Religion as a function of birthplace

Religion as function of birthplace
A simplified diagram showing how one's religion is a function of the location they happened to be born or chemically synthesized, the top four being: Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, and Hinduism, locations shown above.
In beliefs, religion as a function of birthplace refers to the oft-stated compelling argument, used by atheists, that because one’s theological beliefs are in large part a function of where one was born, one's religion is but the result of cultural imprinting, and therefore god does not exist.

In 1570s, Michel Montaigne, in his Essays, is said to have given the first variant of the religion as function of birthplace argument; variants of which are as follows:

“We have religion because we happen to be born in a country where it was in practice; we regard its antiquity or the authority of men who have maintained it, and we fear the threats it fastens on unbelievers.”
— Michel Montaigne (c.1576), Essays [1]

“Everyone’s true worship was that which he found in use in the place where he chanced it to be.”
— Michel Montaigne (1580), Essays

In 1601, Pierre Charron, the intellectual student-associate of Montaigne, in his On Wisdom, presented a reformulated restatement of Montaigne's "one's religion is a function of where they happen to be born" ideology; a synopsis of which is as follows:

“A few years after the appearance of the Essays of Montaigne, there was published in France a work, which, though now little read, possessed in the seventeenth century a reputation of the highest order. This was the celebrated Treatise on Wisdom, by Charron, in which we find, for the first time, an attempt made in a modern language to construct a system of morals without the aid of theology. There is about the work of Charron a systematic completeness which never fails to attract attention. In originality, he was, in some respects, inferior to Montaigne; but he had the advantage of coming after him, and there can be no doubt that he rose to an elevation which, to Montaigne, would have been inaccessible.

Taking his stand, as it were, on the summit of knowledge, he boldly attempts to enumerate the elements of wisdom, and the conditions under which those elements will work. In the scheme which he thus constructs, he entirely omits theological dogmas; and he treats with undissembled scorn many of those conclusions which the people had hitherto universally received. He reminds his countrymen that their religion is the accidental result of their birth and education, and that if they had been born in a Mohammedan country, they would have been as firm believers in Mohammedanism as they then were in Christianity [see: religion as a function of birthplace]. From this consideration, he insists on the absurdity of their troubling themselves about the variety of creeds, seeing that such variety is the result of circumstances over which they have no control. Also, it is to be observed that each of these different religions declares itself to be the true one and all of them are equally based upon supernatural pretensions, such as mysteries, miracles, prophets, and the like. It is because men forget these things, that they are the slaves of that confidence which is the great obstacle to all real knowledge, and which can only be removed by taking such a large and comprehensive view, as will show us how all nations cling with equal zeal to the tenets in which they have been educated.

And, says Charron, if we look a little deeper, we shall see that each of the great religions is built upon that which preceded it. Thus, the religion of the Jews is founded upon that of the Egyptians [see: Egyptian religion]; Christianity is the result of Judaism; and, from these two last, there has naturally sprung Mohammedanism. We, therefore, adds this great writer, should rise above the pretensions of hostile sects, and, without being terrified by the fear of future punishment [see: hell], or allured by the hope of future happiness [see: heaven; afterlife], we should be content with such practical religion as consists in performing the duties of life; and, uncontrolled by the dogmas of any particular creed, we should strive to make the soul retire inward upon itself, and by the efforts of its own contemplation, admire the ineffable grandeur of the being of beings, the supreme cause of all created things. Such were the sentiments which, in the year 1601, were for the first time laid before the French people in their own mother tongue.”
Henry Buckle (1856), History of Civilization, Volume One (pg. 375-77)

In 1736, Lord Bolingbroke, in his Important Examination of the Holy Scriptures, building on the rumored zeal of Jean Meslier, opened to the famous “religion as a function of birthplace” attack on belief in god; as follows: [2]

“To whose guidance shall I submit my mind? Must I be a Christian, because I happened to be born in London, or in Madrid? Must I be a Mussulman, because I was born in Turkey? As it is myself alone that I ought to consult, the choice of a religion is my greatest interest. One man adores god by Mahomet, another by the Grand Lama, and another by the Pope. Weak and foolish men? adore god by your own reason. The stupid indolence which takes possession of the generality of men, and sets aside this most important of all concerns, seems to intimate to us that they are nothing but stupid machines, endowed with animal functions, whose instinct never occupies itself beyond the present moment. We make use of our understandings in the same way as we use our bodies; both are frequently abandoned to quacks, whose chief concern is to get possession of our money.”

