December 21, 2011
The if-you-were-born-in-India objection
By Hendrik van der Breggen
(The Carillon, December 21, 2011)
The if-you-were-born-in-India objection
There is an oft-heard objection to Christian belief which runs like this: If you were born in India, you'd probably be a Hindu. If you were born in Indonesia, you'd probably be a Muslim. If you were born in Tibet, you'd probably be a Buddhist. Christians are Christians because they were born in a Christian country or they were raised by Christian parents.
So, or so the objection goes, Christianity is merely cultural—something one has grown into. In other words, Christian belief is due to the geography or "accident" of one's birth rather than any connection to reason and truth.
Is this a good objection?
I don't think so, for two reasons.
Reason 1. Yes, it's true that, statistically, if one were born in India, then one would probably be a Hindu. However, from this it does not follow logically that one must accept the religion of one's culture as true or worthy of belief. Why not? Because, as Socrates famously quipped, "the unexamined life is not worth living."
The point: You begin your life with the belief system that's inherited from your culture or parents, but you need not end there—you can think carefully about the inherited belief system and evaluate it for its truth content.
Philosopher Paul Copan clarifies (in his book "True For You, But Not For Me": Deflating the Slogans that Leave Christians Speechless): "An analogy from politics is helpful. As with the multiple religious alternatives in the world, there are many political alternatives—monarchy, Fascism, Marxism, or democracy. What if we tell a Marxist or a conservative Republican that if he had been raised in Nazi Germany, he would have belonged to the Hitler Youth? He will probably agree but ask what your point is. What is the point of this analogy? Just because a diversity of political options has existed in the history of the world doesn't obstruct us from evaluating one political system as superior to its rivals."
Ditto for religion and philosophy.
In other words, people need not be locked into their cultural ways of thinking. There is something called simple truth that all people can discern. Also, there are logical ways of reasoning that are cross-cultural. Also, there is moral knowledge that is not limited to one's culture.
Yes, some cultures thwart the appreciation of simple truth, good reasoning, and moral knowledge. Nevertheless, the misuse or abuse of X doesn't mean X does not exist and cannot be appropriately used. How important, then, for those persons who have knowledge of truth to share it.
(At this juncture, we should note that sharing truth need not imply that the sharer thinks of him/herself as superior in any way. Copan [in Lee Strobel's book The Case for the Real Jesus] puts it this way: "My wife and I like a restaurant called the Macaroni Grill. When we tell people about it, we're not saying, 'I'm better than you because I know about the Macaroni Grill and you don't.' No—we're merely happy to pass on the news about the place. And that's how it should be with the Christian faith. Our attitude shouldn't be, 'I'm better than you,' but, 'I found something really good; I urge you to check it out.'")
Reason 2. It is important to realize that the Christianity found in the New Testament was not just a cultural expression or merely a result of the way people were raised; rather, New Testament Christianity began anew in a non-Christian culture and it spread into other non-Christian cultures—as it continues to do today.
Christianity began and spread on the basis of eye-witness testimony concerning the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus—testimony that the Holy Spirit clearly used and continues to use to further Christ's kingdom.
Of course, many persons in later generations accepted Christianity for merely cultural reasons. Nevertheless, this fact does not preclude the reality that many non-Christians accept Jesus Christ as Lord—and many Christians continue to accept Jesus Christ as Lord—for reasons having to do with evidence and truth.
In summary, the following comment from J. Steve Lee (from the Apologetics Study Bible for Students) is helpful: “[W]here you were raised does have an obvious impact on your religious beliefs; however, history proves that this can be overcome when people reconsider their beliefs in light of evidence and argumentation. While most people’s religious beliefs reflect where they were raised, they still have the freedom and responsibility to consider the evidence and claims of their religion. Christianity excels when people take the time to seriously explore its claims as well as reconsider the non-Christian beliefs with which they were raised.”
Therefore, the if-you-were-born-in-India objection is problematic.
Significantly, the objection impinges on neither the reasons for nor the truth of the core claims of Christianity, i.e., that God became a human being in Jesus, that Jesus died for our sins, and that Jesus physically resurrected from death, thereby giving us hope of eternal life.
To all my readers, whether born in India, Indonesia, or Tibet—or wherever—I wish you Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!
(Hendrik van der Breggen, Ph.D., teaches philosophy at Providence University College. The views in this column do not always reflect the views of Providence.)