Monday, June 23, 2008

Create Your Own Religion

On occasion, we hear an argument for Christianity based upon it being unique. We hear phrases like, “Only Christianity does not require works to earn salvation” or “The Bible is unique because it was authored by 40 different people from various walks of life, over 1000’s of years, on three continents, blah, blah, blah…”

There is nothing about being “unique” or “different” which means something is correct. Answering the question, “What shape has only four equal straight lines and four equal angles?” with “a perpendicular purple parasite” is certainly unique. Yet clearly incorrect.

Curiously, we hear the exact opposite argument as well—that because some concept within Christianity is universally accepted, the fact it is NOT unique makes it true.

“Every society has morals.”
“Every society has a creation story” (or flood myth)
“The vast majority of people have always believed there is a god.”

When the occasion warrants, the Christian will embrace uniqueness as “proof” of the truth of Christianity, and (hardly taking a breath) will then claim its common themes demonstrate how it must be true. The reality is that ALL religions have particulars which make them unique, and ALL religions have a commonality.

When reviewing all religions, we can develop a blueprint by which to create our own.

Identify a Problem

Relatively easy—observe the world about us and see what most humans identify as a difficulty or something that needs to be improved. We see weather, and seasons with too little rain, or too much. A problem. A solution to this problem is creating a weather-god to control the problem.

We see humans desiring to hurt other humans. Create a god who imposes rules upon society. We want to impose OUR rules on other societies—include that requirement within one’s god. When creating a god, all bets are off—the sky is the limit. We can have our god do anything we want.

I like the “problem” the Aztecs invented—a non-problem! They saw the sun crossing the sky everyday and thought “what would happen if it stopped doing that?” thus creating the problem of keeping the sun doing what it was doing anyway!

Get the humans involved

This is absolutely key. Most frustrating being asked to help out a project, showing up, and then given nothing to do. Give us something—anything! Hold a string, measure the doors, collect the receipts. As long as we are doing something (no matter how small) we feel as if we are “useful.”

The religion that dies on the vine is the one having a god which will do whatever it desires, regardless of human involvement. This is why religions (yes, even Christianity) always have the human doing something forcing an impact on the god.

Offer sacrifices of food to the Rain-God to make it rain. Offer sacrifices of blood to make the sun travel across the sky. Offer requests to ask the god to do something. Offer worship, offer virgins. Believe the right thing, preach the correct words, use the right “Holy Writing.” Every religion promulgates because it keeps the humans involved: “Do this thing, and god will respond favorably.”

The question, of course, is “Do what?” What is it that a god likes? The simplest solution is to imagine God is a great, big, human (with superpowers) so a God would like what a human likes! Humans like food—offer a god food. Humans like to be praised—offer the god praise. Humans like recognition—offer the god recognition through sacrifice. Humans like to be right—offer the god the “correct” belief. Every thing offered by a religion is something a human wants. (Because that is the only way we know how to relate—on human terms.)

Have you thought about how human-like the Christian God is? He requires “correct belief.” (Always in line with what this or that particular Christian is telling me.) Why? What if I am wrong? Dead, absolutely, couldn’t-be-any-more-wrong wrong? What is that to a God? A God who has lived an infinity and can make galaxies consisting of billions of exploding balls of gas, with orbiting rocks—and I blow this creature’s entire Monday by not thinking a certain way?

We really think such a creature cares? And why is this creature so all-consumed with worship? With receiving glory? So obsessed that (according to Christians) it will physically force everyone to bend their knee as a display of its awesomeness. If I am standing—does God cry? This creation of a God wants what the humans who created it want—recognition through power.

I confess it is difficult to take seriously the claims of how incomprehensible a Creator/God would be, and then be told how I, a human who will only live 80 years or so, can so outstandingly affect its thoughts, emotions, actions and desires. As if it must dance to my (or any other human) tune.

Our religion has created a resolution to the problem (a god) yet retained the human as a necessary part of the resolution to the problem. What happens when the problem continues?

Find blame for the problem continuing

See, even if we have the god to give the rain, and have the religion to tell the humans how to make the god give the rain—sometimes the rain doesn’t fall. This will need to be explained away, and we have a variety of tools available to us.

1) Accentuate the positive; completely ignore the negative.

If you pray for 10 people to get well, and one person does—point this out over (and over and over). If people hear it enough, they will only remember how you prayed about Bob and Bob got well. If they don’t hear it, they will forget you also prayed for Bill and Bo and Buff and Bono and Zanzibar Buck-Buck McFate.

And don’t just passively wait for things to happen—point out the positive when you haven’t even done anything! I love how churches hold picnics in August and then “Thank God for the wonderful weather we have today, with no rain.” Their god was sitting in heaven, thinking about giving rain to the farmers who desperately need it for the crops, but then saw the First Baptist Church was having its annual picnic and without even being asked provided wonderful sunny weather. In August.

