By reading beyond this sentence, you agree not to misconstrue anything in this post as either (a) an advertisement for atheism, or (b) an attack on your beliefs, religious or otherwise. It is simply intended to offer a larger, factual context for the passionate beliefs that so often lead to misery in this world.
According to adherents.com, there are are more than 4,200 religions/beliefs/faith traditions being followed by the seven billion people on this planet. Most of the faithful in our time subscribe to one of the monotheistic faiths; but most of the world’s religions feature pantheons of many gods. For instance, there are more than 300 Hindu deities.
Now, when you extrapolate these numbers to reflect the supernatural beliefs of the 100+ billion humans who have walked this Earth over the past 150,000 years, the heavens start to get crowded. We humans have had more than 60,000 (mostly polytheistic) religions – worshipping something on the order of 30 million gods.
Take Christianity. Can we count that as one of the world’s religions? Not by a long shot. According to the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, there are approximately 41,000 Christian denominations and organizations in the world. But, surely Jesus counts as a single deity? If we leave that up to his own believers, the answer would a resounding NO! Each distinct Christian sect believes it has the “one true God”, usually called Jesus – and they don’t cut the other Christians much slack. The Amish and the Catholics (Roman, Eastern Orthodox), Baptists and Pentecostals, Seventh Day and Latter Day, Quakers and Jehovah’s Witnesses, lions and tigers and bears, oh my! Their Jesus is not your Jesus is not my Jesus. (Remember the disagreements among American Christian denominations over whether or not Mormon Mitt Romney qualified as one of them?) And that’s just Christianity. 68% of the world’s people – 7 out of 10 – do not check that box.
Then you’ve got Islam (Sunni, Shiite, Ahmadiyya, Druze) and Judaism (Conservative, Secular, Reform, Orthodox, Reconstructionist), Jainism (Svetambara, Sthanakavasis, Digambaras) and Wicca, Zoroastrianism (Parsis, Gabars), Baha’i and Buddhism (Mahayana, Theravada, Lamaism), Hinduism (Vaishnavites, Shaivites, Veerashaivas, neo- and reform), Shinto (Seicho-No-Ie, Tenrikyo, PL Kyodan, Sekai Kyuseikyo, Zenrinkai, Tensho Kotai Jingukyo, Ennokyo) and Sikhism, Chinese and African traditional religions, Scientology, Juche, Spiritism, Cao Dai, Paganism, Rastafarianism… and so on and so on, gods infinitum.
We begin to see how the population of deities has skyrocketed. Gods, after all, don’t die. So as new ones come online, they just join an ever-less-exclusive club. No matter your favorite flavor of savior, I think we can all agree that divinity is a remarkably diverse enterprise.
To simplify the math, let’s say the world’s 4,200 religions worship a total of 10,000 gods.
As a nonreligious/secular/atheist (which, by the way, is how 15-20% of us – more than one billion people – describe ourselves), this is a true statement:
I do not believe in the 10,000 gods worshipped by humans.
I am a 100% non-believer.
As a follower of Mohammed or Jesus or Yahweh, you are a monotheist. Which makes this a true statement:
You do not believe in 9,999 of the 10,000 gods worshipped by humans.
You are a 99.99% non-believer.
So, you (a monotheist) and I (an atheist) are in almost complete agreement on the gods we do not believe in. That is why you are a much better atheist than you ever gave yourself credit for.
Now, I know you are not going to run around bragging about your newfound status as an almost-perfect atheist. And I won’t tell anyone if you don’t want me to. But I would like to encourage people – especially in America – to acknowledge the simple fact: Most people do not share your beliefs, and it is very much in your best interests to accept that fact. Because, here’s the thing: Your freedom of conscience is inviolate – but only if mine is, as well. Any attempt to weaken my position will ultimately weaken yours. Of course, there is a much more elegant way of saying this.
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
(It’s in all the books.)
Here are some links to the info included in this post:
How Many Gods? – atheism.wikia.com