Have you ever wondered about all the deities that used to have so many people enthralled back in the day. How could it be that so many people were so consumed by such silly deities, such fantastical creation myths, and such ridiculous religions customs? How could so many people worship and build huge monuments dedicated to Zeus and Amun-Ra? How could so many people sacrifice so many humans in an attempt to appease the Aztec deity Quetzalcoatl? How could so many people actually believe that a goat legged horned deity called Pan roamed the wild, or that the jackal headed Egyptian deity Anubis controlled the afterlife? (until he was replaced by Osiris – of course). How incredibly ignorant and credulous must so many Japanese people have been to believe that the sun goddess Amaterasu was born out of the left eye of the deity Izanagi as he purified himself in a river, and that Tsukuyomi, the moon god, was born out of his right eye? Not to mention Susanoo, the god of the sea and storms, who was naturally born out of Izanagi’s nose – where else? How is it that so many humans believed that the Egyptian deity Horus (nicknamed “The Savior”) was born of a virgin, walked on water, had twelve disciples, preformed miracles, was crucified, died to atone for mankind’s sins, and ascended to heaven three days after his death?
Lest we think that belief in fantastical deities is a thing of the past, some 200,000 people still believe in the ancient Zoroastrian creator deity, Ahura Mada, while some 600,000 Rastafarians believe that the former emperor of Ethiopia, Haile Selassie, was a reincarnate of Jesus. Some one billion Hindus still worship a myriad of deities from the elephant headed Ganesha to the snake deity Naga. Scientologists actually believe the ludicrous story, spined by the pulp science fiction writer, L. Ron Hubbard, that 75 million years ago, Xenu, the dictator of the “Galactic Confederacy”, brought hundreds of billions of his people to earth in a DC-8 looking spaceship and placed them next to volcanoes before lowering hydrogen bombs into them, killing the people and releasing their souls to wonder the earth in confusion as they reincarnate themselves in humans throughout the ages. Eighteen months after being convicted of fraud, Joseph Smith managed to convince quite a few people that he was visited by an angel called Moroni who told him where he could find a book of gold plates in upstate New York. With magic spectacles, that were found together with the gold plated book, Joseph Smith claimed he managed to translate the ancient writings on them into English. However, as no one apart from Joseph Smith was supposed to inspect this magic book (according to Joseph Smith), and as Joseph Smith could read a bit but could not write, he sat behind a suspended sheet in his kitchen, having convinced his foolish neighbor, Martin Harris, to take dictation as he “read” from the golden plates, which later disappeared, never to be seen again. These “humble” beginnings should have produced nothing more than a passing comic relief, but instead produced the 14 million member strong Mormon church, out of which not one but two presidential candidates are now running for the Republican party’s nomination.
What is the takeaway lesson from all of this?
Well, it might be useful to note that there is nothing less believable about the Hindu snake deity Naga than there is about the talking serpent in the Adam and Eve story; nor is Horus’ crucifixion, resurrection, and atonement for mankind’s sins less believable than that of Jesus. Why then do so many people believe in one particular story and not in others? On what grounds can they dismiss one story as an ancient myth while being so certain that another is true? And not just certain that it is true – dead certain that it is an absolute truth.
Some religious apologist might, at this stage, try paying lip service to the idea of “to each his own”, and that all religions should be equally respected. But in light of the contradictions between religions claims from different religions (or often within the same religion), and in light of what their own dogmatic teachings say about followers of other religions, one should not fall for that cheap, not to mention paradoxical, trick. The fact of the mater is that every person makes up their own mind about what to believe and what not to. And religious beliefs are no exception to this.
How then do people make up their minds about which deity to dogmatically worship? They keep claiming that it has nothing to do with evidence and reason, and has everything to do with faith – a belief in the absence of evidence. We can, therefore, safely say that worshipping Yahweh or Allah is logically indistinguishable from worshipping Ganesha or Zeus or Thor, and that all deities have an equal probability of existing in the first place.
One cannot learn about the multitudes of religions and creeds, noticing the limitless capacity of human credulity, without reflecting on one’s own beliefs. And yet, we keep hearing sentiments like: “Of course i don’t believe in mythical man made deities like Zeus. I believe in Yahweh – the almighty god”.
Next time someone encourages you to believe in any particular creator deity or in some sort of supernatural explanation, feel free to use the well phrased sentiments of Matteo De Vincenti as they were reported by the inquisition in 1573: “It’s nonsense, having to believe these things – they’re stories. I would rather believe i had money in my pocket”.
And then consider how wonderful it is to be able to say something as simple and sobering as that without being tortured and burned alive for doing so.