Religions have been developed by the efforts of prophets and their followers, men and women who refined ideas and beliefs about how human life might be improved, and then conveyed these ideas in a convincing manner to others. For this to happen, divine intervention has never been required—everything that such prophets and their followers experienced, witnessed, undertook, or relayed, everything that happened then, and everything that has happened since, can be more realistically explained as being the result of other causes. Nevertheless, approximately five billion (or about 80%) of the world’s population state that they believe in a god, and most, presumably, try to obey what they have been told are their god’s wishes.
Today we have over a million religions, all vying for attention, with many of them, in one manner or another, decrying their competitors. Is there no way our moral thinking might be better ordered?
There is. A way that does not deny or attempt to replace any of the existing religions—that would be an insult to some of humanity’s greatest achievements and a nonsensical proposition. But it must be possible to unify beliefs under a banner that allows all to embrace both old and new. There must be at least one universal moral code that captures the essence of being human, that defines who we are, states what we stand for, and guides nations when there are difficult decisions to make. An integrated and forward-looking code that might one day constitute the backbone of a universal religion.
- However, it may be that these statistics tell us more about the effect various social forces have on the assertions people make. There are many influences that might cause an individual to conceal their actual beliefs. Writing this chapter reminds me that I not infrequently feel like the child in Hans Christian Andersen’s fairy tale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, must have felt—different from most other people, and wondering what all the fuss is about. I see none of the colourful raiments that others claim adorn the flesh of the religions that parade our world. Am I blind? How many others see as little of significance as I? (And, how many others also think that much of religion is simply wishful make-believe?)
But, worst of all, I sometimes think that we are all being deliberately misled by people in positions of influence who realize that the truth is not as they speak, but who gain by perpetuating falsehoods. What an evil that would be!