One of my favourite quotes relating to religion and atheism is by Richard Dawkins: I contend that we are both atheists. I just believe in one fewer god than you do. When you understand why you dismiss all the other possible gods, you will understand why I dismiss yours.
It’s an interesting quote, and while I don’t think that, by itself, it can totally refute someone’s faith, it is something to think about. I’ve blogged about my own perspective before. That while I can respect someone’s decision to believe in some kind of higher power, I have less respect for their choice to follow a religion. Because how do you know which one is correct? Is Jesus any more real than Muhammad or Buddha? The historical evidence for each (or lack of) is about the same. So why do some people follow the teachings of Jesus, some Muhammad, and some Buddha? And what about those who don’t follow any of them, religious or otherwise.
Nurture Vs Nature
The obvious answer is that you believe what you grow up believing. So if you are born into a Christian culture, you’ll be Christian. And if you grow up in a Buddhist culture, you will be Buddhist.
Of course, there are many examples of people switching allegiance from one religion to another: Muhammad Ali, Yusuf Islam, George Harrison. In these cases, it was the nature of each religion that made them decide to change their beliefs. Does that make their personal faith any more justified? Possibly. Does it make the religion they left behind less valid than their new religion? Definitely not.
Maybe this is one reason I’m not religious (apart from that whole “not believing in God” thing). Perhaps I can’t justify choosing one religion over another because they all seem to be equally implausible to me.
That makes sense for an atheist, but what about religious people? If you find Judaism, or Islam, or Christianity implausible, how can you justify your belief in Buddhism?
I guess that’s when people fall back on their “faith”, but I find that so difficult to understand. Having faith in something doesn’t make it any more authentic than something else. From the outside, your faith in one religion over all others looks like nothing but an arbitrary choice. How can anyone make a decision like that?
Does It Matter What Religion You Choose?
Of course, maybe it doesn’t matter that faith is nothing but an arbitrary choice. If your religion provides you with the things you need to make it through the day, does it matter what religion you follow? Does it even matter that you are religious or not? Ninety per cent of the time, probably not. It’s the ten per cent that worries me. All those rules and dogma that religious people are encouraged to follow.
Sometimes it’s of no consequence, like not eating meat on Friday, or not eating bacon. But when your religion tells you things like homosexuality is wrong, or that women are not allowed to drive or vote, then your choice of religion is a problem.
Personally, I think it would be better if there were no religions. I’m happy for people to want to believe in God, or gods, or a higher spiritual plane, but don’t let other people tell you what to think, or act, or eat, or who you can fall in love with or marry.
From my perspective, all major religions have one fatal flaw; they were created by people, and they have all the defects and faults that people have. So, if you need religion in your life, why not start your own? It’s probably just as valid as anyone else’s.