Challenge: You’re Christian because You’re Western

Posted: December 21, 2010 by Amy Hall in Weekly Challenge

I heard this kind of challenge being made by atheist John Loftus the other day on an Unbelievable podcast, so I thought I would pose it to you. A little search on the internet brought up this comment from an atheist that states the challenge succinctly:

You wouldn’t BE a Christian if you were raised in another country. You would be a Muslim or a Hindu or a Sikh or a Buddhist and you would be saying EXACTLY the same thing about Christianity that you are asserting about other beliefs (or lack thereof) right now. What does that tell you about how your religion works? Did the reasoning of your religion earnestly call it to you or were you culturally indoctrinated at a very young age to believe what you do now?

Before answering this one, it’s important to figure out what this objector’s hidden assumptions are–that is, what is he assuming that he hasn’t stated directly? Sometimes the hidden points are even more important to address than the stated ones. Now what in his actual comment would you want to address? What questions would you ask? Is there an illustration or analogy you could use to make your answer more clear? We look forward to hearing your ideas! Be back here on Thursday to hear Brett’s response.

  1. He seems to think that Christianity isn’t true because I would have believed differently if I was born in some other country. How exactly does that follow? He wouldn’t be an atheist if he was raised in country “x”. Does it follow from that that atheism isn’t true? He probably wouldn’t think so. This isn’t a positive case towards Christianity, but it removes the teeth from the argument.

    He also assumes to have an objective standpoint. He seems to think that he’s risen above this cultural indoctrination and can see things the way they truly are. However, how does he know he hasn’t been “indoctrinated” in some way? Perhaps by his parents or his college professors or people he’s looked up to in the past. Before he asks that question to Christians, he ought to be asking himself.

  2. Sam Harper says:

    It’s hard for me to say what the hidden assumption is because it seems possible to make two different arguments out of what is said here One of them goes like this:

    1. If your beliefs are a product of your geography, then they can’t be rational.
    2. Religious beliefs are a product of geography.
    3. Therefore, religious beliefs can’t be rational.

    The other goes like this:

    4. If Christianity were true, then your beliefs would not by a product of your geography.
    5. Your beliefs are a product of geography.
    6. Therefore, Christianity is not true.

    So here’s how I’d respond to each argument. With the first argument, I’d dispute that first premise by pointing out that almost all of our beliefs are a product of our environment. If I had been born in another place at another time, I might’ve believed the earth was flat, but that doesn’t mean my belief in the roundness of the earth is unjustified just because it is the result of when and where I was born. Also, if the objector had been born somewhere else, they likely would not be raising this objection. And, if my beliefs being the result of my geography renders them not rational, then the same is true of the atheist. If John Loftus had been born and raised in a Muslim country, HE would likely not be an atheist. Does that mean his atheism is not rational? Premise 1 is false because it leads to absurdities when taken to its logical conclusion.

    I think the second argument is stronger than the first. Premise 4 could be defended by saying that if Christianity were true, then God would be fair, and if God were fair, people would have an equal chance at getting saved regardless of what country they lived in, and if people had an equal chance at getting saved regardless of what country they lived in, then the country they lived in would not determine their religion, so if Christianity were true, then your religion would not merely be a product of your geography. As a Calvinist, this argument is easy to answer. I would just point out that God saves everybody he intends to save. If he doesn’t intend to save somebody, then he may sovereignly decree that they be born in a country where they are less likely to hear the gospel. So the salvation of some people is not a result of their geography; rather, their geography is the result of God’s choosing or not choosing them. Of course John Loftus has serious issues with Calvinism, so I’m sure he would not find such an answer very satisfying at all. But then again, I don’t think John Loftus would find any answer satisfying.

    Non-Calvinists have a number of different ways to answer this objection. One that has been offered by Bill Craig, Paul Copan, and others is that if people respond to the light their are given, they will get more light, and if they continue to respond positively, eventually, they’ll get to hear the gospel. So everybody gets a fair chance regardless of where they live. I have serious issues with this answer which I won’t go into.

    Regardless of which of the two arguments the person intended to make, I would answer by pointing out that whether Christianity is true or not depends on the merits of the arguments. Even if it’s true that my beliefs are the result of non-rational factors such as the accident of my birth, it’s an obvious case of the genetic fallacy to then call my beliefs into question for that reason alone. The fact that my beliefs are the result of non-rational causes tells us nothing about whether or not my beliefs are true. To find out whether my beliefs are true, we have to look at the evidence and arguments for and against my religion. We can do that without any reference to where I’m from.

