Douglas Murray, a British freelance journalist and political writer – currently the Director of the Centre for Social Cohesion – used to be a ‘practicing Anglican’ – a ‘self-described neoconservative’. He recently lost his faith, and he attributed it to ‘studying Islam’. What happened? He narrates, in an article appearing in The Spectator:
Many people hold on to belief as an unquestioned part of their make-up. They never have to confront the source of their belief, and as long as nothing actively pushes them into addressing it, they keep it as something which rarely does much harm and might actually do some good. I have been an Anglican since birth — and not just a cultural Anglican but at times (rarest of things) a real, worshipping, believing Anglican. Like a lot of believers, I knew that there were parts of my belief that wouldn’t stand up to analysis. But that was fine. I didn’t need to analyse them. I only lost faith when I was forced to.
Some years ago I started studying Islam. It didn’t take long to recognise the problems of that religion’s texts — the repetitions, contradictions and absurdities. Unlike Christianity, scholarship on these problems in Islam has barely begun. But they are manifest for anyone to see. For a holy book which in its opening lines boasts ‘that is the book, wherein is no doubt’, plenty of doubt emerges. Not least in recognising demonstrable plagiarisms from the Torah and the Christian Bible. If God spoke through an archangel to one illiterate tradesman in 7th-century Arabia, then — just for starters — why was he stealing material? Or was he just repeating himself?
Gradually, scepticism of the claims made by one religion was joined by scepticism of all such claims. Incredulity that anybody thought an archangel dictated a book to Mohammed produced a strange contradiction. I found myself still clinging to belief in Christianity. I was trying to believe — though rarely arguing — ‘Well, your guy didn’t hear voices: but I know a man who did.’ This last, shortest and sharpest, phase pulled down the whole thing. In the end Mohammed made me an atheist.
In my previous post ‘Is Everyone Worshipping the Same God?‘ we saw how there are, and have been since time immemorial, a variety of entities worshipped as ‘God’. Many believers, mainly those subscribing to the Abrahamic faiths (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) believe that their ‘God’ is the only true ‘God’ and that all the others are false.
One of the eye-openers for me while still a believer was the realisation that there indeed existed many religions, with specific core tenets that were irreconcilabe with one another. Many Christians do realise this. For this reason every religion can’t possibly be true.
This creates a number of possible options for consideration. Here are three:
- One religion is right, and the rest are wrong
- X number of religions are right, and the rest are wrong
- All religions are wrong
In order to deal with this dilemma of course some sort of criteria has to be established by which we can objectively determine the validity of the claims of the various religions so that we can know which religion is true. This is where it gets tricky for the believer. As long as the beliefs associated with a particlular religion incorporate the ‘supernatural’, all bets are off. Anything, literally, goes. It was for this reason that I, while I was still a believer, found myself having great difficulty sustaining the belief that other religous claims were ‘made up’ while mine were true. Just like Douglas Murray.
For example, if in Islam it is claimed that an archangel spoke to Mohammed the prophet, on what grounds can a Christian claim it didn’t happen? To begin with, being a non-falsifiable claim, he cannot disprove that it happened. Secondly, a Muslim could claim, with sufficient justification because he embraces a supernaturalist worldview, that evil sprits- hoping to detract as many human beings as possible from Islam and into hell – are responsible for the delusion of all other existing religions. As far-fetched as this may sound to a non-Muslim theist, once we are open to the supernatural – they would have to admit that this can’t be ruled out. This very argument was used by a famous early Christian apologist to deride other religions. In Chapter 25 of The First Apology, Justin Martyr writes:
FALSE GODS ABANDONED BY CHRISTIANS.
And, secondly, because we–who, out of every race of men, used to worship Bacchus the son of Semele, and Apollo the son of Latona (who in their loves with men did such things as it is shameful even to mention), and Proserpine and Venus (who were maddened with love of Adonis, and whose mysteries also you celebrate), or AEsculapius, or some one or other of those who are called gods–have now, through Jesus Christ, learned to despise these, though we be threatened with death for it, and have dedicated ourselves to the unbegotten and impossible God; of whom we are persuaded that never was he goaded by lust of Antiope, or such other women, or of Ganymede, nor was rescued by that hundred-handed giant whose aid was obtained through Thetis, nor was anxious on this account that her son Achilles should destroy many of the Greeks because of his concubine Briseis. Those who believe these things we pity, and those who invented them we know to be devils.
What this means is that any relgion that incorporates within its worldview the existence of evil spirits can claim that every other religion besides it is a fabrication of the ‘devil’. So which devil is it – and misleading whom? Is it the JudeoChristoIslamic Satan? Is it the Egyptian Set? Mara, as per Buddhist claims? Rahu as Hinduism claims? Is it the Zoroastrian Angra Mainyu? Baal? Pan, as per the Greeks? Is it a devil whose identity is as yet unknown? Which devil is misleading us and from which ‘true’ faith, exactly, and how do we know?
Once I placed my beliefs under the same critical scrutiny as I did other religions and belief systems that incorporated the supernatural in their worldviews, I realised that holding on to my faith while rejecting others constituted double standards on my part. The double standards I held became obvious to me once I took myself out of my ‘Christian bubble’, and began evaluating all religions with the same level of scepticism.
Eventually I found no good reason to believe in the existence of the supernatural so I discarded all religious beliefs as being untenable.