“You’re Only a Christian Because of Your Birthplace!”
by David Glass
A popular criticism of Christian belief, and religious belief in general, is that it is an accident of birth. Typically, the argument goes something like this: If you are a Christian, the chances are that your parents were Christians too. If you had been born to Muslim parents in Saudi Arabia, you would almost certainly have been a Muslim. This shows that your Christian faith is unjustified since it is simply an accident of birth. And, of course, the same point would be made about other religious beliefs too.
This really is a very weak argument, but it is surprisingly popular so it merits a response. When this objection is raised, I usually point out that if the person making the objection had been born to Muslim parents in Saudi Arabia, he too would almost certainly have been a Muslim. If he is an atheist, then his atheism seems to be an accident of birth and, if his argument is valid as an objection to Christianity, then it would also be valid as an objection to atheism, showing it too to be unjustified. Most people see the problem here, but on one occasion a person tried to tell me that he would have been more likely to reject Islam if he had been born to Muslim parents than I would.
Roughly, the idea seemed to be that, unlike me, he had not gone along with the prevailing religious beliefs in our society. Hence, he thought he would be more likely to reject Islam in an Islamic society. I pointed out that I too had questioned the beliefs of my society, but that unlike him I had come to the conclusion that there were good reasons to accept the claims of Christianity. What would I (or he) have done in an Islamic society? Who knows? Maybe we’d both have gone along with it. Maybe he would have questioned the beliefs and rejected them becoming an atheist, while I would have questioned them and rejected them becoming a theist with no particular religious commitment.
Perhaps what he really meant was that he had found the truth (atheism) here and so he would have found it in an Islamic society too, but of course I could just as easily claim that I have found the truth (theism) here and so I would have found it an Islamic society too. Without begging the question about whether either of was correct in our beliefs, he couldn’t apply the argument as an objection to Christianity without it also applying as an objection to atheism…
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