During this presidential campaign it’s been quite interesting for this atheist to hear the media discussions about Mitt Romney’s Mormonism, Paul Ryan’s Catholicism, and Barack Obama’s Islam. It’s been interesting because — What’s that? Obama’s not a Muslim? Well, fine. But that actually brings me to the point.
Qualitatively, it makes not much difference which religion we’re discussing because fundamentally the evidence speaking to the legitimacy of them all is approximately the same: zero. People frequently enjoy a good chuckle at the expense of Scientology and adherents such as Tom Cruise, as they should, but in reality it is no more ridiculous than other faiths. Scientology seems absurd to most people because it was invented in the 1950s by L. Ron Hubbard, whose blatant charlatanry is transparent to everyone except his hoodwinked disciples.
Mormonism too, suffers from its relative newness. Having been created by a conman named Joseph Smith in the 1830s, the only thing more ridiculous than his account of meeting an angel named Moroni who gave him plates from which he translated the Book of Mormon was the credulity of his willing dupes. Among religions, Mormonism will gain more legitimacy as the incredibly suspect tale of its origins fades further from memory, as is typical.
Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Hinduism, Sikhism, and other, older faiths, are well-established enough to the point where they are essentially beyond the sort of ridicule lobbed at Scientology and Mormonism. Interfaith conflict is of course commonplace, but commonly we hear older religions referred to as the “world’s great religions,” and there is a certain degree of respect afforded them when there really shouldn't be.
Christianity for example, though a dearly held faith here in the United States with plenty of cultural and political clout, is one of the most absurd doctrines imaginable. According to the Bible, 2,000 years god was unhappy with the state of humanity. Miserable, flawed, and inherently sinful, humans needed saving. Consequently, god sent a son earthward to be born of a virgin in an implausible case of parthenogenesis, so he could then spread the good word before being tortured and nailed to a cross. It is said this inhumane act of child sacrifice “saved” humanity from its sins. All that is required to partake in the heavenly benefits wrought by this murderous act is for one to believe that Jesus was the Messiah. But deny, and you will be punished in an eternal pit of fire.
That, in short, is the reigning metaphysical wisdom in America. To believe it is to be in good standing. To not, is to run the risk of being a second class citizen. Although there are encouraging signs, there is much work to be done this front, not just in terms of accepting non-believers, but in terms of becoming a more non-believing country, and world. While we would all do well to understand the religious cultures of the world, we would be far better served by understanding the limitations of human certainty so that we can curtail the religious absolutism and depraved madness that so often results from it.