Thank your god for food. Or your job. Or your spouse. Or the building in which to meet. Or your friends. See how you can start to point out all the wonderful things happening to you that could ONLY have come from a benevolent god? Sure, other people have jobs, and spouses. Sure, other people just lost their job, or started divorce proceedings. But if we can ignore them, and continually point out how the god gave—it all seems so positive.

2) Blame the person.

One thing to be very careful is never committing to specifics within a religion. Don’t fall into the trap of saying, “If you place ten grapes and two watermelons on an oak stump at noon, god will provide 2 centimeters of rain on your entire property within 24 hours.” Oh, no. ‘Cause this would be disaster when the rain didn’t fall.

Always add a nebulous word or two allowing wiggle room, so we can blame the person. Remember Linus from Peanuts who always wanted to see “The Great Pumpkin”? Remember what “The Great Pumpkin” required? A sincere pumpkin patch. That’s a great word—“sincere”! This way, when The Great Pumpkin fails to make an appearance, we can claim poor Linus was not “sincere” enough. Easy to measure ten grapes and two watermelons. How does one measure “sincerity”?

I’m sure you can immediately see all the advantageous words, thoughts and phrases to explain away why god didn’t solve the problem through the religions’ mechanisms. Blame it on not having the right belief. Or not believing enough. Blame it on the person not exercising the tenets of the religions correctly. (I.e. “having sin.”) Blame it on the prayer, the prayee, or the pray itself.

Now we would say, “If you genuinely give ten grapes and two watermelons, with a humble heart, and a contrite spirit—no thought of your own selfish desires—god will provide the rain.” When the rain doesn’t happen we got “genuine” and “humble” and “heart” and “contrite” and “spirit” and “selfish desires”—all SORTS of words to point out how the person did it wrong, wrong, wrong!

Of course, if it only rains 1 centimeter—see One (1) above: accentuate that positive!

3) Create an enemy

Although not necessary, it is useful to manufacture an opponent to your god within your religion. It can be another god, or a very powerful monster, or a demi-god. The Christians conveniently have the Devil. (or “sin-nature”)

This way, when the expected results don’t occur, we can blame this other creature for cutting god off at the knees and “blocking” god from doing what god wants to do. “God wishes he could save everybody, but golly-gosh, that darn ‘sin-nature’ prevents him from doing so.”

Feel free to mix and match any of these three elements. Have the Devil block a person, because they had sin in their life, but at least God allowed them to eventually find employment—just not the job they wanted. See how easily that works?

Be exclusive!

Everybody likes a birthday. A day set aside when we are just a little bit different than everyone else in our life. A day we justify sleeping in, or relaxing, or buying something we don’t need because on that day we are special.

We all like the boss recognizing us. Pointing out how we are distinctive and exceptional as compared to the other employees. Or getting that special reward.

A religion can offer that. God likes you because you did it right. God DOESN’T like those other people, or that other (wrong) belief, or those other religions. They aren’t special—they are human-made fictions.

You get rewards; they will get punishments. You get heaven; they get hell. You get crowns of glory for YOUR accomplishments; they will get toasted tootsies for their failure to be special.

And there you have it. How to successfully create a religion. Identify the problem. Resolve the problem by requiring humans to do something. Rationalize the dilemma of the problem continuing. Emphasize how special all the followers are.

Christianity unique? In minor points—yes. But on the whole as a religion? Not hardly.


  1. DaGoodS:
    One thing to be very careful is never committing to specifics within a religion.

    Years ago, I was reading an old issue of Skeptical Inquirer in the university library. There was a special article on how to make bogus but convincing UFO photographs. One of the key elements in taking fraudulent photos was to not be too specific. Do not show too much. The brain of the willing UFO believer will fill in whatever gaps you leave out. Making the photo too crisp or detailed will reveal the flaws.

    If you throw a garbage pail lid in the air, just make the photo grainy. Our brains easily fill in the gaps and make that photo very believable. Even taking an out-of-focus photo of a wad of chewing gum stuck to the windshield will be perceived as a UFO chasing you down on the highway.

    Just make it ambiguous. Don't define it too well. Leave the edges grainy and undefined.

    At the time I read this interesting article, I did not relate the lesson of ambiguity to my own Christian faith. I must have been too busy contemplating the mysteries of the Trinity.

  2. **We hear phrases like, “Only Christianity does not require works to earn salvation” **

    How long does this stay valid? I know I brought up this point on another blog that had the same topic, but the idea of Christianity doesn't require works to earn salvation only seems to last so long as the Christian is well-behaved.

    If we produce an example of a Christian who isn't all that great, and yet has the required amount of faith, and sincerely believes in the right stuff, wouldn't we then get told that the person isn't a true Christian, because of the behavior? And therefore, the person isn't actually saved? Yet, the person's salvation status isn't determined by the faith, or what's unearned.

    While works might not earn salvation, they do seem to play a large factor.

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