Step Outside the Box and See it for What it is

How evangelical Christians defend their faith is annoying to me for the most part. They don't realize how inconsistent their approach is and how that same approach is used by people of other faiths. They don't connect the dots.

They were born into a Christian culture and became believers because of cultural influences just like Muslims in Iran, or Catholics in Mexico, or Buddhists in Thailand, or Hindu's in India. They know this and yet want to maintain theirs is the correct religion anyway, just like Muslims, Catholics, Buddhists and Hindu's do when faced with this same sociological data. Christians claim that these other religions are man-made ones. But let's connect the dots here. If other people in other parts of the globe have created man-made religions and are persuaded to believe in them because they were raised in their respective cultures, then why is this not also true for their particular sect of Christianity? Why do they think they are privileged to be born in the right time and place when others are not? If there is a God why would he privilege them like this? Why? It's the natural tendency we humans have for thinking we're special, that's why. All ancient societies built temples to their gods which they thought were located directly on the center of the world. This thinking is still being embraced by Christians in many ways for they claim their geographical religion is where God has revealed himself and can be known.

Christians have so many different ways to deal with this problem but none of them has any probability at all when you stop to think. In each and every case their responses will start off by speaking in terms of what is "possible" if an Omni-God exists. Well, well, with that concept of God anything can be solved, now can't it? It's possible that God will save all people, or that God knows what he's doing, or that Christianity is exclusively true despite these sociological facts, or that God knew in advance who would not accept him and simply caused them to be born in those other parts of the globe, or that God will judge all people based upon their good works. Some of these answers are not considered evangelical answers at all and are never used elsewhere except when dealing with this specific problem. You see, possibilities are all they can punt to, not probabilities. And with such a concept of God all things are possible when defending their faith. It pretty much becomes unfalsifiable.

Christians will argue against atheists who point these things out and tell us we are no different. If we had been born in Iran then we would be Muslims too, they'll retort. Yes. Exactly! That's correct. We would indeed. That's how human beings reason. That's what we do. We learn from inside our respective cultures what to think and so it becomes like a box we cannot see for what it is, a box. We cannot see it until we learn to be skeptical enough to step outside to see it for what it is: a cultural box. Again, we are all locked inside a cultural box until we become skeptical enough to step outside it to see it for what it is, a box.

Christians think they have some kind of advantage at this point for they will say we are atheists because of the cultural influences that have shaped us too. That is true to some extent, I don't doubt, because as human beings we all are heavily influenced by what we experience in our social group. But this is the point I admit. Christians do not admit this fact at all, and it is a fact--a fact that if they were consistent and applied it to their own faith would cause them to abandon it. Instead they merely pass the buck to the atheist as if doing so solves their own problem. It doesn't. That's why I argue the default position is agnosticism. I would be more than happy to meet Christians on this ground because the facts lead us all there.

Christians ought to learn about the influences in their lives that cause them to believe as they do. They should study a bit of psychology and anthropology that describe how we think and how foreign other cultures are to one another. I think doing so will cause them to be skeptics. For skepticism is an acquired trait through the process of learning about these things. Doing so will cause Christians to begin to see their own inherited religion as the box it is. I'm a skeptic in part because I have learned through the sciences that I should be skeptical. Skepticism is therefore an acquired virtue. People who are unaware of the cultural influences that shape their thinking have not yet developed this acquired virtue. It requires a certain distance from ourselves and our cultures. But only through skepticism can someone see the cultural box as a cultural box. Until you have the courage and the will to be skeptical, you don't even know you're in one.

17 comments:

T. A. Lewis said...

“They were born into a Christian culture and became believers because of cultural influences just like Muslims in Iran, or Catholics in Mexico, or Buddhists in Thailand, or Hindu's in India. They know this and yet want to maintain theirs is the correct religion anyway, just like Muslims, Catholics, Buddhists and Hindu's do when faced with this same sociological data.”

I’ve given this same problem much thought as well. I believe that there is another component involved in the reasoning here, at least in regarding evangelical Christianity that encourages and develops a “personal relationship with Jesus” or is a “relationship, not a religion.”

You have to go back and look at the basic modes of persuasion that people look to: ethos, pathos, and logos.

All the arguments atheists have against these beliefs are based in logic and reason while a Christian’s “personal relationship with Jesus” isn’t based on this, rather it is a personified, emotional thing.

This was the reasoning going on in my head when I was a young believer and I suspect that it is widespread: “I know Jesus died for me and loves me and I know my relationship with Him is real, therefore it is all true. He wrote the Bible, and He wouldn’t lie so therefore I can believe it.”