    The other is that if Christianity were true, then your beliefs would not by merely a product of your geography.

  3. Steve Castlen says:

    I’ll try not to repeat exactly what was said before me, by saying simply that the Atheist seems to be guilty of the genetic fallacy. To dismiss my belief due to the originating circumstances is a false move. This in no way addresses the question of whether the belief is actually true. I may have aquired a belief that Saturn has rings due to something I read on the back of a cereal box at age 7, but that doesnt disprove my belief.

    One underlying assumption is that all religious belief is equally false. The religious pluralist would likely say all religious belief is equally true. It is always fair to ask what evidence leads them to that conclusion.

    A second possible assumption is that with so many different religions claiming to be right, it is absurd, even arrogant, to think there could actually be a right answer. We might ask, how does the fact of disagreement mean that no right answer exists?

  4. I think the biggest assumption here is a lack of a revelatory-objective reality of truth. Which is either there is no objective truth at all, or that it is there but just cannot be known. Though it is not mentioned, the presupposition behind the idea that where we grow up influences what our religion is that we as humans either cannot obtain an objective truth and must be subject to only subjective “truths” or what my kindergarten teacher called, “opinions” or, the usual, that there is no objective truth at all.

    After this, one will need to argue for objective reality and objective truth. I think Greg Koukle over at Stand To Reason has a great argument for it. He shows the differences between “Ice Cream” truths (subjectivism/relativism/opinion) and “Insulin” truths (objectivism/absolutism). Ice Cream truths are those truths that are opinions such as what our favorite flavor of Ice Cream (such as the name, Ice Cream truths), which this varies from person to person. Many people believe that this is reality for all people and that this is the only kind of truth. Which is where Koukle brings in Insulin truths, for example, a diabetic needs to take insulin shots and this is a real truth or they die. Another Insulin truth is that 1 + 1 = 2. There is no variants, it has no other way.

    In determining thoughts on religion and spirituality, we need to use wisdom in what kind of truth it is, Ice Cream truth or Insulin truth.

  5. Elliot Neff says:

    I notice Dawkins often takes this position when lecturing at Universities quite often.

    Not only is this standpoint enormously presumptuous, but the conclusion reached simply does not follow the premises and logic given.

    This claim commits the genetic fallacy, which says that you cannot show a belief to be false by showing how the belief came to originate. Even if it were true, for example, that one were a Christian as a result of their geographical location, it does not establish in any way that, therefore, God does not exist or that Christianity is not true.

    So, this is an Atheist line that you will hear on a popular level, but that sophisticated thinkers should not take because A) it is permeated with unprovable assumptions, & B) it commits the genetic fallacy, thereby establisihing nothing substantial whatsoever.

  6. Luke Nix says:

    The only way that such a challenge is valid is:
    1. if the place of origin will determine exposure to only one worldview
    2. the person is not capable of questioning the truth claims of that single worldivew

    The first condition would dictate tha…t there is only a single option- nothing exists to compare the worldview against, thus no other reasons could exist for the choice of the one worldview.

    The second condition requires the first’s condition but also adds that the person is not capable of believing that the only option presented is not true. People do think, and do question what they are told even if they are not presented with an alternative.

    In the western world, we are presented with many options for a worldview. If we choose one, then we implicitly reject the others. There are reasons that we do reject the others. Many of these reasons have nothing to do with our place of origin.

    In the western world, even if we are presented with only a single worldview, as humans we will still attempt to make sense of things that might not add up logically in our minds. We will begin to question, then search, then find other worldviews (let’s now back up one paragraph).

    The claim that people are Christian because of where they were born, is only part of the story. They HAD to be exposed to the Gospel before they could dedicate their lives to Christ, so place of origin does have an impact on one becoming a Christian. However, the claim that people are Christian ONLY because of where they were born fails to recognize the diversity in western culture and the power of the human mind.

  7. I’m sure I heard Greg Koukl answer this very simply by asking the questioner if s/he is a believer and if s/he is American. If you’re talking to an American atheist, they kill their own premise. “If you’re American, then by your own premise, you must be a Christian. If you’re an atheist and an American, that proves that being American does not automatically make you a Christian, and so my Christianity cannot be explained merely by my geographical origin. Apparently, even Americans can choose another world view.”

    You could also ask if all Americans are Christians. Since they’re not, there is obviously the option to pick another world view even as a citizen of this country.