by Jay Johansen | Mar 22, 2023
There's an argument I've seen going around lately that goes like this: Your religion depends on where you live. If you were born in the United States, you are probably a Christian. If you were born in Saudi Arabia, you are probably a Muslim. If you were born in India, you are probably a Hindu. Your religion is not the result of seeking truth but an accident of geography.
This is supposed to be some kind of argument that religions are all false, and therefore atheism must be true by default. But ... if you were born in western Europe or certain parts of the US in the 21st century, you are probably an atheist. The argument refutes itself. If someone being a Christian just because that's the popular religion of his home area invalidates his religion, then you being an atheist is just as invalid, as it is also a by-product of your home area.
Yes, the premise is true. Most people will adopt the prevailing religion of the time and place where they live. So what? What does this prove about the truth or falsity of their beliefs?
We might just as well point out that if you had lived in America in the 1950s, you probably believed that capitalism was the best way to organize an economy. If you lived in the Soviet Union in the 1950s, you probably believed that socialism was the best way to organize an economy. If you lived in Greece in 400 BC you probably believed that homosexuality was a respectable and valid lifestyle. If you lived in the United States in the 1950s you probably believed it was immoral and self-destructive. If you live in at least certain parts of the United States in the 2020s, you probably believe it is a respectiable and valid lifestyle.
Etc. One could play this game endlessly. Ideas come and go, and some go around and around.
At most, this proves that most people aren't curious enough or smart enough or brave enough to challenge the established orthodoxy of their society. It tells us nothing about the truth or falsity of their ideas. You can't tell whether a scientific theory is true or false by taking an opinion poll. That's not how science work. Nor is it how theology works.
Occasionally people will claim that some political idea or scientific theory or religious belief must be false because it is unpopular. If this idea is true than how come more people don't believe it, huh, huh? That's nonsense, of course. An idea could be true if only one person believed it. An idea could be true if no one at all believed it. But the argument here is even stranger. They claim that an idea must be false because so many people believe it. Apparently the more people who find an argument convincing, the more that proves it is false.
Whether an idea is true or false has nothing to do with how many people believe it or where they live. Let's look at the evidence for or against an idea, not at opinion polls about the idea.
© 2023 by Jay Johansen
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