This is a line of reasoning based on ethos, much like someone might believe what their spouse tells them over what anybody else says, even if it flies in the face of all logic and evidence. That is what secular arguments are up against (together with the things that John has mentioned as well as others) and I suspect why religion is such a hard thing to touch with rational dispute.

goprairie said...

It requires a special sort of denial or blindness maybe to remain a Christian, or a believer in any sort of God. Most concepts defy physics, of defy each other, such as the all knowing yet all loving yet free-will giving. It requires a special sort of denial or blindness to believe the Bible is anything but nonsense. How can a person read it cover to cover and not see the gross errors that must be there what with all the contradictions and conflicting ideas and statements and timelines that don't mesh? You can't even make a timeline for Jesus's life, which is the whole core of the religion. ANd people that claim archaeologica evidence: There is none - only evidence that other thing mentioned at the right times existed. The North Pole exists and people do indeed celebrate Christmas, but that is not evidence of you-know-who, but those are the sort of things that count as Biblical archeaology.
It is a special sort of denial or blindness that has afflicted anyone who clings to a religion and yet, the majority of people who make public policy and decisions about laws and caregiving are religious. It creeps me out more than a bit.

Dan Wilkinson said...

John,
Can one ever really step outside the box? Skepticism may be a great tool for realizing a box exists, defining the size and type of box, and even moving towards the opening of the box, but can one truly step outside of their culture and their history?

John W. Loftus said...

Dan, once you realize you are inside a box you have already stepped outside of it to look at it. Skepticism helps us do that. No, we might not be able to step completely outside of our cultural upbringing so long as we live in it, but some people have done so to an extraordinary degree. Anthropologists and psychologists do this better than most people. And once you realize that it is a cultural box you become much more humble about your own cultural understandings, sometimes labeled as ethnocentrism coming from dead white males. Certainly the first thing we realize is that our religious beliefs are cultural just as any one else's are, and THAT'S the point.

Cheers.

Clare said...

As I have never really been a Christian apart from going to a Church of England school, I do not see any obvious difference between the religions. They all have their holy book or books, their preachers or holy men, some sort of God or Gods, some sort of afterlife (I think the Christians are the only ones who believe in Hell, so that makes other religions slightly more appealing.)and a few miraculous or magic claims. How is one any better than the other?
How can you tell which God is the right one for Pascal's Wager? What if you bet on the wrong God and go to Hell as a result?

Grace said...

It's true that we are all conditioned by our culture. To be human is to reflect some bias.

But, it is a mistake to think that no Christian is able to see this.

(My undergraduate major was cultural anthropology focused in comparative religion, and philosophy.)

There are Christian believers who were not blindly inculturated into faith, but had opportunity to study, and consider other religions, and philosophies, as well as their own.

They did not simply "check their minds at the church door," but examined the claims of Christ, and became convinced of the truth of His gospel.

Perhaps this is what makes all the difference...It is much more difficult to persuade someone away from Christian faith who has not simply become culturally conditioned, or blindly indoctrinated into it in the first place.

Of course, we are not even talking about the work of God's spirit in all this as well.

However, do you think it possible that someone could become culturally conditioned toward naturalism as well, and unable to step outside that box, and see it for what it is?

Nick said...

"I believe that there is another component involved in the reasoning here, at least in regarding evangelical Christianity that encourages and develops a 'personal relationship with Jesus' or is a 'relationship, not a religion.'"

This is a pet peeve of mine. Even when I still thought of myself as a Christian, I thought this sounded so hypocritical because it was an attempt to distance Christianity from the negative stigma that religion modernly carries; to re-package and re-market it to keep it appealing for the changing tastes of our culture. It really disgusted me. I kept thinking, you can cook a pizza in the shape of a square and serve it with some different toppings, but at the end of the day it's still a pizza.

Shawn said...

I don't think you can "make" someone look at the illogicality of their beliefs any more than they can "make" you understand why they hold them.
When looking at your own conversion to atheism, what was the absolute genisis of your doubt? With myself it was probably the consideration of how much of life is full of suffering and horrendus evil. What is the point of following a god who supposedly loves you so much, but doesn't bother to save even his most devout followers from the worst evils of the world. When the only answer you get back is "only God knows, you must have faith", there is a pretty big credibility gap for doubt to take hold in.
Most intelligent people will respond to this doubt by intellectual inquiry which usually leads to atheism (or at least to agnosticism).
Others will respond to doubt by burying it under more devout "faith", and actually treating it as some sort of test of one's blind adherance to their religion's "beliefs".
These people cannot be argued into following their doubt, they are deliberately moving in the opposite direction.
I think all we can say to these people is to explain why we are Atheists. How we followed our doubt. How the end result to our actual lives is no different than if we had followed a god (aside from having more free time, and probably fuller wallets).
Maybe one day they will compare their lives with ours and their doubts will be allowed to resurface.

zenmite said...

