If you grew up in Ancient Greece, you’d believe in Zeus.
If you grew up in Ancient Egypt, you’d worship the Nile.
If you grew up in modern day India, you’d be a Hindu.
The only reason you’re a Christian is because you grew up in America. Your beliefs are nothing more than the product of your culture.
The first time I heard this argument, I didn’t know how to respond. It seemed so persuasive. After all, as far as statistics go, it’s difficult to argue that I’d be a Christian if I were born in India (Less than 6% of the population of India is Christian).
I began to ask questions. Was my faith merely the product of cultural conditioning? If it was, should I abandon it?
How We Can Begin Engaging Difficult Questions
Unfortunately, objections like these have unnecessarily derailed the faith of many Christians. Others, stumped by the argument, ignore it altogether and promptly dismiss it without any meaningful consideration (i.e. “Well that’s just silly!”).
I want to offer some insight as to how a Christian can more effectively think about and engage this question.
To be clear, in what follows, I am not trying to make an argument for the truthfulness of Christianity (for this, William Lane Craig and Tim Keller are great starting points). My goal is more modest. I simply want to:
Demonstrate how “You’re Only A Christian Because You Were Born In America” fails as an argument against the Christian worldview.
Offer some conversational tools you can use in the event that you run into this argument.
Why Wouldn’t You Be a Hindu if You Were Born in India? Is Asking the Wrong Question
In order to offer a proper response to this objection, it’s important to understand how this popular argument is attempting to work. What is it really saying?
At its core, arguments like this try to make a case against Christianity not by engaging its truth claims but by discrediting the belief forming process that leads people to faith. By “belief forming process,” I’m simply referring to everything (upbringing, culture etc.) that shapes people’s personal beliefs.
So then, the argument boils down to: If your beliefs are culturally conditioned, they aren’t true. Specifically, if you believe X because you were born in America, then X isn’t true.
But is that true? Of course not! Here’s why.
How We Come to Believe Something Doesn’t Make that Belief True or False
The argument commits what philosophers often refer to as the Genetic Fallacy. An argument commits the Genetic Fallacy when it bases the truth of a belief on the origin of that belief. The Genetic Fallacy amounts to, “Your belief is (or isn’t) true because of how you came to believe it.”
But how one comes to believe something has nothing to do with whether or not the belief itself is actually true. How I came to believe that Jesus is the Messiah is simply irrelevant to whether or not He actually is.
For example, take the statement, “I believe Abraham Lincoln was the 16th president of the United States because… my imaginary friend told me so.” In this case, while the source for my belief is unreliable (my imaginary friend), my belief is still completely true—just as true as it would be if I had learned it from David Herbert Donald’s classic Lincoln.
Simply put, how someone comes to believe something has nothing to do with whether or not that belief is true or false.
This Line of Reasoning “Proves” Too Much
To see this on a more intuitive level, consider some of the beliefs you (1) hold strongly today that (2) you would not believe if you were born in Ancient Greece:
The Earth is spherical
The Earth revolves around the sun
Women should be able to own property
Slavery is immoral
You would simply not believe these things if you were born in Ancient Greece (or the majority of civilizations in human history). You hold these beliefs largely because of the specific time and place in which you were raised. Should we abandon these beliefs as well? Certainly not.
A Helpful Question for Christians to Ask:
In responding to this objection, it may help your conversation partner see the weakness of their argument if you apply the same argument to one of the beliefs we just mentioned. For example:
Believer: Do you believe slavery is wrong?
Believer: But if you grew up in Ancient Greece you’d believe slavery was normal and perhaps necessary. If you grew up in Ancient Rome, you’d believe conquered enemies should become war slaves. The only reason you believe slavery is wrong is because you grew up in the post-modern West. Are you willing to abandon your beliefs about the immorality of slavery?
Believer: Even after I’ve demonstrated that they’re a product of your culture?
Believer: Then why should I abandon my beliefs simply because they may be a product of my culture?
Where Do We Go From Here?
This hypothetical conversation reveals that abandoning beliefs simply because they may be culturally conditioned is not only unnecessary, but irresponsible. The reality is that everyone’s beliefs are shaped by their cultural context. No one develops their system of values and principles in a vacuum!
Understanding this, we should grant that modern American culture furnishes us with some beliefs that are true (i.e. women are equal in value to men) and others that are false (i.e. money and power will make you happy).
Knowing this, rather than abandoning a belief simply because it’s culturally conditioned, we should ask, “Is this particular culturally conditioned belief true or false?” and then evaluate the belief on its own terms. Are there good arguments for it? Reasons? Evidence?
That is how we determine whether or not a belief is true. How or why someone came to hold the belief is irrelevant.
Regardless of Where You Are Born, the Truth about Jesus Does Not Change
So, would I be a Hindu if I was born in India? I mean, according to statistics, probably. But admitting that does nothing to undermine the truth of Christianity.
Remember, the legitimacy of the Christian worldview depends on it being true. We’re not Christians primarily because it’s a “good way to live” or a healthy lifestyle choice. We’re Christians because, at the end of the day, we believe it’s true: We believe Jesus of Nazareth was exactly who he claimed to be!
So, don’t miss this—while being born in India might affect my personal beliefs about Jesus of Nazareth, it would have no effect on whether or not He actually rose from the dead. Either He did or He didn’t.
That is where the truth of Christianity stands or falls. Let’s have a conversation about that.
So, don’t get discouraged if someone hits you with the good ole’ “Made In America” objection. Patiently show them that how people arrive at their beliefs has nothing to do with whether or not those beliefs are true.
Show them that all beliefs are, to some degree, culturally conditioned and that in order to assess their truthfulness, they need to be evaluated on their own merits—“What are some good reasons for thinking this particular belief is true?”
Then, be ready to defend the truth claims of Christianity.
Image Credit: ©Getty/GDArts
Chase Krug serves as the Lead Pastor of New Century Church in Roanoke, VA. After graduating from the University of Alabama with a B.S. in Business Administration, he earned his M.Div. from SEBTS where he is currently pursuing his Ph.D. in Systematic Theology. Chase loves singing and songwriting, Alabama football, playing golf, and eating food. He is married to his best friend and better half, Rebecca, and they are expecting their first child in January of 2020. For writing or speaking requests, you can contact Chase here. Follow him on Twitter.