Gospel Hypothesis 7: Churches

According to the Gospel Hypothesis, God is going to be perfectly loving, perfectly kind, perfectly wise and perfectly capable of interacting with us both as a wise and loving Father and as a wise and benevolent King. This implies a high level of involvement in our everyday lives, both because His love motivates Him to want a great deal of personal interaction, and because His wisdom and leadership skills will make it plain to Him how much better off we’ll all be if we have the benefit of His guidance and leadership.

Meanwhile the Myth Hypothesis, obviously enough, implies that such leadership and personal interactions will be absent, since no such God exists to provide it. Where the Gospel Hypothesis implies that everyone will know who God is and what He wants, the Myth Hypothesis implies that believers will have to find something else to fill up the gap. And that, in turn, has some distinctive implications when it comes to the church.

Let’s think for a moment about the leaders and fathers we have who actually exist. In homes where the father is present and involved in the lives of his children—for good or ill—the children know they have a father. They listen to him, interact with him, maybe even argue with him, but (for good or ill) he’s part of their lives. They don’t start having doubts about whether fathers exist, or what kind of father theirs is, and they don’t get together with other children to imagine their fathers being there with them in some kind of spiritual sense. Such fathers aren’t absent, so there’s no gap in their children’s lives that needs to be filled by getting together with other children and talking about how they imagine fathers to be.

Or take leaders, like presidents and kings and even your supervisor at work. The president’s degree of personal involvement in your individual life may be pretty minimal, but nevertheless he is making decisions that will impact you and a lot of other people. This is involvement on a broader scale, but it’s still real involvement in your life. Consequently, there’s no power vacuum at the top, such that you would need to fill it by getting together with a bunch of other followers in order to imagine a president and talk to each other about what that president would be like, or what he expects from you.

In God’s case, however, you do need the fellowship of other believers, because people are your only source for information about God. The Myth Hypothesis implies that believers, left on their own, will have nothing but their own superstitions and feelings to sustain their faith, since there’s no real God to provide them with guidance and encouragement. And superstition is notoriously bad and providing you with reliable insights into how life works—left to yourself, you’re going to keep bumping into reasons why it makes more sense not to take superstition seriously. Constant, regular social interactions, in a religious setting, will be absolutely necessary in order for you to maintain your faith and keep it within socially acceptable boundaries.

As any pastor can tell you, that’s exactly the situation we find in real life. People become believers, not because of the evidence, but because of the social connections. And if church attendance wanes, faith fades right along with it. People are the reason that people believe, just like the Myth Hypothesis predicts. People attend church every Sunday—and God does not. They get their faith from each other, and they give God the credit for what happens there, in His absence.

Granted, there are some people who are able to train themselves up to the point that the person who keeps their faith going is themselves. Certain missionaries, for example, or believers whose profession or vocation puts them in isolated places for long periods of time. And yet, even such people find themselves wrestling with unnamed doubts when forced to maintain their faith apart from the emotional support of real people. God’s presence, while highly praised, doesn’t give as much substance as encouragement from a real person.

In a world where no gods exist, therefore, we will find that churches, far from being superfluous, are a vital force keeping people’s faith alive through the efforts and activities of the participants. A real God would be so much better and so much more involved in our lives that churches and temples and so on would be as pointless as having people get together once a week to believe that presidents and fathers exist.

You can rationalize the existence of churches, and say that they fulfil some kind of divine desire to promote unity and cooperation among people (as though there weren’t better and more productive ways a real God could accomplish that). But you can’t escape the fact that churches are necessary, just like the Myth Hypothesis predicts they will be. The Myth Hypothesis fits the facts right out of the box, whereas the Gospel Hypothesis implies that we ought to be seeing something very different. That makes the Myth Hypothesis more likely to be true.


  1. aziraphale says

    I think this is weaker than some of your other posts on the topic. Certainly theists have to explain why God has chosen not to interact with us as he apparently did of old. But in the similar case of cargo cults, we know that the cultists were right to believe that America existed and was a possible source of desirable things, although they were quite wrong about the details.

  2. Owlmirror says

    But in the similar case of cargo cults, we know that the cultists were right to believe that America existed and was a possible source of desirable things, although they were quite wrong about the details.

    But keep in mind that the competing hypotheses are precisely over claims about details; not just the existence of God, but that God having specific attributes and having done certain things.

    I think it could be argued that the Myth Hypothesis still holds, technically (maybe with a few modifications), even if God exists — but is indifferent to humans.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *