Believers are Products of their Environment

What fraction of Muslims were not raised in a Muslim environment? What fraction of Christians were not raised in a Christian environment? What does it say about the validity of religious claims that people typically take on the religion of their culture?

When someone gets a religious vision, why does it have elements from that person’s religion and not some other religion? Why do Hindus not get visions of Mary or Jesus or Christian angels, and why do Christians not get visions of Hindu gods?

To avoid the charge of special pleading, Christians must argue that they were just extraordinarily lucky to have been born in a place and time in which the correct religion happened to be available.

Religion is like language. I speak English because I was raised in America. I didn’t evaluate all the languages of the world before I picked the best one; it was just part of my environment.

Any Christian will tell you that babies born to Muslim parents are almost exclusively Muslim for no more profound reason than that they were raised in a Muslim environment. Why should it be any different for babies born to Christian parents?

Christians aren’t Christian because Christianity is true, but because they were born into a Christian environment. Christianity is a cultural trait, not a reflection of the truth.

What religion a man shall have is a historical accident,

quite as much as what language he shall speak.
— George Santayana

(This is a modification of a post that originally appeared 9/16/11.)

Photo credit: Wikipedia

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  • After looking up Sadhu Sundar Singh, it seems he was a Sikh who converted to Christianity. He was well aware of Christian beliefs before his reported visions and conversion, since like the story of Paul, he persecuted Christians. Who knows, that story may have inspired his conversion, or helped to. Perhaps unsurprisingly, many of his accounts have been shown to be rife with discrepancies, from the details of his life in general, his conversion, to his travels. Many accounts also omit his endorsement of the unorthodox Swedish theologian Emanuel Swedenborg, and claim to have contact with him in the spirit world.

  • jammgor

    This is just Atheist rubbish. Take (my home)Scotland for instance. It used to be the “Bible Belt” of the UK. The Scots learned the Classics, Greek, Hebrew by the time they were 15. They were educated, knowledgeable and Christian. They were almost all born Christian. In one post-war generation, they dumped God and Christianity. They are now mostly Atheist and Socialist, if not Communist.

  • jammgor

    On the other hand, to leave the Muslim or Hindu religions you have the certainty of murder, and disowning. Even our Jewish friends will disown a convert to Christianity. A convert from Communism in China or the old Soviet Russia would face death, beatings and imprisonment. “Religion, the opiate of the masses”.

    • jammmm: What’s your point? That it’s not nice to not be nice? I agree.
      Yes, Marx did call religion the opium of the masses, but you do understand that in context, right? (It doesn’t mean what most people think it means.)

  • jammgor

    If you decide not to follow your parents in Christianity you are likely to be congratulated. Your Professor will cheer, you have all the access to sluts, life gets easier rejecting Christ. All those born to Christians in the UK have rejected God with no apparent consequences (at least in this world). Your thesis is rubbish!.

    • jam:

      You’re saying that atheists needn’t have morals and that they don’t have obligations to other people? Get back to me after you’ve actually thought about it for a bit.

      Your thesis is rubbish!

      Yeah, see at this blog, we prefer comments that are substantive. Insults or empty claims like this don’t help.

      Have I made a mistake? If so, point it out, clearly and with evidence.

  • jana

    I come from the Czech Republic. I was born into a 100% atheist, Communist family and I believed in atheism until I was 17. Then I became a Christian, because the Bible made sense to me and because God “showed” himself to me in many ways… (In the church I go to, this is the story of most people. And many of us suffered serious consequences for leaving the atheist belief – being disowned by parents, scorned by the society etc.) I do not consider myself anything better than others. Being “chosen” is a reason for humility and gratefulness, not pride.

  • thecommentator

    Unbelievers are Products of their Environment

    • I take it that you reject the “X is a product of its environment” argument.

      Given that, what explains the fact that there are 9 countries that are at least 99% Muslim? Is it because Islam is true?

  • greggraham

    This argument doesn’t say much. People are likely to believe whatever they are raised with and taught, including whatever view of science. Does that have anything to do with science being true in general, or the validity of various scientific theories? Not too many people understand and “believe in” quantum mechanics; does that mean it’s not true?

    Regarding visions: if God exists and speaks to people, he is going to speak to them in the language that they understand, which includes dominant religious ideas in their culture. The Catholic Church teaches that all religions have varying levels of truth to them. We believe that the Catholic Church possesses the fullness of truth, but there is still much truth in other religions. People will not be judged based on what religion they are born into, but whether they followed the goodness and truth they did receive from their religion, culture, and experience.

    Finally, there are plenty of cases of non-Christians seeing visions of the Virgin Mary, although they may not know who she is at first.

    • We believe that the Catholic Church possesses the fullness of truth, but there is still much truth in other religions.

      So the Pope is cool with Hindus being Hindus? That’ll get them to heaven just fine?

      Finally, there are plenty of cases of non-Christians seeing visions of the Virgin Mary, although they may not know who she is at first.

      Sure, but how many are well substantiated? How many are universally accepted (like a science experiment, say)?

  • Pure Cancer

    If the argument is valid then it would be impossible for a new religon to be born

    • Michael Neville

      There are always exceptions to the general rule. I was raised as a Catholic but became an atheist in my teens. So it’s possible to change one’s mind or get a different idea. Besides, most new religions plagiarize heavily from their predecessors so they’re not as new as they might otherwise seem.