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Welcome to a problem-identifying node of the Pandeism index!!


The Problem:

Some weekends past, I was approached by an evangelist -- I won't say for which faith, and probably needn't to do so -- who sought to sell me his particular theistic belief set using a modified model of the old argumentum ad populum. But the argument he pitched was not exactly the traditional old saw of the flat earth (that many people believe in proposition X, and so the shared conviction of many adherents shows that proposition X must be true). But he instead insisted that it is some unconscious knowledge of the truth of the faith which draws people to it, magnetically, like a moth to a flame.... and, to sweeten the pot, he added that those drawn to it have collectively produced 'great feats' -- pointing to edifices and technological and social developments -- likewise supposedly creditable to an underlying truth read from the faith.

Indeed, ideas in this "numbers game" and "achievements game" family have been pitched at me a few times in past weeks, and from different faiths and sects, each claiming adherent inflation as a sign of truth. The sudden upsurge in my receipt of these contentions makes me think the promoters think they've hit on some market-tested soft spot in the logic of potential converts, and are selling hard on that point. These contentions raise the spectre of a related phenomenon I've observed closely, recently, which is the practice of religious sects -- in their mastery of cognitive dissonance -- to use irreconcilable definitions of who is or is not "of" their group, for different purposes. And I'll go back a bit on my first line, to reveal that the major offenders in playing the numbers game here are Christianity and Islam, and even as a subset of Christianity, Roman Catholicism. I've also seen representatives of Scientology and Mormonism tout their respective comparatively paltry numbers as indicators of relative swift growth, alongside other sects seeking to twists statistics to market themselves as the "fastest growing" on a percentage basis. To the converse, I have seen claimants to older faiths -- Jews especially but not uniquely -- arguing that theirs is proved true by the very fact of their members hanging in there despite small numbers and constant advances from much larger and glitzier competing faiths (I've gotten that one also from Mormons and Scientologists, though their evangelists just seem more prone to push their growth rate).

Including the Excluded

When adherence to a faith is held to a tight reign, then my evangelist's interesting argument, to be sure, fails -- for no particular sect can honestly be claimed to hold more than, at the most, a few million studiously observant adherants, and probably only a fraction of that; but, naturally, they can dishonestly claim to hold billions.

Apart from the multi-fractured denominations, every faith counts among its numbers (for purposes of exaggerating its numbers) many who ought not to be, in good conscience, counted among the faithful. We almost all know personally some of those for whom the religious life is a simple social exercise, an absurd charade maintained because it is good for business, because it fulfills the momentum of expectations, even because it provides opportunities to hook up with potential casual sex partners.

Consider a typical sect of the type which interprets its scripture so as to demonise people based on their proclivity toward pseudo-reproductive contact (naturally, since it can't be actually reproductive) with those of the same sex as themselves; where another group claims to fall within their sect, but expresses that it has no problem with this same-sex contact, the members of the first group will oft denounce that claim of association. But in the same breath, when trying to win over a convert via that old argumentum ad populum or its ill-intended ilk, they'll count the very same group they just ceremonially expunged from their sect in touting the numbers of the sect, solely for purposes of puffing up that precious (if fallacious) truth-by-association value.

For all the arguments over whether the Nazis were Christian (or whether their current descendants are, or whether equally distasteful groups are), if it meant the difference for puffing their numbers over some perceived persuasion point, they'd be quietly counted in instantly. No Christian, for example, in seeking to show off the size of his religious group, will offer the caveat, "not counting the Christian Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, who are not true Christians" or even conversely, "not counting those pro-gay marriage Episcopalian denominations, who are not true Christians."

Indeed, looking just to Christianity and Islam, both of which encompass great differences of opinion on abortion and gay marriage -- vast numbers of people culturally identify as Christians or Muslims, but also think abortion is fine and dandy. And so it follows that one who counts them as "Christian" or "Muslim" in support of an argument of truth by numbers ought to be ready to say abortion is in fact okay because its okay by "Christians" or okay by "Muslims"; an equally large proportion culturally identify as "Christian," and maybe not as many as "Muslims," but still quite a few, and yet also think gay marriage is fine and not at all a sin, raising the same issue with counting them. And what, then, all the self-proclaimed Christians and Muslims who accept the science that current life forms came about through a billions-of-years process of evolution by natural selection from a Universal Common Ancestor?

And of those puffing up numbers for Christianity, are they counting all the competing sects of Christianity, the Catholics (deemed by some evangelicals to live within the "belly of the beast") and Mormons and "true Mormon" polygamist break-out groups, and Seventh Day Adventists and Branch Davidians and Jim Jones followers? Are they counting the "Christians" who day in and day out announce by their actions, "forget the poor!! ignore the sick and the hurt!! damn those suffering from injustice!! the most important thing in my life is my SUV and my X-Box!!" Are these the Christians whose numbers are to be counted. If so, then it seems a pretty weak and disposable religion, such that its vast majority of supposed followers act as if in their hearts they simply know it to be untrue.

Forced Adherance

This numbers game surpasses merely those who claim to belong to a denomination but affirm beliefs contradictory to what the puffery-pounding-promoters of that faith deem essential to that faith. Naturally, there are as well whole countries and regions where one's very life and limb, if not mere livelihood and comfort, is gravely imperiled for failure to evince fealty to a religious denomination. And, in those places which routinely draft the whole of their inhabitants into being counted among the "faithful," it is equally routine to sweep into those number those incapable of carrying forward torches of faith. Little children, barely able to walk and string together words, are reckoned within the population of true believers; occupants of insane asylums, elderly people whose mental faculties have diminished (no matter if they eschewed belief during their competence), persons in no way capable of having and expressing a religious view, are pressed into the service of this numbers game.

Stealing "Greatness"

And, at last, back to my evangelist's poetic post-point of great feats, the truly great feats, and especially the collective feats of mankind, have been accomplished only by the input of persons mixing many faiths (going by their actual beliefs, not merely the groups into which they might be lumped by accident of geography or zealous biography), including the atheists, the affirmed agnostics, the unknowing pantheists and pandeists, and the lip service believers.

But in conclusion of the dissection of this numbers game, I seem to recall it being proclaimed that there only ever was one real Christian, and he died on the cross. Which would make Christianity about the smallest cult ever there was. Perhaps there has, as well, only ever been one true Muslim, one true Mormon, one true Scientologist, etc., and what remains of the organised religions of the world is, indeed, a world full of shills latching to the labels for their own perceived selfish benefit.

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