One of the arguments Evangelical Christians use to “prove” the exclusivity of Christianity is this:
“Bruce, billions of people are Christians. Surely, they can’t ALL be deluded and deceived, right?”
This seems to make sense, doesn’t it? The sheer number of Christians makes it highly unlikely that Christianity is untrue, right? However, history is replete with examples of people sincerely believing things that were later found to be untrue. Millions of people have been slaughtered by zealots sincerely committed to beliefs that were untrue.
In the political realm, we see this all the time. President Lyndon Johnson lied about the Gulf of Tonkin incident that drew us into the Vietnam War. President George Bush and his lackeys lied about weapons of mass destruction, and used this lie to start a war with Iraq. Adolph Hitler, a Christian man, along with his fellow Nazis, spun a lie about the Jews and the superiority of the Aryan race. Germans embraced this lie, resulting in the death of millions of people. In each of these illustrations, the lie was believed by the masses.
What does Christianity offer to people? It purports to answer the “big” questions of life, especially the question of life after death. There is no question that Christianity gives hope, meaning, and purpose to billions of people. However, just because millions of people find hope, meaning, and purpose in Christianity doesn’t necessarily mean it is true.
Christianity is an exclusive religion. Some sects within the Christian tent (i.e. Catholicism) claim exclusivity for their particular sect. Some churches take this exclusivity a step further and claim that they are one of the few true churches (i.e. Darwin Fish, A True Prophet of God). A Christian is a follower of Jesus and his teachings. At some level, the Bible must be embraced as truth. Otherwise, how can a person know they should follow Jesus or what the requirements are to be a follower?
Since Christianity is an exclusive religion, all other religions are considered false. All other gods are no gods at all. According to Christians, their God, the God of the Bible, the God who reveals himself through creation and conscience, is the one true and ever-existing God.
It is this certainty about God, the Bible, sin, salvation, and life after death that draws millions of people to Christianity. Every Easter, millions of people will gather together to proclaim their belief in a God-man named Jesus. In him, they find the forgiveness of sin and life eternal. Surely the sheer magnitude of worldwide Easter gatherings stands as proof that Christianity is true!
There’s just one BIG problem with this seemingly insurmountable “fact.” There are other sects that have millions/billions of worshippers too. There are millions of Hindus, Muslims, Jews, and Buddhists who believe their God is the true God or one of the many gods in the universe. Take a look at the numbers for the major religions of the world:
Let’s play fill in the blank:
Millions/Billions of people are __________ (fill in with one of the above religions). “Surely they can’t ALL be deluded and deceived, right?”
I hope you see that the number of believers/followers doesn’t necessarily mean a religion is true. It is quite possible for a religion to be totally manmade and yet have millions/billions of adherents. This is easily proved.
When I think of a manmade religion, I can think of no better example than Mormonism. Joseph Smith invented the Mormon religion, yet 15+ million people are practicing Mormons. There are over 29,000 Mormon congregations in the world and over 88,000 Mormon missionaries go from place to place making disciples for their God. Surely, this is proof that the Mormon religion is the one true faith and the Mormon God is the one true God, right?
Wikipedia gives a concise summary of how the Mormon religion started:
Mormonism originated in the 1820s in western New York during a period of religious excitement known as the Second Great Awakening. Founded by Joseph Smith, the faith drew its first converts while Smith was dictating the text of the Book of Mormon from golden plates he said he found buried after being directed to their location by an angel. The book described itself as a chronicle of early indigenous peoples of the Americas, portraying them as believing Israelites, who had a belief in Christ many hundred years before his birth. Smith dictated the book of 584 pages over a period of about three months saying that he translated it from an ancient language “by the gift and power of God”. During production of this work in mid-1829, Smith, his close associate Oliver Cowdery, and other early followers began baptizing new converts into a Christian primitivist church, formally organized in 1830 as the Church of Christ. Smith was seen by his followers as a modern-day prophet.
Smith later wrote that he had seen a vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ in spring 1820 in answer to his question of which denomination he should join. Sometimes called the “First Vision”, Smith’s vision of God the Father and Jesus Christ as two separate beings was reportedly the basis for the difference in doctrine between Mormonism’s view of the nature of God and that of orthodox Christianity. Smith further said that in answer to his prayer the Lord instructed him to join none of the existing churches because they were all wrong. During the 1820s Smith reported having several angelic visitations, and by 1830 Smith said that he had been instructed that God would use him to re-establish the true Christian church and that the Book of Mormon would be the means of establishing correct doctrine for the restored church.
Mormonism is a wonderful example of American entrepreneurship. Founded on the lies/delusions of Joseph Smith, it is now one of the largest religions in the United States. There is no truth to the founding story, yet millions of people believe it. This is clear evidence that it is possible for millions of people to believe something and it be totally false.
How do you know that Christianity is any different from Mormonism or any of the other religions of the world? As I have clearly shown, the number of people who believe is not proof that any particular religion is true.
Bruce Gerencser, 65, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 44 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.
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And that right there is where my slippery slope began. One day in 2004, when I was still safely in my Christian bubble, I happened across a PBS documentary about the Hajj (Islamic pilgrimage). I watched these millions of people who were as entirely committed to their faith as I was. Until that moment, Islam was just another religion out there in the world; I had no real concept of the scope of it.
This made me think more critically about Christianity – with millions of adherents to both religions, and knowing they can’t both be right, well, then what? I know the answer I SHOULD have had for that question as a Good Christian™, but somehow it didn’t cut it anymore after I watched this documentary. Because I realized if we use the “millions of people can’t be wrong” argument for Christianity, we can also use it for Islam, and it all began to come apart at the seams.
