Another thought experiment: Assuming you are a religious person and know in your heart that your religion is right, imagine that you’d been born into a different religion

Oops, I did it again. Today you don’t have to excuse the long title. (See yesterday’s thought experiment here.)

I’m not going to make a habit of posting thought experiments, but this one had a lot to do with me making up my mind and accepting that the religion I was brought up with, as well as every other religion, is pure nonsense.

I can’t say when I came up with this much simpler thought experiment, but I do remember that I was older than sixteen, so this is something I pondered after the one I wrote about yesterday. Once again, although this seems like a simple request, if you give it some some thought, some serious thought, it should provide a platform from which can you see your religious beliefs in a different way, one shrouded in doubt. (Unless cognitive dissonance kicks in, in which case it may make you feel uncomfortable and angry, and result in your projecting that anger and calling me an “angry atheist”. It’s OK – I’m used to that by now.)

Imagine that you were born in a different country, and brought up with a different religion. Would you still believe as sincerely in that religion as you do in your current one, and if you did, would that not mean something important about your current beliefs?

Before you read on, think about it…

Think about it further…

..

The answer, of course, is that you would believe just as sincerely. Let that sink in.

For me, this was the last straw, and by this line of reasoning ipso facto I had no choice other than atheism. I was brought up as a Roman Catholic, and taught that it is the true religion, the only religion, the one correct path. But I thought to myself… What if I had been born somewhere in the Middle East? I considered a hypothetical Arabic version of myself… Let’s say his name is Jarid Allah, and he was brought up just as I was, but to believe in Islam rather than Catholicism, and taught that it was the one true religion.

How can it be that I, who was merely lucky enough to be born Catholic, would go on to have eternal life in Heaven, while poor Jarid must suffer eternal damnation simply because he happened to be born into the wrong religion? Let’s assume that both of us are perfectly good people, who never knowingly harm anyone, and live virtuous lives caring for others and our families, and pass on our religion to our own children just as our parents did to us. Thus I am expected to accept, without doubt, that all my descendants have the opportunity of eternal bliss in Heaven, while all his descendants must suffer in Hell forever, unless Jesus “reveals himself to them” and they convert to my religion. (A conversion that most will never even consider, because they are just as certain as myself, that their religion is the correct one. They may even believe that Allah has revealed himself to them. After all, such revelations are all about interpreting personal experiences as having spiritual significance.)

Oh, you could say that God was good enough to choose me, but that would simply make you incapable of critical thinking. The fact is, the only reason that almost all religious people are certain that their particular religion is correct, is that it is the religion they were indoctrinated into, the religion that they were taught since childhood not to question.

To accept the religion of your birth once you have been presented with this thought experiment, is the way of the coward. Quite simply, it is absurd to do so.


Of course there are arguments against this… arguments such as the one where you ignore all the contradictions in your religious texts and assume that all religions are somehow correct. But doing that, you are simply rationalizing away the contradictions and differences between them, coping with them by ignoring them. More importantly, you are thus ignoring the very claims of your own religion. If you profess belief but ignore the doctrines of your own religion, you need to realize that there is no reason to hold those beliefs. Those doctrines are the very foundation of the religions, and without them the religions would not exist. In truth, rationalizing away this argument requires abandonment of your capacity to think critically.

I’m not claiming that it is easy to choose to disbelieve in the religion you were brought up with. It isn’t. But holding onto a belief, just because you already believe it, doesn’t make any sense at all.

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About Jerome

I am a senior C# developer in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am also a recovering addict, who spent nearly eight years using methamphetamine. I write on my recovery blog about my lessons learned and sometimes give advice to others who have made similar mistakes, often from my viewpoint as an atheist, and I also write some C# programming articles on my programming blog.
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12 Responses to Another thought experiment: Assuming you are a religious person and know in your heart that your religion is right, imagine that you’d been born into a different religion

  1. Interesting thought; but you need to be careful, for to judge the truth of a claim or belief based upon the way in which one came to that belief, is an error in logic known as the genetic fallacy. Moreover, your claim can easily be flipped back to the atheist.

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    • Jerome says:

      No, it can’t.

      Belief in god is a belief in magic. I make no claim. I reject an implied claim that “god” exists, a claim based on an assumption made by primitive people who explained what they did not understand using magic. Theists often fail to realize this… That they make a claim in the first place.

