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Can there be only (n)one? May 2, 2007

Posted by Ian in Religion.

A thought I just had while contemplating an entirely different issue was that technically speaking only (up to) one form of religion can be “right”. I have no idea how many different religions there are but the following are the main groupings:

  • Islam
  • Christianity
  • Hinduism
  • Mormonism
  • Spiritualism/New Age

Within each grouping are highly varying versions of that group. I don’t think it would hard to make a list of 50 or more specific religions. Then it gets more interesting because not all catholics (for example) believe exactly the same thing either. If you were then to add in all the ancient religions and more obscure tribal religions you would end up well into the hundreds if not thousands.

The exact numbers or details are not important but it occurs to me that even if one of these religions is 100% right, by far the majority of the earth’s population won’t be. In fact it stands to reason that almost all people who believe in a religion believe in the wrong one… This wouldn’t really matter except that pretty much all religions make it absolutely clear that not following their tenets (or believing in the wrong god) is a punishable fate.

Pascal’s wager finds a rather neat twist in this argument. Pascal’s wager is basically a (rather bad) risk assessment of choosing whether to believe. If you choose to believe and you are wrong these is little cost so its not a big deal. If you choose not to believe and you are wrong the cost is massive – an eternity of getting burnt in hell (according to Christians anyway). The problem is that you cannot from an impartial point of view justify belief in any one religion over any other. Therefore from the wager’s perspective choosing to believe in the wrong religion is equally as bad as not believing at all. In fact you’d have to be damn lucky to pick the right one given all the choices!

Christians will probably argue that the differences between christian denominations are largely academic and they still follow all of the basic tenets. However it only takes one difference to matter and my point is valid. I also wonder why, if the differences are so marginal, that Christianity isn’t united.

This also raises an interesting point about the clarity of various religious documents which is a theme I will return to in detail at some stage. However I will mention here that even if you manage to choose the right religion, there seems to me a fairly high chance you will fail to meet all of its tenets simply through misunderstanding obscurely worded ancient texts. In fact most religious people rely on their priest or pastor to tell them what is important… so you’d better trust him/her! That’s a rather scary pressure for a priest – one screw up could send all your people to hell them even they did by chance pick the right one… I might have to take that up with one some day.

I suppose the easy way to get out of this is to claim that god will forgive you whatever it is that you do wrong, but then it really doesn’t matter what you believe or do. It is interesting that in Christianity the only unforgivable sin is denying the holy spirit (and I think there is an analog in Islam). I don’t think it is a coincidence that once the religion has your faith it doesn’t matter what you do, but if you deny it then you have no chance.

Anyway I’ll leave this spontaneous bunch of thoughts here and resume normal transmission in a day or so πŸ™‚



1. A. J. Chesswas - May 15, 2007

Mate I have posted a response on my blog… Get amongst it πŸ™‚

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