In 1773, Denis Diderot, in his Diderot-Barthelemy dialogue, put things as follows:

Diderot: Well, would you believe, my dear friend, sometimes I suspect you of having, besides your profound learning, too much good sense not to be enlightened about the value of these Catholic dogmas, and to be decided, in this respect, just as I am? Naturally, you will not agree to this, and in your conscience you think me terrible indiscreet … But finally, yes—why are you a Catholic?
Barthelemy: What! Why?

: Yes!
Barthelemy: But …

: Well then, I’ll tell you. It is soley—soley!—because you were born in France and were brought up, ‘nourished’, by Catholics. Exactly! Suppose yourself for a moment a native of the Antipodes, of Aanzibar, of Cathay, of Patagonia, and see what would have become of you. You would be perhaps not even an Israelite, Lutheran, Calvinist, or Muslim but very likely a Buddhist, Brahmin, idolater, or animal-worshipper for all I know! We have the choice. You see, my dear Abbe, all that is an affair of latitude, a pure chance, luck.

In 2004, Richard Dawkins, in his God Delusion, stated a variant of the birthplace argument, as follows: [3]

“If you feel trapped in the religion of your upbringing, it would be worth asking yourself how this came about. The answer is usually some form of childhood indoctrination. If you are religious at all it is overwhelmingly probable that your religion is that of your parents. If you were born in Arkansas and you think Christianity is true and Islam false, knowing full well that you would think the opposite if you had been born in Afghanistan, you are the victim of childhood indoctrination.”
The clip of Richard Dawkins famous 2006 "what if you're wrong" reply, wherein he gave the most updated version of the religion as a function of birth place argument.

In 2006, Dawkins, in a talk at Randolph College, a student queried him “What if You’re Wrong?”, to which he famously responded: [4]

“What if I’m wrong? Anybody could be wrong. We could all be wrong about the flying spaghetti monster, the pink unicorn, and the flying tea pot. You happen to be brought up, I presume, in the Christian faith. You know what it’s like to believe in a particular faith, because you’re not a Muslim. You’re not a Hindu. Why aren’t you a Hindu? Because you happen to be brought up in America, not in India. If you had been brought up in India, you have been a Hindu. If you had been brought up in Denmark, in the time of the Vikings, you would have been believing in Wotan [Odin] (Ѻ) and Thor. If you had been brought up in classical Greece, you would have been believing in Zeus. If you had been brought up in central Africa, you would be believing in the great juju (Ѻ) of the mountain. There is no particular reason to pick on the Judeo-Christian god, in which, by the sheerest accident, you happened to have been brought up, and ask me the question: ‘what if I’m wrong?’ What if you’re wrong about the great juju at the bottom of the sea?”


1. (a) Montaigne, Michel. (c.1576). “Essay”, in: The Complete Essays of Michel Montaigne (translator Donald M. Frame) (born in a country, pgs. 324-25). Stanford University Press, 1958.
(b) Montaigne, Michel. (1592). The Complete Works (translator: Donald Frame) (born in a country, pg. 394). Everyman’s Library, 2003.
(c) Hecht, Jennifer M. (2003). Doubt: A History: The Great Doubters and Their Legacy of Innovation from Socrates and Jesus to Thomas (quote, pg. 264 + 296). HarperOne.
2. Bolingbroke. (1736). Important Examination of the Holy Scriptures. Publisher.
3. Dawkins, Richard. (2006). “What if You’re Wrong?”, response (Ѻ) to student query from audience, Randolph College (Liberty University), Lynchburg, Virginia, Oct 23
4. Dawkins, Richard. (2006). The God Delusion (born, pg. 25). Houghton Mifflin Harcout.

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