As social constructs, religions epitomize the old adage, “There’s nothing natural about [fill in the blank].” This is a statement used to challenge systemic approaches to explain social phenomena. In my field it’s a great quip to mitigate anarchy. Or at least to explain it in a social sense. There’s nothing natural about anarchy. “Anarchy is what states make of it.”
There’s nothing natural about religions. They are what we make of them.
Religious ideas as universal, systemic structures over all people are not inevitable consequences of human nature. If they were, we should see uniformity across the social and geographic spectrum. Instead we see a multitude of religious explanations competing over a multitude of matters. Sin, the afterlife, miracles, god — these vary greatly depending on geographic location. Geographic location sets the parameter of the social setting: access to limited resources. Depending on the quantity, quality, and kind of resources available to a specific population, social ideas fall into various hierarchical structures, defined by the society exploiting — or attempting to exploit — those resources.
In other words, whatever the method used for constructing gods, the purpose is infinitely different between populations. Scarcity of one resource might create a different god than a population with an abundance of that resource. This sets the basic principle of the main idea of this post: These two religions are contradictory explanations of the world. No matter how much we temper our differences — even if we all adopted the same exact religion — we will never have the same religion, even if we already do have the same religion. Here’s why.
It comes down to a very basic fact: We cannot read each other’s minds, though try as we may.
We cannot understand what others believe. We can only allow them to explain it, but we will invariably view their beliefs according to our own interpretations. In this sense, we could take two identical twins of a specific Christian faith — all other things equal — and we would have two infinitely disparate interpretations of that faith.
This is a well-understood — yet solutionless — problem in communication: No matter how certain we are that we’ve perfectly explained something to another person, they will understand it in an infinitely divorced fashion, even if they understand it fairly well. (You right now are interpreting this differently than I’ve explained it).
This inevitably means that all religious arguments and all counter arguments are wrong. Because we learned them in the social context, we can only repeat them in a manner sufficient that we — ourselves — understand them. No two explanations are identical, even if the words we use are.
This might sound like a fairly abstract idea, and it’s easily challengable on that basis, but it’s quite simple: Until atheists and religious people can read their preachers’ minds, they will never perfectly understand the religious explanation. This goes for any and every social phenomenon.