“Don’t confuse meaning with truth.” — Thucydides
I have a religion. Hell, I have a few of them. Honestly, if there was something akin to a “Jam of the Month Club” for religions, I’d join; $120 a year and every month I’d get a new religion to sample—I’d be all over that shit. Yummy yummy, tasty mythology to interact with on a deep, personal level. It’s like mixing Lucky Charms, Count Chocula, and Cap’n Crunch in the same bowl then pouring Nestle Quik on it before settling down on the floor of the living room to watch Wacky Races in my footie pajamas.
Don’t get me wrong: I like religion.
But also don’t get me wrong: Religion doesn’t concern itself with the pursuit of truth.
Religion is about meaning. All religions provide their adherents with meaning in life; that’s why they exist. At their core, all religions connect their adherents with something greater than themselves—a deity, deities, saints, spirits, a life force, a universal consciousness, or something else along those lines. But what they connect us to is something bigger than ourselves. Religions provide a point at infinity, assert that it’s there, and then leave us yearning near the origin point (0,0,0,0). And that’s fine because when you have a point at infinity, you can postulate transfinite numbers and the strangeness of non-commutative addition…. But I digress.
The thing is, religion does not reveal the truth. Meaning and truth are two entirely separate beasts and that’s fine. Meaning gives us purpose in life and helps us endure major setbacks. Truth is something nebulous that we seek to converge upon (if we’re scientists), discern (if we’re philosophers), or prove (if we’re mathematicians). We construct meaning in life; we seek truth. Religion presupposes something we cannot prove and don’t need to seek, so what religion offers cannot be truth. But religion provides us with a tool that’ll help us when our loved ones die, when life becomes chaotic, and when we wonder if there’s any purpose to anything.
When someone asserts that their religion reveals the truth, watch out—you’re dealing with a zealot. Religion isn’t the mother of genocide, war, and oppression, but conflating meaning with truth produces unspeakable horror.