We live in a world where it’s possible to question the very existence of God, even the supernatural altogether. Our world also contains many religions that, more often than not, tend to break out along ethnic and cultural boundaries. Most of these religions claim to be the one true way to win the “game” of life — whether that’s through reaching enlightenment, receiving salvation, etc.
So for the sake of argument, let’s say that there really is a God, and he’s given us one of these religions that we’re supposed to follow. As most of these religions teach, picking the wrong belief system will result in horrible punishment that is likely to last an eternity. I already see lots of problems with this scenario, but let’s ignore those for the moment.
How are we supposed to know which religion is the true one?
We’re not born with the luxury of knowing about all these religions from a young age. Instead, each of us is raised to believe that one of the options (or none of them) is the truth, so it’s not until we’re adults that we really begin to learn more about the wider world. And at that point, we have a lot of preconceived notions to overcome. But luckily, these religions usually teach that God is a benevolent being that wants every single one of us to find the path to him, so we can reasonably expect that he’ll help us find a way to him.
The most direct way to communicate something to someone is to speak to them directly. So God could choose that method to let us know what he expects of us. If you’re into video games, this is similar to the tutorial dialogs that pop up in your game to let you know the rules. It’s a helpful tool. You can still press whatever buttons you like, but at least you’ll know what’s expected.
Of course, God doesn’t do that for us. Fair enough — what’s another method he could use? Ah, he could send us some kind of “cosmic email” — writing in the sky, or something like that. You know, something that would be nigh impossible for another person to fake. The message would be accompanied by the kind of sign that would give us assurance we’re dealing with the divine. The burning bush, Gideon’s fleece, Paul’s episode on the road to Damascus, etc.
But if God does this kind of thing today, he’s not ubiquitous with it. I’ve never received a sign like that, nor have most people that I’ve ever known. I guess that’s his prerogative, but it does make one question the Bible’s passages that say God is impartial. But I’m starting to digress…
So maybe God could send us some trusted messenger. It would need to be someone that I know well, so I could really trust what they’re saying. But again, I’ve never gotten such a message, and I also know that even well meaning people can sometimes be delusional. I’m not sure I want to risk my soul on such a message delivery system.
So God could send a messenger imbued with divine powers, someone that could work miracles that could only come from God. I would listen to an individual who could do the kinds of miracles that the Bible describes, but I’ve never seen anyone do them.
However, the Bible is a religious text that claims God did use this method a long time ago. Isn’t that just as good as witnessing the miracles for myself? Not for me. Thomas Paine said that once you tell a divine revelation to someone else, it ceases to be revelation and becomes mere hearsay. I have to agree. For me to accept the word of a religious text, the text would have to be incredibly amazing. The writers would have to demonstrate knowledge of things that they couldn’t possibly have known about ahead of time. When events are recounted in multiple places within the text, they must be without error or contradiction. When science is recounted, it must be without error — not simply a regurgitation of what was already known at the time. Its morals must be without reproach. If it gives prophecies, they must be without error.
If those standards seem too high, then maybe you aren’t truly considering what’s at stake. The soul of everyone who has ever lived hinges on the judgments of this God. Each and every soul should be just as precious to him as the souls of your own children are to you. Would you leave the fate of their souls up to chance, or would you do everything within your power to save them from eternal torture (or punishment, or annihilation — whatever your particular flavor teaches)? If you saw a windowless van pull up to your child and watched the driver coax them to come closer, would you stand back to see how your child reacts, or would you run to them as fast as you could, calling them back all the while? You don’t have to answer, because I know what you would do — you’d do what any decent human would do. Why doesn’t God do the same for us? If I’m currently bound for Hell, and I’m influencing my innocent children to eventually follow in my footsteps, why doesn’t God intervene to help us?
And before you say he does just that through scripture, the Bible fails every one of the criteria I listed out. In fact, I’m not aware of any religious text that comes close to meeting those standards. If we accept that God is loving, merciful, and just, then it does not follow that he would be the author of the Bible. I’d be happy to cite specific examples of the Bible’s failings, but I’ve written way too much already. Luckily, I have links to those examples on my home page.
It’s God’s overwhelming hiddenness that sounds the death knell on religion for me. As Delos McKown has said:
The invisible and the non-existent look very much alike.