Erin, I had a similar thought that led me from non-religious-but-still-believing-god-existed-on-some-level to atheist. The thought I had was that every religion that I knew anything about had a basic belief that they were right about how the universe works and every other religion was wrong; so what if every religion was correct in their belief that every other religion was wrong? Then that would mean that none of them was right. And from there I realized that each and every religion is just bull made up by someone somewhere along the way.
It really just shows that people are gullible and will believe just about anything. If you dress it up and tell them what they want to hear, they’re even willing to kill you for NOT believing.
If True Christianity (Evangelicalism) were separated out from False Christianity (everything else that claims to be Christianity), it would probably only rank at #4.
Interesting comments on Mormonism. Back in the 70s, when I knew little about religion and nothing about America, I read a book about Mormonism and Joseph Smith. That effectively turned me into an atheist, though it’s only recently that I’ve started thinking this through properly.
I was intrigued during your previous presidential election by Mitt Romney, who was, and presumably still is, a devout Mormon. How can somebody who adheres to such a patently stupid belief be trusted to run a country? Then again, I suppose it’s just a matter of degree, the extent to which presidents hold stupid beliefs!
Geoff, Romney is actually a Mormon bishop so he’s quite high in the church hierarchy. And yet, he struck me as being a man who didn’t really have deep seated core values. Strange, isn’t it?
On one hand, I think a candidate’s religious beliefs are irrelevant. But, if those beliefs affect their ability to make rational decisions, then I think they are relevant. John Kennedy’s Catholicism? Irrelevant. Ronald Reagan’s Evangelicalism and end time beliefs? Quite relevant. What worries me about some American congressmen/presidents is their fundamentalist religious beliefs, especially when they have the power to control the military and whether we go to war. If they think Israel is God’s chosen people, then they are more likely to attack Iran because they believe they are defending God’s chosen people, the family of Jesus.
Hey, wait a second Bruce, you mean Calvinists AREN’T really the Elect??
So what if Muslims start to outnumber Christians; does that make Islam true? This is bad logic.
Mormonism is always something I point to, also, when showing the origins of a religion.
And Christianity has how many sects and denominations…about 30,000? My religion believed that only our denomination accurately followed the Bible. But if the Bible is a collection of myths, then there is no basis for being in a denomination or religion that has based their foundation on myths.
Religious studies scholars rank “belief” pretty low on the list of defining aspects of religions, while “identity” ranks pretty high. If you say “evangelical Christian”, you can put together a pretty accurate list of descriptors of what that means. Same with Reform Jew, or moderate Catholic, etc.
When I was a kid, I thought all the religions (except ours of course) sounded pretty ridiculous. I wondered if ours sounded equally ridiculous to others, though I had to get rid of that idea so as not to entertain demonic thoughts. I remember noticing how TV shows and movies made fun of our religion, and I felt so uncomfortable. I didn’t like being associated with a religion that people thought was ridiculous. When I started working in a university biochemistry lab, occasionally I would hear scientists making derogatory comments about evangelicals, and I began to associate evangelicalism with anti-intellectualism. I began to hear it in the sermons of our pastor who was the least intellectually sounding of previous pastors our church had hired. These were frightening thoughts to have when you’re a teen in a high demand religion that tells you if you don’t believe the right things you’re going to be tortured eternally in hell and that’s your fault.
I think most ex-believers would agree that realizing and then accepting that there is no real evidence for the deity we were taught to worship, or really any deity, is terrifying at first. It takes courage to approach that concept, even if you have to do it like I did in small chunks. I think we all have a limited amount of courage, and for many people there are a whole lot of things that their life demands they be courageous about. The courage bucket is only so full. Plus, to deal with those other things, a believer can pray for guidance and assistance; facing the actual lack of evidence for that deity means giving up on all that presumed support.
A friend of mine, who has studied anthropology, likes to point out that one of the things that has allowed humans to be so successful as a species is that most of us are good followers. To become an ex-believer, one must give up following a path that everyone around them follows. That’s actually going against the natural inclination that has allowed us to form bands and groups and use social attachments to make ourselves safe, and keep ourselves and our children fed, in a very hostile world. The same inclination allows us today to form democratic societies and support large-scale governments, which is necessary because there are so many of us. But regardless of how some theologians like to blather about Natural Law, our brains can be used to overcome our natural inclinations when the latter make our lives more difficult than they need to be…like overcoming following spiritual paths that are detrimental to our spirits.
What about the fact that the Muslims,Hindus,and Roman Catholics have the most amount of members because birth control and abortion are discouraged,if not outlawed ? I remember hearing how the Communists did the same thing at one time because they wanted large armies. So much for the idea of truth where this argument is concerned.
When you were a kid, your parents (or whoever raised you) probably didn’t let you do something you really, really wanted to do.
“But all the other kids are doing it,” Your parent (or equivalent) probably said, “Well, if all the other kids were jumping off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you want to do it, too?”
I’ll bet that the very same people who make the “2 billion Christians can’t be wrong” argument give their kids the same answer (or its regional equivalent) when their kids want to do something “all the other kids are doing.”
So called religious “holy texts” contain texts of violence or texts of terror. This includes the bible. And these same texts include many myths. Followers of these religious texts sometimes use these texts of violence and terror to promote violence and terror (including psychological terror) on others.
Away with all this nonsense! Compassion, kindness and the promotion of peace need no holy books, no religious gurus to parse them, and no religious buildings to promote their worship of their various, imaginary and contradictory gods. Christianity, itself, has over 40,000 different denominations who are all divided on various points of theology, ethics, hermeneutics and church organisation. Confusion reigns supreme in the Christian church. So much for the “one holy Catholic and apostolic church.”