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Religion and Sports: Just Cultural Traits?

How similar are religion and sports?Lifelong fans of the Mariners baseball team would be Red Sox fans if they’d grown up in Boston instead of Seattle. Tarheels fans would be Trojans fans if they had gone to USC instead of UNC. People who eat Frosted Flakes for breakfast would likely prefer fermented soybeans (natto) if they grew up in Japan instead of the U.S.

And believers who think that the truth of Christianity is obvious might think that about Islam if they grew up in Morocco or Afghanistan instead of Mississippi or Alabama.

Begging the pardon of sports fans, there is no objective measure that makes their home team the only valid one, with all others being poor imitations of the real thing. The same is true for religion.

Why do people pick the religions that they pick? In fact, most don’t pick. They’re in effect assigned a religion by the randomness of their birth. They take on the religion of their parents or their community, like any other cultural trait such as customary food, dress, or etiquette.

Let’s not take this too far, however. Not everyone born in Mississippi is a Christian—atheist theologian Robert Price is an example. Not everyone raised as a Christian remains one—I’m an example.

So what we’re seeing is a strong correlation—people tend to take on the religion of their environment. What best explains this observation?

The atheist view is that all religions are fiction, but they’re sticky elements of culture. People tend to adopt these elements, but you’ll always have some outliers. In a culture where men wear neckties, a few will prefer bow ties. In a culture where one of the first questions after being introduced to someone new is, “And where do you go to church?” a few will be atheists.

The atheist says that religion is adopted because it’s a dominant cultural trait, not because it’s true.

The Christian view is much tougher to justify. Christians don’t want to discard this correlation because it helps explain why the other guy clings to his religion. Is the fact that there are a billion Muslims strong evidence that Islam is correct? Nope—their belief is just a cultural trait. With well over a dozen countries having 98 percent or greater Muslim populations, being Muslim is just what you do when you grow up in a monoculture.

Christians say that Islam, Shinto, Buddhism, Hinduism, and most other religions are cultural traits that are false. But they need to explain why Christianity is actually true even though it looks just like all those false cultural traits.

Seeing religion as nothing more profound or objectively accurate than a cultural trait is the best explanation of the evidence.

Of all things, good sense is the most fairly distributed.
Everyone thinks he is so well supplied with it
that even those who are the hardest to satisfy in every other respect
never desire more of it than they already have.
— René Descartes

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