According to Anders Jacobsen’s Blog, which republished them, these two maps originally appeared in the Faith Central section of the (London) Times, but they’re now gone. They’re a bit exaggerated but the point is clear—and true (click to enlarge, and check the link above if you want them as a single figure):
The obvious point is that people’s religious beliefs are almost completely determined by where they happened to be born. This is a central pillar of John Loftus’s “Outsider test for faith” (OTF), which you can (and should) read about here.
The basis for the outsider test has been stated adequately by liberal Christian philosopher John Hick: “It is evident that in some ninety-nine percent of the cases the religion which an individual professes and to which he or she adheres depends upon the accidents of birth.” That is to say, if we were born in Saudi Arabia, we would be Sunni Muslims right now. If we were born in Iran, we’d be Shi’a Muslims. If we were born in India, we’d be a Hindus. If we were born in Japan, we’d be Shintoists. If we were born in Mongolia, we’d be Buddhists. If we were born in the first century BCE in Israel, we’d adhere to the Jewish faith at that time, and if we were born in Europe in 1000 CE, we’d be Roman Catholics. For the first nine hundred years we would’ve believed in the ransom theory of Jesus’ atonement. As Christians during the later Middle Ages, we wouldn’t have seen anything wrong with killing witches, torturing heretics, and conquering Jerusalem from the “infidels” in the Crusades. These things are as close to being undeniable facts as we can get in the sociological world.
Since one’s faith is almost completely an accident of birth, then, one should be highly skeptical about whether one’s faith is correct. The considerations above, and others, led Loftus to the OTF, which he describes as follows:
The outsider test is simply a challenge to test one’s own religious faith with the presumption of skepticism, as an outsider. It calls upon believers to “Test or examine your religious beliefs as if you were outsiders with the same presumption of skepticism you use to test or examine other religious beliefs.” Its presumption is that when examining any set of religious beliefs skepticism is warranted, since the odds are good that the particular set of religious beliefs you have adopted is wrong.
Various people have tried to find fault with this principle, a principle I find eminently sensible, but they’ve all failed. If you want to see a real exercise in sophistry along these lines, read Alvin Plantinga’s “Pluralism: a defense of religious exclusivism.” And be prepared to get angry.
h/t: Grania Spingies