"However, do you think it possible that someone could become culturally conditioned toward naturalism as well, and unable to step outside that box, and see it for what it is?"

Is naturalism a result of a real 'ism' or just a cute word christians and other supernaturalists use to attempt to equate the supernatural with the natural? Much like christians claim that nonbelief is just another belief system or that creationism and evolution are just two faiths, one as likely as the other. Turning the word science into scientism is similarly an attempt to equate science with every other fanciful, culturally determined belief system or worldview. How about truthism? 'You're just a follower of truthism.'

Let's start from the other end. What happens if we throw out naturalism and embrace it's opposite? Is lightning caused by static electricity? No, that's just an explanation based upon your naturalist conditioning. Lightning is caused by Thor's anger. Lightning is a result of evil fairies fighting one another. Lightning is a result of people being mean....the list can go on forever...whatever supernatural idea you wish to entertain. For most of recorded history these are the sorts of explanations that were given...back in the good ole days before we fell into our scientific naturalism bias.

Aunt Martha is acting strangely and says she hears voices. What is wrong? Martha is inhabited by evil demons. Martha is a prophet in touch with our god. Martha is communicating with actual extraterrestrials on the planet Ork. You say she is psychotic due to brain chemical imbalance? No, that's just your naturalist bias. I got drunk and gambled my money away. Was it the alcohol affectng my judgement? No, it was that black cat that crossed my path yesterday. Or demons made me do it.

I think what you really mean is why don't we give your supernatural interpretation equal consideration with naturalism. The problem with all the supernatural, magical explanations that have been given over the centuries is that they do not work, are not verifiable or falsifiable and lead to countless contradictory explanations. Science and empiricism have become ascendant because they work.

It's like a detective trying to solve a case of who stole a wallet. Was it Colonel Mustard in the ballroom? Perhaps someone threw it in the trash. Like a good scientist, the detective methodically entertains one possibility after the other and seeks to verify what happened. If instead, our detective proposed; "perhaps aliens stole the wallet" or "leprechuans invaded the house and stole it" or "God took it"....that's the end of all effort to actually find out what happened. Such explanations lead nowhere and are of no help in finding the missing wallet. Similarly, supernatural explanations, including your favorite ones, are useless for the same reasons.

Naturalism simply means we don't begin from various supernatural (and culturally determined) explanations. Since this method of finding what is real and true has worked so well at uncovering more and more of the nature of our world we might fairly hypothesize that it will continue to work for questons to which we still don't have answers. Is it possible that some god exists somewhere that created all of this? Yes, anything is possible. But it's no more likely that it is your god than allah or brahma, thor, etc. It's possible that we're all just brains in giant vats being fed by robots too. Once you open the door to supernatualistic explanations anything goes...not just your chosen supernatural views, but any and all must be considered on equal footing with empirical observation and scientific method.

Naturalism is not a box but the stepping out of various supernatural boxes. Just as honesty is not a form of lying and sight is not a form of blindness.

Wesley said...

Grace, for 46 years I was outside the naturalism box, because I was residing in the supernaturalism box, and viewing naturalism as a completely unacceptable worldview. Now that I have de-converted, and believe in a purely naturalistic world, would you regard me as being in the "naturalistic box"? And if you do, what would I gain by viewing it from the outside, which I did for so many years?

Russ said...

Dan Wilkinson asked John,

Can one ever really step outside the box? Skepticism may be a great tool for realizing a box exists, defining the size and type of box, and even moving towards the opening of the box, but can one truly step outside of their culture and their history?


Yes, one can really step outside the box. We know of many who step outside the box on a professional basis. I present all the different kinds of scientists and artists as great examples while I recognize that science is an art and art is a science.

Think of the authors whose work celebrated their ability to closely examine their cultural constraints and cultural defects, and, then, shared with us their vision of a better way to live or exposed fundamental flaws in the prevailing thought or warned us of the potential threat presented by business as usual. I think of Charles Dickens, Harriet Beecher Stowe, Mark Twain, George Orwell, Victor Hugo and Fyodor Dostoevsky. These people looked carefully and critically at the cultures in which they were immersed and carried us along as fellow outside observers.

I also think that many of those who invented the Bible were stepping outside the inhuman cultures they inhabited and imagining something better. They showed us that violence and oppression were the means of power and control while what they wrote expressed the wish that human affairs could be conducted differently. Sadly, those proffered wishes became the walls of a box, closed and cinched tightly by self-interested clergy.

In other arts we see much of this conscious effort to see the world through fresh eyes and explore alternate ways that the world might be.

