November 2007

Faith: A Product of Temporal and Geographical Happenstance?

Have you ever considered that a person s religious beliefs are a product of temporal and geographical circumstance? By that, I mean, one s religious affiliation is the result of where and when they were born.

If one is born to a middle class family in the US, more than likely they will be raised as a Christian. If one is born in Israel, they will be raised Jewish. If one were to be born in Thailand, chances are they would be raised Buddhist. Throughout the entire history of man, and throughout the thousands of gods worshipped by him, this has been the primary way that humans have come to their belief system.

My philosophical problem with this is that, in spite of all efforts made by believers to convert people to what they believe is the only way to eternal salvation, there will always be people not exposed to that particular belief system. For example, even though all Christians are to follow Jesus directive to spread the word (Matthew 28:16-20), there will have been people who have not heard the message of Christianity. One could have been born in Meso-America or China in the year 500 and not had exposure to the information about Jesus. And those people will not have been saved , thus not allowed entry into heaven after their deaths. Am I correct in stating this?

And every religion throughout time has been engaged in this zero-sum game – only the believers will attain salvation, all others won t.

How do you reconcile the idea that people who were never given the opportunity to accept or reject what you believe to be the only way to salvation be destined to an eternity in hell? I can t. I cannot say that, because I was lucky enough to be born in Christian America and accepted that belief system, I am entitled to heaven. This seems to be a very fortunate accident for me and an incredible misfortune for those not.

“If you have a faith, it is statistically overwhelmingly likely that it is the same faith as your parents and grandparents had. No doubt soaring cathedrals, stirring music, moving stories and parables, help a bit. But by far the most important variable determining your religion is the accident of birth. The convictions that you so passionately believe would have been a completely different, and largely contradictory, set of convictions, if only you had happened to be born in a different place.” Richard Dawkins

A person’s beliefs are certainly formed, in part, by their upbringing. Certainly there are other factors, and some people change their view as they grow and learn.

Christians differ on whether or not those who have not heard of Jesus are eligible to go to Heaven. For example, in general (and this is a broad generalization), Protestants believe that Jesus is required, but Catholics do not. Your statement that every religion thinks that only believers will attain salvation is not accurate. Some religions believe that good people who are not of their religion can still attain salvation, some believe that non-believers can attain salvation but that believers can attain a higher level of salvation, and some religions do not believe in salvation at all.

Responding to the Dawkins quote — I agree in general with what he says. However, I would point out that beliefs being formed by circumstance does not imply that those beliefs are false. It’s certainly a good reason to examine such beliefs carefully, though.

Posted on November 5, 2007 at 10:36 pm by ideclare · Permalink
In: Theology

Leave a Reply