated into garbled English on Japanese food products. Exhibit A and Exhibit B

kritiper's avatar

It’s a one-upmanship superiority complex thing. “My God’s better than your god.”

Coloma's avatar

Programming and ego. Few people ever do the most important life work one can do, question your beliefs in all areas, and come to your own conclusions via personal experience not rote recital.

Pachy's avatar

Either because one thinks he thinks he’s right or because he fears he’s not.

syz's avatar

Thank you for so many serious answers. I’ll admit that the question was asked out of irritation and frustration, and reading the measured, thoughtful responses has helped.

Dutchess_III's avatar

Because they are uneducated about the other religions of the world, or are misinformed.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

I’ve always felt that if these people would just stop and think for a minute about their “omnipotent” gods, they would realize all the others are irrelevant. That’s the nature of omnipotence. So, they either really believe—and in doing so, do not fear other religions and their gods as they are by definition inferior and harmless—or they are mere poseurs who do not really believe that their gods are the all-powerful, perfect beings as advertized and therefore these followers are themselves infidels; ye of little faith.

These people shouldn’t care whether or not their gods or others’ are represented in our common spaces, schools, government doctrine, or law. An all-powerful god will prevail no matter what. An omnipotent god has no serious competition. Fear and aggression is the realm of the weak and impotent god.

Hypocrisy_Central's avatar

I do not know why fanatics do what they do, be it a sports, after an entertainer or a religion. As pointed out, there are religions with no deity or God. As for Believers we are not narrow-minded, or any of that silly whiny crybaby crap soft people say because Believer have the audacity not to go along with nutty stuff. We love and pray that the eyes of their enlightenment open before their last breath is taken, but you can’t make someone take salvation, the Bible said in latter days the Lord will turn man over to his own reprobate mind…..and I can see that is so true.

Bill1939's avatar

@syzs, if humans have invented 42,000 religions and 2,870 deities, then it would seem that something within our psyche seeks a source for the existence of the world and with the power to animate its inhabitants. Tales told around the fire in the dark of night that emotionally resonated with the listeners evolved into commonly held beliefs they passed on to their progeny. These images and stories become the foundations, establishing a perspective and perception that determines the individual’s sense of reality.

The invention of writing restricted the relatively rapid rate at which legends changed when passed on aurally, and the few with the ability to read and write acquired the elevated status of keepers of recorded wisdom. However, with status comes privilege and power that eventually are abused. For millennia, people lived in isolated homogeneous communities across the world and with shared physical qualities and a common culture shaped by religious belief, a way of life taken for granted and unquestioned before becoming aware of different ways.

As trade between groups from distant lands began, an instinctive “me versus you” reflex is likely triggered by conflicting beliefs. Furthermore, when a group’s resources are limited for an extended period, the instinct to survive leads to seeking another group’s resources. Invariably religious beliefs provide the rationale and emotional support that those not a part of governance needed to engage in the destruction of another group and assume what had been theirs. Embolden by a succession of successful forays, authorities direct the group to engage in conquests not to survive but to increase its wealth. Greed is likely another instinct.

Religion is like a language within a language, “a wheel within a wheel” carrying symbols for things and for the relationships of things. Truth is what feels right; that is, a symbol/concept that is in agreement with other concepts held, many of them acquired in childhood. Perturbations arouse angst, even one’s conflicting thoughts. To reduce angst one can deny the validity or the existence of the challenging concept, or to improve compatibility they can rationalize the new concept and maybe even existing concepts. However, when rationalization fails to integrate concepts, one has no choice but to either reject existing concepts or deny new ones. As the change occurs, the amount of angst that is tolerable determines the choice to accept or reject.

Conflicting concepts abound, given 42,000 religions and 2,870 deities each with a history extending tens or hundreds of generations and the largest influencing governance worldwide. Shared beliefs today are no longer limited to groups in local populations, but exist in separate clusters digitally linked into a global society. Herd like, another instinct, they follow each other’s lead reacting in common to resist external forces changing their understanding. Some herds are more tolerant of change as long as it is not happening too quickly or too great a change. Others lack such tolerance.

Religion is not the only area in which change is resisted. Politics and science also resist change. Art and music change faster, though not without resistance. Resistance to change seems instinctive. Why, since the only constant is change, that after eons of evolution we do not instinctively accept change. Accepting change is easier in childhood when almost everything is novel, as long it is not to large or abrupt—the survival instinct at work.

Though all are similar in body, each is unique in mind. Nature (instinct carried by DNA) and nurture (physical and emotional environ) influence the thresholds for tolerances established within everyone’s psyche. Depending on the strength of emotional associations, thresholds may alter and usually do over time. However, few experiences have the potential to elicit the emotional intensity, the awe and wonder that a religious belief often brings. The more fundamental the belief the greater the intensity and, hence, resistance to anything that appears to challenge.

I hope this answers the questions @syzs asked.

Espiritus_Corvus's avatar

Excellent essay, Bill.

Dutchess_III's avatar

“Myth is what we call other people’s religion.” ― Joseph Campbell

Heisenberg's avatar

“Hero Of A Thousand Faces” by Joseph Campbell. This book explains what religion is. But one has to understand it (read it) w/o thinking their religion is the only correct one. In fact all religions are the same at the core. Cavemen invented the first religion when they stacked bear skulls in their dwelling. They were the first to “worship”.

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