If You Were Born Elsewhere, You’d Have A Different Religion

Have you ever seen a party conjurer playing the parlor game ‘Geography Is Fate’? In a large gathering he’ll start to ask where a person is from and then he’ll tell that person what their religion is. Here’s a rough transcript from a recent party I attended:

Party conjurer to a lady named Faye: ‘Where ya from?’

Faye: ‘Little Rock, Arkansas.’

Party conjurer: ‘You Southern Baptist?’

Faye: ‘That’s incredible! How did you guess?

Revelers: ‘Ha, ha, ha!’

Party conjurer to guy named Edwin: ‘Where are you from?’

Edwin: ‘Minneapolis, Minnesota.’

Party conjurer: ‘You Lutheran?’

Edwin: ‘That’s crazy! Yes!’

Revelers: ‘Ha, ha, ha!’

Party conjurer to Rebecca: ‘Where are you from?’

Rebecca: ‘Kanab, Utah.’

Party conjurer: ‘You Mormon?’

Rebecca: ‘That’s outrageous! Are you psychic or something?’

Revelers: ‘Ha, ha, ha!’

Party conjurer to Asif: ‘Where are you from?’

Asif: ‘Quetta, Pakistan.’

Party conjurer: ‘Are you Muslim?’

Asif: ‘This is too weird. Yes.’

Revelers: ‘Ha, ha, ha!’

Party conjurer to Lupe: ‘Where are you from?’

Lupe: ‘Arequipa, Peru.’

Party conjurer: ‘Are you Catholic?’

Lupe: ‘Yes! It’s almost scary!’

Revelers: ‘Ha, ha, ha!’

Party conjurer to Shakuntila: ‘And you?’

Shakuntila: ‘Mumbai, India.’

Party conjurer: ‘Would you happen to be Hindu?’

Shakuntila: ‘Most excellent! You are indeed a psychic!’

Revelers: ‘Ha, ha, ha!’

And on it went through twenty-two party goers. The party conjurer even correctly guessed that Ditte from Viborg, Denmark was an atheist. What does it tell us that the party conjurer guessed correctly every time? That the party conjurer has an uncanny gift? That the party conjurer spent days researching the guest list prior to the party? That a mole at the party gave the party conjurer discrete hand signals indicating others’ religious commitments? No, no, no. The party conjurer knew that geography is fate. And the party conjurer knew a further datum. He knew that if each of the twenty-two guests had been born and raised in one of the places the other guests were born and raised, each guest would now have a different religion.

Shakuntila, were she born and raised in Little Rock and not Mumbai, would bring her religious dispositions to the Baptists, not the Hindus. Rebecca, were she born and raised in Quetta, Pakistan, would lend her spiritual vigor to Islam, not Mormonism. Edwin in Arequipa, not Minneapolis, would light candles to the Virgin Mary. And on and on.

When you realize that geography is fate, certainty softens. And certainty must soften. Is the religion in my geographic space, like the sports team in my geographic space, automatically the best and truest, though had I been born and raised elsewhere I’d receive another sports team and another religion as my favorites? I would have been a fanatic for an entirely different team—pennants, pompoms and all. And I would have been a convinced Buddhist, Sikh, Zoroastrian, or any other worldview that a spot of terra firma bestows.

Few choose their religion because geography chooses first.

Let’s stretch this concept into a temporal model and imagine a party attended by all humans who have ever lived. A cosmic party conjurer is present with a parlor game called ‘Epoch Is Fate.’ The party conjurer asks a guest called Zolo, ‘When did you live, what epoch?’ and Zolo says, ‘4000 BCE Egypt,’ to which the party conjurer rejoins, ‘Are you a polytheist but principally a devotee of the God Seth?’ And Zolo says, ‘That’s right! How in blue blazes did you guess that?’

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