Right now the world sees only three “major” monotheistic religions: Christianity, Islam, and Judaism (though to actually call them monotheistic is a pretty liberal take on the definition of monotheism). Of course each is comprised of hundreds or thousands of its own sects and no two people of any religion actually share the exact same beliefs as one another (possible exaggeration). Catholics and Mormons, both branches of the Christian tree, have very different beliefs from Protestants and Baptists, Puritans and Methodists. Likewise, the Islamic sects of Sunni and Shia are considerably different to the point where members of the two opposing sects seem to constantly be at war with each other. The same is true for certain Christian branches.
The point here is not that the words “Christian” or “Muslim” seem to be more of a generalization than actual religions, but that one could go so far as to say Christianity does not actually exist at all. What exists are Catholicism, Mormonism, Protestantism, et al, with the members of each being part of a vast minority when compared to the rest of the world. In fact, the number of members of each religion is slowly but surely dwindling down while the number of people coming out as atheists is on the rise.
A recent study performed by the American Physical Society even goes so far as to say that in nine countries religion is on the verge of going extinct. The sooner the better, but that’s just my opinion. Anyway, back to the topic at hand.
The “Big 3” monotheistic religions are all Abrahamic religions. That is, they are all founded on the belief in one all-powerful god who commanded Abraham to kill his son then, as Abe raised the knife, said “Ha ha, just kidding. See? I’m merciful!” But the Abrahamic system(s) of belief goes much deeper than that. What many people fail to realize is that when juxtaposed next to the ancient religions the Abrahamic religions are so clearly full of ancient symbology and blatant “rip-offs.” Here is an extraordinarily long list of similarities and parallels between the stories of Jesus Christ, Horus, Krishna, Mihras/Mithra, Prometheus, and Buddha. This certainly doesn’t prove the story of Jesus is entirely made up (just as it doesn’t prove any of the other religions mentioned were made up), but it ought to raise an eyebrow for the skeptic.
Christian apologists will tell me it is all merely a coincidence, or that the other ancient religions were simply prophecies. Technically speaking, they could be right. The story of Horus could have been a prophecy speaking of Jesus’ arrival. Then again, it is only the Christians who will say that is the case, just as it is only the Ancient Egyptians who would have said the story of Horus was not a prophecy and that Horus existed and everything in the story was entirely true.
One could wager that in ancient times, world leaders found it more and more difficult to maintain the support of their people. Perhaps, though, if they reintroduced some old stories of gods who demanded obedience without question and modernized the stories a bit, they could regain some control. Whether or not people believed the stories to be true, they would certainly catch on to the “obey or die” message. Science wasn’t nearly as developed then as it is now (even that is an understatement) so nobody really knew how the world around them worked. It would be easy to spin a few tales and get your people to believe. “I am your leader, and because I am your leader I am telling you the truth, and because I am telling you the truth you should obey me and accept me as your leader.” The people, who were gullible, bought into the hype and eventually the tales were published in their holy books.
So that’s what I imagine were the roots of our modern religions. All religions are based off of those before them and tend to spawn new ones based on their own systems of belief, given enough time. But it won’t last. People, though still gullible, are not quite as easy to trick into submission anymore. We have explanations now – perfectly logical and reasonable ones – for those things which “required” religion so long ago. We know the sun does not actually “rise” and “set.” We know the earth rotates and revolves around the sun, and what’s more – we know why and how. We know the earth is not flat. We know where rain comes from, how it forms, and why it is essential. We know it doesn’t take a human or animal sacrifice to bring rain for a successful harvest because we know about seasons and weather patterns. It’s getting to the point where we will not need to rely on the god of the gaps because more and more often the gaps are being filled as knowledge evolves.
Nothing could possibly replace any of the Big 3. People as a whole are not as gullible now as they were then. We don’t require made-up tales of sky-wizards to keep us in line anymore, or to explain the unknown. One day the questions we do not yet have answers for will be answered. Sure, they’ll be replaced with more seemingly impossible-to-answer questions, but at some point we’ll stop relying on the god-crutch. Do I think that will happen in my lifetime? Certainly not! But I believe that by the time I die the world religious population will have dropped significantly from where it is now.