      Amusingly, it is always “the god”, the same one, that the theist was brainwashed into believing. This post is simply about the fact that one can not assume a belief is true because one already holds that belief.

      You seem to think that atheism is a belief system. It isn’t. It is the rejection of thousands of belief systems that claim there is a god.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Using strident rhetoric and caricature, rather than offering any logically coherent argument, doesn’t do much for your position. You will assert it is akin to a belief in magic – but what does such rhetoric actually achieve?

        “Suppose that you were born in a different country, and brought up with atheism. Would you still believe as sincerely in that atheism as you do in your current one, and if you did, would that not mean something important about your current beliefs? To accept the atheism of your birth once you have been presented with this thought experiment, is the way of the coward. Quite simply, it is absurd to do so.” – That is simply flipping back your claim.

        A belief is a propositional attitude; if you hold a propositional with regard to the theism/atheism proposition – you hold a belief. Your belief may entail a rejection of another – but it itself is a position held towards a proposition (propositional attitude; therefore a belief).

        Again – to say the one one arrives at a belief somehow invalidates it, is a genetic fallacy.

        Primitive people? I am not talking about religion here, if that is what you are alluding to. There is an abundance of literature (no, not the pop-internet literature) which explores theism. Not all theists have been “brainwashed” into believing. You may wish to categorize all theists, but such achieves nothing.

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        • Jerome says:

          There is no evidence for anything supernatural, or any god. The “philosophy” of theism is all about rationalizing other things to be evidence of god. It is a pretence, and you have nothing.

          Atheism is not a belief, no matter how much you want it to be. Is off a TV channel? Is abstinence a sexual position? You can not redefine belief to suit your purpose. You believe in something that does not exist, and then react this way when someone points it out.

          I’ve just come from a thread started by another Muslim arguing that Islam is the one true religion. After witnessing so many arguments, where each person insists with absolute sincerity that their god is the True God, and their religion is the ®One True Religion™… This gets a bit tiring.

          What makes you think your religion is right? What sets it apart from the others? I’ve often read comments by people who insist that without careful study of their particular religion, I can not rule it out. But this is patently nonsense. Have you studied every other religion? Maybe a hypothetical religion on some isolated tropical island, let’s call their god Ugga Ugga… is the true god. The fact is, one does not need to be an expert in religion, philosophy or mythology to determine that all religions are nonsense. I am not an expert on fairies, yet I can be certain that fairies are not real.

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          • You have resorted to the tired old false equivalence “…as much as is off a TV channel”. That’s simply fallacious reasoning, but such is ultimately the basis of most ‘reasoning’ by atheists.

            Your denial of the fact of propositional attitudes shows you are simply not willing to have rational discourse. Again – if you hold a proposition to a position – that is a belief. Now, unless you want to say you hold no position to the proposition, then you cannot say you have no belief. So please for your own sake do some search on propositional attitudes to realize you do hold a belief. IT IS YOU who has redefined belief. If you were not so ignorant of basic linguistics – you would know. Or do you get your definitions from the New Atheism ™ logically incoherent diatribes?

            How about this: I lack belief in a Godless universe…should i say I have no belief? Can you really not see the logical equivalent?

            You have simply resorted to red-herrings. “Have you studied every religion”? Well I should ask you: Well have you? You’d think if one religion was correct – it’d be one of the bigger ones. Why should one think if there is a true one, it would be the small unknown ones? But such is irrelevant, as you well know. But again – you’ve offered no more than a red herring here.

            You resort to strident rhetoric and caricature…an empty position.

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            • Jerome says:

              So if I don’t believe what you believe, my lack of belief is itself a belief? No, it isn’t. The problem is that theists do not understand atheism. I hear this all the time. Just because I don’t believe in what you believe, does not mean that I have to replace that belief with something else. I don’t replace the belief in a deity with a belief in something else because the concept is unnecessary. Your failure to understand this does not justify assuming that my lack of belief is equivalent to a belief. (If you want to play “spot the fallacy”, yours is an argument from incredulity.)

              It reasonable to compare this to childish beliefs, in Santa, the Easter Bunny, or fairies. When a child no longer believes in such things, their lack of belief is not replaced with a belief in other things… They simply don’t believe any more.

