A little while back I began to wonder if any theologist has ever examined various religious beliefs side by side and sorted all the various religions (or Christian denominations) into groups according to beliefs, shared and opposed. Lately, I’ve also begun. To wonder if it would be possible to assess the effectiveness of various professed beliefs upon the success of religious organizations: total adherents, transmission to converts, transmission to successive generations, resistance to competing religious thoughts, correlations with violence, wealth accumulation, genetic drift, migration, and other measures of strength and fragility.
My thoughts on these matters generally fall into the notion that most religious (meaning non-evidentiary) claims may be assessed as either affirmed, denied, or neutral (which may perhaps be subdivided into unknowable, unknown, and irrelevant). For instance, was Judas hair red? Yes, no, we can’t know, we don’t know, it doesn’t matter. It would be a fairly straight-forward exercise to begin cataloging various religious claims and then mapping these onto a measurable outcomes.
For example, I consider advocacy for no-fault divorce to be a religious claim. “Married couples ought be permitted divorce without proving one spouse or both spouses breached the marriage contract,” carries more consequence than, “No-fault divorce is better/worse for society.” One must assess what constitutes “worse,” and for whom “worse” matters. I do not think myself presumptive to say most reading what I write would conclude that women generally think no-fault divorce favors women, but in reality marriage favors women and no-fault divorce favors men, specifically, men willing to break ties with a former wife & family and start anew.
One can relatively easily investigate the impact no-fault divorce has upon the demographics of several countries and compare these results with results of strict at-fault divorce elsewhere. Some comparisons would be difficult: Saudi Arabia and the USA are both, technically, no-fault divorce nations. So any analysis would need to tread carefully to define terms.
Still, there are some questions which may be rapidly assessed: infant baptism, alcohol consumption, contraception, dietary restrictions, prayer and fasting traditions, evangelism, to name a few.
Why am I asking these questions? For a while now, folks have begun asking the question, “How is an ideal religion constructed?” Many of you assess this question as blasphemous, and I can comprehend how you would come to that conclusion. Your deity has provided to your religion’s founders revealed truth about the nature of the universe, our place in it, and how we should live. To pause and examine this revealed truth is to deny the credibility of that truth. However, please hang with me just a few moments more.
Let’s all presume for a moment that the universe is writ by deity. Its compass is already established: beginning to end, through time and space and any other indiscernible dimensions we cannot comprehend. Within that universe lies deity’s plan for reality. If we diverge from the plan set by deity, we will naturally meet resistance and poor or disastrous results – especially so as we examine ever larger frames of time. Given sufficient effort, and a presumably benevolent deity, one can confidently test hypotheses and develop theories regarding the intention of deity for human life. Do “such-and-so” thing and eventually reality responds with reward or punishment according to the will of deity to reward or punish obedience (shall we say advancement?) or transgression (regression).
If I am not mistaken with my assumptions, then men may test reality for the will of deity, and finding reality rewarding, test further, mindful that some hypotheses may take generations to develop into theory. What’s more, this method is open to all men regardless of history, geography, or culture. This, I think, overcomes the dilemma faced by several religions regarding the fate of those ignorant, while simultaneously opening every religious claim of every religion to scientific examination of claims regarding righteous living.
So, the question is this: which beliefs we hold help us and which hinder us?