Science, too, takes inspiration from ideas like "All is not what it seems," or "Something's missing," or "We are looking at this all wrong," or "We should be looking in a different direction." Scientists question the status quo, the accepted state of understanding, and probe it for the consistencies and inconsistencies that can lead to broad, sometimes universal, insights. They are spurred into action when they observe that evidence does not agree with prevailing thought. Evidence led Brahe, Kepler, Copernicus, and Galileo to realize that Ptolemaic and Aristotelian conceptions of the natural order were badly flawed. That same evidence became the standard from which a new conception could be proposed and against which it could be assessed. Only by getting outside the torturously constraining intellectual box they found themselves in could they move toward an accurate reflection of the cosmos.

So, again, yes, Dan, one can really step outside the box. Some, like artists and scientists, do not consider their cultural or intellectual boxes to be barriers. For them, those professional skeptical observers, the content of their boxes provides a solid foundation upon which exploration of the truly interesting can be reliably conducted, that is, the truly interesting, limitless unknowns outside the box.

commoner51 said...

I think y'all have an incorrect take on budhhism. Imagine that. Anything that smacks of duality does no one any good. I just don't really think about it anymore.

commoner51 said...

despite the fact that I've just made this post

commoner51 said...

I think y'all have an incorrect take on budhhism. Imagine that. Anything that smacks of duality does no one any good. We just don't really think about it anymore.

Bronxboy47 said...

Grace,

"...to study and consider other religions and philosophies as well as their own."


You appear to be saying you were already a committed Christian at the time you began your study of religion and philosophy. Or have I misunderstood you?

Did you actually approach your examination of Christianity free of a culturally induced bias in its favor? And most importantly, what exactly was it that convinced you of the soundness of Christian doctrine as opposed to the doctrines of the other religions? You never do say.

And how much of what you believe to be the essential doctrines of the Christian faith is in agreement with the doctrines agreed upon by the vast majority of Christians?

It makes no sense to point out that the idea of eventual universal salvation has been around since Christianity's infancy, since it was clearly denounced as heresy virtually from the moment it was proposed (contemporary Catholic waffling notwithstanding).

To espouse a idea whose only legitimate claim to being connected to Christianity is in the fact of its having been consistently opposed and denounced by the Christian mainstream century after century--to espouse such an idea while at the same time insisting on the right to be called a legitimate Christian takes a certain amount of gall. Perhaps I've fallen asleep at the wheel and somehow missed the emergence of another major Christian sect, one that believes in universal salvation. Is there a name for this sect? In other words, what Christian denomination do you belong to? Or, in your opinion, are denominations passe as well?

Breckmin said...

Not everyone was "born into a Christian culture" so this is completely meaningless to truth.

You don't base accumulative case argument on what assumptions you were raised by...that is why the outsider test of faith is such a weak observation as far as objective reality is concerned.

Likewise, you can't pivot evangelical Christians and their imperfections in their approach to critical thinking against Catholics. There are born-again Catholics just like there are even born-again Mormons (who often come out of the deception).

Born-again Christians fall into Mormonism, JW, Christian Science, agnosticism and even atheism for major portions of their lives...only to be redeemed by the faithfulness of God at some point later in their lives.

Sometimes it can even be on their deathbed - where their finest hour is in their moment of weakness and Jesus Christ is glorified and God's incredible faithfulness is seen.

Until you address the accumulative case argument for Christianity that is built from the ground up (scientific evidence that first leads to agnostic atheism, then arguments for Infinite Creator, then arguments for Monotheism, and then arguments for the Abrahamic God), this so called "approach" is completely meaningless. Why?

Because it doesn't address truth itself, NOR the major differences in evidence, soteriological structure, the observation of specifics regarding worship, music, martyrdom, etc... and the accumulative case argument and reasons to believe itself.

I can make a statement like "if God became a Man He would be the most controversial Man in all of history," etc. and you will immediately look for alleged fallacies in the logic of novelty independent of evidence.

But at some point you need to open your eyes and see the difference between worship and praise music that is sung all over the world to One Abrahamic Creator and One Lord Jesus Christ.

You can not love God if you don't know Him because of your "lies" created by so called "critical thinking."

It is actually you who needs to connect the dots (starting with theodicy and a correct presentation of Christianity which is missing from this website - perhaps because evangelical Christians have presented it imperfectly).

Everyone will present it imperfectly at some point - that is why more clarification is always needed,

GearHedEd said...

Breckmin said,

"But at some point you need to open your eyes and see the difference between worship and praise music that is sung all over the world to One Abrahamic Creator and One Lord Jesus Christ."

This is semantically equal to saying that the music of Led Zeppelin is a ringing endorsement for vegetarianism.

This has got to be the stupidest argument for the alleged "truth" of Christianity I've ever heard.

The one thing it does have in it's favor is that it's inventive and unique.

OK, that's two things...