Saturday, March 3, 2012

Saturday Edition: Why are you a Christian?

Last week I did a post exploring the questions I asked myself when I was a christian while I was in my transition to atheism. This week, I want to talk about the question that at some point I asked myself "Why am I a Christian?"

I started asking this question when I became aware of other religions in the world. Why am I not a Muslim? Why am I not Jewish? What about Christianity is so great that led me to be Christian? The only honest answer I could come up with was that I was born into a Christian family and therefore I am Christian. It is not like I looked at the various religions and decided Christianity is the best, it was chosen for me.

So then I started thinking, what if I had been born in a different part of the world? Suppose my parents were Muslim, then I would be Muslim as well. I certainly wouldn't be a Christian, I'm sure the situation would be similar, just as I have not looked at various religions and decided on Christianity now, in that situation I wouldn't have looked at various religions and decided on Islam, I would just be a Muslim. What would be the consequences of this? According to the church I grew up in, this hypothetical me would be doomed to hell. This seems supremely unfair!

The funny thing is, my initial thought was that I am incredibly lucky to be born into the one true religion. Awesome, God must truly love me to give me this gift. But after a while, I started thinking about my hypothetical self. How much more difficult it would be for him to get into heaven. "It's not so easy for him, but I'm sure at some point he would see a missionary and learn of Jesus and it would lead him to convert, it's a harder path but he can do it." These things comforted me at times, but they were incredibly distressing at other times. I would think about hearing preaching from other religions and the likelihood that I would convert away from Christianity. Why would I do that? I already am in the one true religion. And I thought "that hypothetical me thinks the same thing." I went back and forth like this A LOT.

There are a few things that I would frequently think that would appease me for a while, one was that whole "God works in mysterious ways" thing, and the "You can't always know God's plan" thing. I was also told "everyone has a chance, everyone hears the true word of God and has an opportunity to become Christian". It worked sometimes, but it just never seemed fair, why do I get this basically for free and my hypothetical self has to work so hard?

At some point I tucked these thoughts to the back of my brain somewhere and didn't think about it for a long time. Then I started learning about primitive cultures. There were hunter gatherer tribes around last century (are they still there?). There are people living in the amazon jungle (still?). These people have their own religions and they certainly haven't heard the Christian story. Do they all go to hell automatically? If Jesus is the only way to get to heaven they can't go there as they have never even heard of Jesus, but them going to hell isn't fair, they never had a chance. The reasons I had above don't work here. It's not a harder path for these people to get to heaven, it is impossible.

So where did this leave me? When it came down to it, I guess the only reason I was able to honestly come up with for why I was Christian was that I was born into it. This never seemed like a good enough reason on it's own. As I said last week, this is not THE reason I am an atheist, but it did play a role. I thought about this a lot when I was a Christian and because of it, along with other reasons, I eventually left the faith.


  1. That's a really good point about the accident of birth. As a youth, when I was really religious (attending retrets with kids much older than I, being a Chaplain of my school, alter server, adult and bell choir etc), either this question was never posed, or I never really thought about it. I'm sure I would have thought it kind of a dumb question at the time, but it really is a good one. As I got older I started to think about other religions as well and thought "well they believe their religion just as strongly as I did." I think we all have the same spiritual experiences, for lack of a better word, but we interpret it in different ways based on what we have been raised to believe.

    You make a good point about those that never heard about the Christian God. It is a hard problem to logically tackle.

  2. I like the point that we all have similar spiritual experiences. Different people simply interpret it in different ways. A religious person might say this is proof of God and that some people just misinterpret it.

    I would argue that our brains are wired for these experiences and when we interpret them as spiritual we are simply imposing our own ideas onto it. I would further argue that if it was really communicating with a powerful God it shouldn't be misinterpreted so easily.

  3. I agree with you completely. I think we interpret all of our experiences based on the lens of previous experiences and what we have learned throughout our lives. If you experience a near death experience, as a Muslim, you might think that you are seeing Alah. As a Christian, you might think you are seeing your God. As a Hindu.. well you get the idea. A non religious person might interpret the experience as a surge of chemicals running through the brain. I BELIEVE that this chemical is DMT, but I'm not a hundred percent sure.


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