              Yes, I am strident to say that all religious belief is based on things for which there is no evidence. You can call it rhetoric only because I have nothing to argue against… no firm definition of what god is, because god is unfalsifiable. (Thus you could also claim false equivalence or a straw man for anything I say about religion, any example I give… simply because there is nothing falsifiable for me to argue against.) The burden of proof lies not with those denying a claim but with those making it. The fact that your god can not speak for himself makes this crystal clear.

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              • I didn’t say that when you reject theism, you must replace it with another belief. What I am saying is that if you ‘lack belief’ in God, then it means you either A) hold no position to the proposition (agnostic), or B) Believe the proposition to be false. i.e. if you lack belief in God – you believe God does not exist (atheism) – otherwise a mere ‘lack of belief’ without believing God does not exist, is just agnosticism.

                When one holds a ‘lack of belief’ toward God – that either means they are agnostic (make no claim/inference) or they believe it does not exist.

                What I am saying is that when you ‘lack belief’ in a deity – it means you believe the deity does not exist. Now – if you claim something does not exist – that is a belief. E.g ‘I lack belief in the existence of santa’ means I believe santa does not exist – that or I am an agnostic – and make no judgement on the proposition.

                Also – if you look back at our conversation, I never invoked any one particular religion. Theism is not exclusive to any one religion, religion need not be invoked. Also, it seems you hold a particular caricatured view of theism – an more theistic-personalism view. I myself view such a view of God to be like that of some character/caricature. But that is not the view of God I hold (thought many theists do). Re: burden of proof – it lies on the person making the truth claim. Can be the theist, or the positive atheist.

                Look; I just want to say that as i’m sure you’d agree – such comment section debates seldom achieve anything – we could probably go on forever. I suppose I should wish you well; and also I just want to say I respect the journey you’ve had in your life (I’ve read your bio). All the best.

                Liked by 1 person

                • Jerome says:

                  Nesting level is getting too much to follow, but anyway…

                  You have a point, but I still think you’re leaning towards a false dichotomy. I don’t disbelieve in a theoretical creator because that would be illogical. I stop at “I don’t know” because I do not know how the universe came to be, and thus can not say for sure that there couldn’t in theory be a creator.

                  But I do lack a belief in any religion, and do disbelieve in every god ever worshipped by man. I do believe that every god ever worshipped by man was also created by man, and I am anti-theistic in the sense that I reject all known religions. (i.e. I see no difference between Christianity, for example, and any other mythology.) It especially annoys me when people make generic arguments for a theoretical creator, often with huge leaps of faith an non sequiturs, but then conclude that some specific religion is correct.

                  I also believe there is no evidence for any god, theoretical or specific. But ultimately I am agnostic in the sense that I can not say there isn’t a theoretical creator. I believe there probably isn’t one, and I don’t believe in any, just like I don’t believe in anything supernatural, or magic, fairies, Lock Ness monster, Bigfoot, etc.

                  Yes, these debates tend to go nowhere because neither of us will change our minds, but I have enjoyed this one. Unlike other people I have debated, you are obviously well educated and intelligent, and your arguments are eloquently stated and well thought out. And these debates are more helpful to readers who are undecided, than us – the participants.

                  I do think you are wrong, of course, and that you make the fallacy of fallacies, assuming that my conclusion is wrong because when I have nothing tangible to refute, I resort to rhetoric… but likewise you probably think the same of me.

                  Liked by 1 person

  2. bbnewsab says:

    To believe there exists a friend of yours up in the sky somewhere, who cares for you and loves you, is sheer superstition.

    Liked by 1 person

    • This simply is a caricatured conception of theism. Regardless, all you have offered is strident rhetoric.

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      • keithnoback says:

        To believe in something, however, I must be able to form a concept of it. Some description or characterization is necessary.
        Precious few of those which I have seen are coherent – and those are not consistent with descriptions of a person.
        With such a characterization lacking from the start, how do you expect a conversation to stay on the rails?

        Liked by 1 person

        • Jerome says:

          Exactly. His god is unfalsifiable. The burden of proof lies with the one making the claim. He can shoot down any argument because he will redefine god according to the argument, then call anything stated against his argument strident rhetoric.

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