Is It Just a Matter of Where You're Born?

There’s something I need to address.  I’ve addressed it before.  But, I keep hearing people repeating this “truism” which, just isn’t true.  And, it’s easy enough to show why.

I’m sure you’re familiar with this “truism”.  You may even believe it yourself.  I know I did—before I saw the statistics: The religion someone believes in is determined primarily by the culture they grew up in.  So, if you happened to be born to Christian parents in America you probably believe in Christ.  But, if you had been born in India, it’s overwhelmingly likely you’d be Hindu.  If you were born in the Mid-East, Muslim; If Tibet, Buddhist, and so forth.  Religion, therefore, is basically a culturally-determined phenomenon.

The implication of this “truism” is that you no more choose your religion than you choose the color of your eyes.  OK, I’m exaggerating a bit for effect.  But, my point is that this “truism” implies that no religion can truly transcend the limitations of culture.  Which, in turn, means that no religion can claim to be the universal Truth—any religion that actually contains universal Truth would necessarily have the ability to transcend culture because it would appeal to all people, regardless of cultural conditioning. 

So, how can I be so confident this “truism” isn’t true?  Even though our culture has imbibed this “truism” to the point that it’s become an unquestioned assumption, the cold, hard Pew Research Center statistics prove otherwise.  They prove that Christianity, uniquely, is truly a worldwide religion.  They prove that Christianity, uniquely, has a universal appeal that transcends culture.

Here they are the stats: Over 95 percent of Hindus live in India and the region immediately surrounding it.  Around 88 percent of Buddhists are in East Asia.  Over 90 percent of Muslims live in a band that stretches from Northern Africa through the Mid-East to Southeast Asia.  However, only 12 percent of the World’s Christians are in North America, 25 percent are in Europe, 25 percent in Latin America, 22 percent in Africa, and 15 percent in Asia.  And, incidentally, a greater percentage of the World’s population is Christian than ever before.  (For more, see Timothy Keller, Making Sense of God, p. 149, using Pew Research statistics from 2011, and p. 229, using Pew statistics from 2015; see also Philip Jenkins, The Next Christendom, for a rigorous demonstration and analysis of this same and totally unique worldwide impact.)

In other words, Christianity—uniquely—has spread out, fairly evenly, in significantly large numbers across just about every major region of the world.  The only region where Christianity doesn’t exercise a significant impact is the Mid-East.  Of course, the Mid-East is notoriously difficult to get a good handle on—because the consequences of apostasy from Islam are so severe, and because some partial, though impressive, data has emerged indicating significant numbers of conversions to Christianity, a number of scholars have suggested that the actual number of believers in the Mid-East is much higher than the estimates that are normally made. 

Remarkably, today Christianity is exploding in the regions where its impact was least felt a hundred years ago—namely the Southern Hemisphere—and in a wide range of diverse cultures that are as different from its traditional origins as they could be. 

These statistics clearly show that Christianity is the only truly worldwide religion.  And among all the World’s religions, this is unique.  Even though other religions, like Buddhism and Islam, have had global aspirations, their impact has largely been regional. 

The most significant thing to note is that, where other religions are experiencing rapid growth (within the regions they already dominate), which is especially true of Islam, they are growing primarily through reproduction—i.e., by having large families.  Christianity, on the other hand, is growing both through this kind of natural increase and through rapid conversion.  In other words, statistically significant numbers of people who did not grow up Christian or in a Christian environment are choosing to believe in it. 

One scholar who’s analyzed this data in depth, Richard Bauckham, makes a fairly obvious point: This must say something about Christianity.  As the only truly worldwide religion, as the only religion that transcends culture, Christianity is uniquely capable of appealing to all people everywhere. 

If any religion has a claim to be the universal Truth, this is it.  

Do you think your beliefs are determined by the culture you grow up in?  You can tell me what you think by going to the “Contact E.J.” page of the Raising Jesus website and leaving your comments there.  I love hearing what you have to say!

About Me

E.J. Sweeney is a true skeptic. He needs to see to believe. Hard Evidence. Compelling Proof. Solid Logic. This is what he believes in. In college, he encountered questions that the superficial faith he was raised on couldn’t handle. So he began a quest for Truth, a quest for the answers to life’s ultimate questions.

EJ Sweeney

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