For the last few years I’ve had a secret. I’m an atheist. I don’t believe in god. Not even slightly. I wasn’t trying to infiltrate Christianity, I just changed some beliefs and figured most of the people around me wouldn’t understand.
Ok, now to the why part
Belief in god is meant to be ambiguous
What religious debates get wrong
A possible origin of the gods
I attribute religions to cognitive biases. On the one hand these biases kept us alive by attaching meaning to things, but on the other hand some of those meanings were wrong.
Imagine you’re an early farmer. You have a small family and live with 10-20 other people in a valley somewhere. You don’t travel outside the valley much because there’s no need, and you’ll probably get killed by the neighbours, so you Netflix and chill.
In winter it rains and it sounds like voices in the mountains as the wind blows. It would be natural to say that something bigger than yourself, a goddess maybe, sings in the mountains and brings rain. It’s an easy conclusion to come to. You’re not exactly incentivised to go find out if there is a lady in the mountains. It’s storming after all, and you could get eaten by wild animals. You let that mental connection stay. In fact, you let it flourish, because maybe your life is really boring and it’s a good story, or maybe it’s actually real so if you figure out what the mountain lady likes maybe she’ll bring more rain.
You try shouting into the wind, you try kissing the floor, you try kidnapping an neighbour’s kid and offering them as a sacrifice, you try anything you can think of. Then one day you find some old fruit that had fermented a little and you happened to be a bit drunk and dancing naked, making quite a spectacle of yourself in fact. Suddenly you hear the voices echoing in the mountains, and it starts to rain. Now you know that the goddess of rain likes it when you drunkenly dance with your junk out, so next time you’re going through a bit of dry spell you start looking for magical fruit while limbering up for the big dance-off.
And presto, now there are many gods
Now over time you start seeing gods everywhere and they all have distinct personalities. You pray to them all, and because things have been going well (i.e. you’re not dead), you teach your children about these gods, and they teach their children, until these are the gods of old.
Over time things get better with the neighbours. Someone invented money and now you can trade a bit better, but you don’t really trust strangers.
One day you get chatting about your gods to someone from far distant lands, a short drive away today. Apparently they also hear the singing in the mountains when it rains, and the sea tries to hug the sky when there’s a full moon. You realise, these could be the same gods! Now you trust those strangers much more – they believe the same stuff as you!
Little side note: these gods aren’t like modern day monotheistic gods. They are more like patron saints. Some may have actually transitioned to becoming modern religious deities. Have a look at Brigid of Kildare for example.
A god with the best return on investment
Then one day you find you’ve spent hours of your day trying to appease the many gods. You ask yourself: “OK, I know all the gods are great and equal, but which god gives the greatest ROI?”, and so you pick one, the best one in your opinion, the one true god.
Presto! Now you have monotheistic gods. Along the same lines, Ricky Gervais summed up why there are so many gods:
“Science is constantly proved all the time. If we take something like any fiction, any holy book, and destroyed it, in a thousand years’ time that wouldn’t come back just as it was. Whereas if we took every science book and every fact and destroyed them all, in a thousand years they’d all be back, because all the same tests would be the same result.”