Which is the True Religion?

Here’s a quick philosophical exercise, imagine a world with a single religious worldview – everyone holds the same origin story, believes in the same deity and afterlife structure, they all share the same moral code and apply it in the same way. If you leave aside the logical fallacy of argumentum ad populum, these people could rightly assert their religious world view is the correct or true one, as no others exist.

We do not live in this world.

Religions are a remnant from a time when curious and thoughtful humans, with much the same mental faculties as you and I, attempted to feed a burning desire to understand where they came from and how best to navigate the hostility provided by nature. The major difference between you and these ancient people is that they lacked the tools and accumulated knowledge of successive generations that we rely and improve upon today (McClenon, 1997).

If religions are a remnant of a time when survival relied on creating parables and stories to keep children away from the dangers that lurked in nearby forests or caves, then the trait was heavily selected for (i.e., those who listened, lived), then it left us with a vestigial susceptibility to creative and supersites explanations of natural phenomena (Näreaho, 2008). These ancestors created a great many religious belief systems; tens of thousands of geographically specific Gods (such as volcanoes and oceans), superstitions, animistic beliefs and moral ontologies.

Today, there are thousands (literally thousands) of religions, each claiming to be the supreme authority, with the true origin story, deity, afterlife and moral code. Within these religions, there are separate sects or denominations, each with a slightly different (but, to them, hugely important) understanding of the religion (Machinist, 2003). Christianity alone has an estimated 40,000 separate denominations.

They can’t all be right, but they can all be wrong.

So how can we know which religions are the wrong ones? Easy, ask the adherents directly. Ask a Muslim whether Taoism is the correct religion; ask a Buddhist whether Zoroastrianism is true; ask a Hindu whether Scientology is real; ask an Astaru believer whether Jianism is factual; ask Falun Gong practitioner whether Christianity is correct. They’ll tell you in no uncertain terms; no.

They’re all right, of course; the natural world provides no evidence that any of the tens of thousands of religious belief systems are correct, and the overwhelming number of belief systems claiming supremacy is an argument against them all.


Machinist, P. 2003, 'Peoples of an Almighty God: Competing Religions in the Ancient World', Interpretation, vol. 57, no. 1, pp. 84-86.

McClenon, J. 1997, 'Shamanic healing, human evolution and the origin of religion', Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, vol. 36, no. 3, pp. 345-354.

NÄREAHO, L. 2008, 'The cognitive science of religion: philosophical observations', Religious Studies, vol. 44, no. 1, pp. 83-98. —Jake Farr-Wharton