The striking video, “Dear Believer: Why Do You Believe?”, is often beautiful in its depiction of human cultures. You can watch it here – Dear Believer: Why Do You Believe? (ORIGINAL) – YouTube.
The vibrancy and colours we are shown are mesmerizing, and the differences between the people and their religious practices are striking. It is also interesting that, while visually showing evidence of many different worldviews, the audio voiceover comes from yet another different worldview. You could describe the narrator’s worldview as – secular humanist.
This secular humanist voice assures us that the world religions are many and varied and all teach something different. We must abandon these superstitions; we must grow up, and learn how the world truly is so we can move forward in a positive direction. As Carl Sagan said, it is “far better to embrace a hard truth, than a reassuring fable.”
So – how compelling is the secular humanist argument against “religion” in this video? More importantly, how effective is it in challenging the exclusive truth claims made by Christianity?
I can see six important arguments in this video, and I intend to respond to them one at a time. I think these are important arguments to address because they are very common today. And – judging by the comments section under the video – they resonate strongly with many people.
Here are the arguments:
- You’re only a religious devotee / believer because you were born into it.
- All devotees of their religion think their beliefs are the only correct ones. What are the odd that you, dear believer, are correct and everyone else is wrong?
- Religious believers are atheists too when it comes to other religions. They just believe in one more god than the atheist does.
- Religion is a crutch to make people feel better.
- It is arrogant to think you have the only right religion.
- It is arrogant to think humanity lives in a privileged place in the universe.
Objection 1 – You’re only a religious devotee / believer because you were born into it.
“Aren’t you suspicious that most people adopt the religion of the society in which they were born? Yet remain convinced they’ve found the one true faith? Did you know that most people choose it not for reasons, but because they were born into it? Can it be just an accident of geography?”
I think the narrator is telling us that religious belief is accidental, it occurs because of events outside of a person’s control. We don’t control where we were born – right? If I was born in the US or Europe, I might become a Christian. If I was born in Saudi Arabia, I might be a Muslim. And so on.
In other words – he is saying the religious believer has no reasons for their belief.
Well – I would ask the narrator, how does he know that? Has he asked the people that are shown in the video if they have rational reasons for adopting their religious outlook? Given the lack of evidence for this discussion in the video, I suspect not. And so, this argument that “belief is always accidental” starts to look rather suspect.
Actually – this argument is deeply fallacious. It lacks the logical grounding required of every good and sound argument. I can see two fallacies here and there may be more.
First – this argument is self-refuting.
The claim is that since the believer’s religious outlook is a result of cultural conditioning, the religious beliefs themselves cannot therefore be true.
Can’t the same observation be made of any sort of secular humanist or non-believer? Perhaps you are an atheist because your parents were atheists. They did not go to church or introduce you to spiritual things. So – your atheism is a cultural thing. If that is the case, then by the video’s logic, there are therefore NO good reasons for your atheism.
The atheist might respond, “not at all. I’m an atheist based on evidence and good reasons.” Well, if that sort of evidenced belief is possible for you, then why is it impossible for the religious believer to have an evidence-based belief too?
Think of it this way – why must it be the case that only Christianity is cultural, and not atheism? This idea is clearly false.
The video says that, because a person’s beliefs are culturally conditioned, that the beliefs themselves cannot therefore be true. This applies equally to atheism, and so the argument is self-refuting.
Second – this argument commits the genetic fallacy.
Because the religious devotee was born into a belief system, that system is necessarily false. So, because the narrator finds the origin of one’s religious belief to be suspect, that belief cannot be true. This is a clear example of the genetic fallacy.
Genetic Fallacy – the alleged mistake of arguing that something is to be rejected because of its suspicious origins. More widely, any mistake of inferring something about the nature of some topic from a proposition about its origins.
Why is this argument fallacious? Because it claims that just because a belief stems from one’s upbringing, this belief must be false. But that claim is simply false. Greg Reeves points out that someone’s religious belief MIGHT turn out to be untrue. But you would need to bring a valid argument to bear on that religious belief to ascertain that fact, not a fallacious argument like this one.
This argument is weak because it seeks to discredit belief based on its source rather than evaluating that belief based on its merits. If there were no grounds for belief apart from the belief of your parents, then this argument would have strength to it. But that is absolutely not the case. There are many reasons that support Christian belief. It would be absurd for me to claim that I was a Christian simply because my parents were. Rather – I must explain why I have chosen to become and remain a Christian believer by giving reasons for my beliefs. This is what this blog site does.
Third – this argument backfires
It is increasingly the case that Christian belief has little to do with the culture that one is born into, because becoming a Christian involves the rejection of one’s parent’s beliefs. Christianity is growing in Africa, Asia and South America because believers are rejecting the traditional beliefs of their parents. Atheism, on the other hand, is growing in more wealthy nations.
Perhaps it is atheism that is the true accident of birth right now. When one is born into a secular humanist society, atheism may turn out to be the default worldview. Maybe the atheist has their beliefs only because they were born into it?
For those who state that “atheism is not a belief,” then I would reply, “Really? I thought you believed it?”
In the next instalment, I’ll respond to objection 2 – every religious believer thinks they are in the only correct one, so what is the likelihood they are right?
 Ibid., 8:55.
 Ibid., 01:51.
 Overview Genetic Fallacy, Oxford Reference website, Oxford University Press, accessed 21st December, 2021, https://www.oxfordreference.com/view/10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095847621.
 Greg Reeves, A response to “Dear Believer, Why Do You Believe?” part 1 of 2, accessed 21st December, 2021, https://twobooksapproach.blogspot.com/2012/11/a-response-to-dear-believer-why-do-you.html.
 The Age Gap in Religion Around the World, Pew Research Centre, posted June 13th, 2018, accessed 21st December, 2021, https://www.pewforum.org/2018/06/13/how-religious-commitment-varies-by-country-among-people-of-all-ages/.