The Grand Airport Allegory
Imagine that you were born in, and grew up in, the international arrivals terminal of the Sydney airport.
All of your life, you were abundantly exposed to the stories of people arriving from all over the world, travelling to or immigrating to Sydney.
“Wow, the air is so fresh here!”, the Chinese people say
“Australia is such a safe place to live!” the South African immigrants say
“The weather is amazing here!” the Englishmen say.
Over the course of your childhood, you became intimately familiar with the arrivals department, and, like so many people do, love your homeland. You become convinced that Australia and Sydney in particular is the best place in the world. After all — just listen to all the things people arriving are saying! It’s amazing!
Over years and years of repetition, everything in favour of Sydney crystallises in your mind. It’s the most obvious thing: Sydney is the best place in the world.
Sure, you understand in theory that other places exist. Surely other airports exist as well. But their magnitude and reality are distant from your mind.
Then, one day, you grow up to adulthood, and you leave the arrivals terminal. For the first time in your life, you travel to the departures terminal; a place you knew had to exist — but never really gave it much serious thought.
You were shocked to hear some of the things people were saying:
“Gosh the housing prices in Sydney are ridiculous!” said the Aussie person moving to Brisbane.
“Australia has no innovation, no one invents anything interesting here!” says the Australian born Chinese moving to Silicon Valley.
“Sydney’s town planning is ridiculous!” says the Aussie person moving to Melbourne.
But these comments don’t really bother you. After all, the arguments in favour of Sydney are so much more cogent than those against it.
But you travel further. You travel to America, Indonesia, China, Singapore, Norway. You start to see the world, and you spend time in the arrivals and departures terminals of the various airports.
“I love learning the Mandarin Chinese language!”
“This is truly the land of the free, home of the brave!”
“Ah it feels so good to see Tokyo again”
One day you’re sitting in a plane, travelling again. You think about your youth.
You realise the only reason you were convinced Sydney was the best was not because it actually was, but because you were abundantly exposed to a particular narrative.
You realise that people travel to, and from, various airports all the time. They seek their fortunes in other lands. They become convinced the direction they’re going in is the truth.
And you change.
In this story, the protagonist is you. Sydney airport is the religion you were raised in, or the religion of your parents, or the religion you encountered as an adult and converted to.
You become abundantly exposed to the narrative of your religion — much of the narrative is “conversion” narrative, which in the story is “people arriving in Sydney”. You become convinced that the stories people tell, the arguments they make, are persuasive.
Then, one day, like some of us, you grow up in a special way. You travel to the departures terminal and hear the stories of the people leaving. Perhaps you’re not persuaded, but you hear a different tune for the first time. You travel to other airports (other religions), and hear the stories of the inbound “converts” and the outbound “apostates”.
Eventually you realise a profound, simple truth: you did not win the lottery of religious circumstance. Your birth (or conversion) circumstances were not any more unique or special than those of the Indians growing up in Hinduism, the Irish growing up as Catholics or the Egyptians growing up worshipping Ra in ancient times.
You realise that the arguments used in favour of your religion are not unique; the weather in South Africa is good too, Norway is also a safe place like Australia, and the air is fresh in Canada.
You can deliver someone all of the information necessary, but you can’t give them an insight. You can deliver all of the counter-arguments, all of the apologetics, and all of the information that shows the poor quality of apologetics, but you can’t open the door for them.
The final insight that destroys faith is not in the realm of information, but in the realm of psychology.
It sits in that little, small, honest voice of scepticism that says “what if I wasn’t born into the true religion?” — sometimes you’re only a 14 year old when it happens, but you put that voice down, you smother it, because it’s easier, safer, and more comfortable to ignore it.
This video touches on this point very beautifully and sincerely
Mark Twain succinctly pointed this insight out in his quote:
“The easy confidence with which I know another man’s religion is folly teaches me to suspect that my own is also.”