People tend to believe what they believe. Overly basic statement, I know. But for the staunch atheist/skeptic there are hundreds of reasons not to believe in a deity or in some sort of intelligent creative force behind the cosmos. That is the human prerogative.
The same is true for the believer in some supernatural force or deity—he or she has many reasons that confirm this worldview as the best possible position for him or her. Again, long live choice, I guess.
And the realm of debate opens in-between these camps. The arguments center on scientific theories, rational arguments, feelings, experience, history, and other arenas of thought. One side will claim the other to be totally blind to fact and reason, while the other side returns serve with similar sentiment. It is the way things are, the way they’ve been, and the way they will continue to be.
Spend much time in the staunch camp of either side (or just follow the comment threads following proponent-posted videos and debates) and you’ll end up hearing the same arguments over and over and over again.
One that I’ve stumbled upon about nine times this week is the argument that religion is made up because one’s religion is based upon where that person is raised. Typically this argument comes from westerners who assert that Christians claim Christ is the way to salvation, yet much of the world lives without a social construct that promotes or supports the claims of Christ. Richard Dawkins is fond of this argument, pointing out that where one is born dictates one’s faith position.
And I would agree with him in part. On a fixed-scale, in the here and now, Dawkins’ argument has merit. Of course as he directly opposes Christianity through this means, he fails to note that he does so in English. From a fluffy chair in Oxford he decries the “region-ality” of Christianity without a hint of the obvious paradox.
You see, Christianity is not a Western religion. It began in the Middle East, without a hint of English (or “western”) influences. While it may be true that it would unlikely for a person born and raised in India today to become a Christian in the here and now, how likely was it for someone in the UK or the US to become a Christian when the faith was in its infancy? This, of course, is an absurd question, but no more absurd than acting as if Christianity is some newfangled western invention. Men in Jerusalem might have sat in slightly less fluffy chairs in 100 AD decrying the “region-ality” of this upstart faith and how it must be false because the Celts or Goths or some unknown people group didn’t follow Christ.
When Christianity began, the Americas were unknown to proponents of the faith. The Apostle Paul wished to go to Spain, but never even had a notion of venturing to sunny Florida—to him there was no sunny Florida! Twenty or so centuries later it was the dominant faith of both North and South America. And to think it is a merely “Western Religion” is, simply put, narrow. For instance, Great Britain was a huge force in world missions for many decades in the 19th and early 20th century. Their end of the Scramble for Africa—a factor that paved the way to World War I—was done for empire-building reasons, but as a byproduct, it also brought the Christian gospel to many unreached regions of Africa. Prior to that, it was the British who brought a knowledge of Jesus to the New World. But sometime in the mid-twentieth century, England’s national faith began to move toward the secular. It faded as the leader in missions, and the United States took the reins of the global mission movement. And now, for a litany of reasons, a foreseeable fade is predicted for the US in international Christian missions. In fact, a few years back the two leading mission-sending nations (per National population) in the world were Brazil and Mongolia! And the number one destination for said missionaries to be sent? China and other Eastern nations.
The point is that in four or five hundred years it may very well be that Christianity has found a new home-base. A few Chinese men might sit on futuristic fluffy chairs claiming that theism isn’t real because kids in Oxford and New York don’t get raised with a Christian worldview/influence.
And yes, if one is a follower of Christianity in a location where it is the mainstream faith, it would mean that the onus for mission is upon them. If the world waits for the good news that is in your care to steward, it would be best not to deprive her. But even with that, the crux of theism is deity, and the crux of deity is that deity is supernatural. While an area might not be overtly Christian, there is nary a place where the Christian gospel has not made a foothold or is preparing to make one. It has regional cycles, yes, but those cycles are on the move generation to generation, and these pockets do not own exclusive rights to the message of salvation. One research study polled believing converts in “closed countries” (or those countries who do not allow the gospel of Jesus Christ to be preached). That study found that the number one way in which converts claim initial exposure to the Christian message or the direct reason for conversion was through “dreams and visions.”
Sure, these “converts” may be making this up. It all may be a sham. It isn’t scientific. They may be liars. They may have just had indigestion. All of these objections may be true, but either way, what their claim proves, if nothing else, is that Christianity has never been a regionally-based operation. It began in a place, sure. And then it moved and has been moving ever since. Jesus sums up the salvific process to Nicodemus saying: “The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”
One can choose not to believe or to believe, and there are compelling arguments both ways. Pointing to the region-ality of the Christian faith as a means to disprove all manner of theism/religion though, well, is a tepid argument at best.