I wrote much of what has appeared here weeks ago because I have spent most of August travelling and recovering from a year of church ministry and recuperating and sitting in our lovely library. Or at least I hope that is what August consists of because it hasn’t happened yet. I am writing this weeks ago, after all!
Zoomtard reader, Blingo, wrote in a comment once:
the fact is that Christianity is centred around the acceptance of Jesus in order to get eternal life in heaven. People are told, if you don’t accept Jesus into your heart you will not get to heaven. But people only accept Jesus into their heart because they have been indoctrinated into Christianity in the first place, usually at an age where they’re too young to think things through for themselves.
Or as I chose to put it, after a litre of delicious German beer and all the Bell X1 albums on Sunday night, “Christianity is socially embedded and practice tends to function inside and be legitimated by the structures of our closest relationships”.
Alcohol makes me even more verbose.
Blingo is on to something. We believe what we believe, in a large part, because we are socially conditioned to believe it. But does social conditioning influence the particular belief I have just outlined? How deep does social conditioning go? Does it explain away all our beliefs, right down to the bottom? Or is it just a factor at play in all our beliefs, right down to which soccer team we believe we should support?
Our communities provide us, by their very nature, with plausibility structures that set the guidelines of what we are inclined to believe. But Blingo is wrong, I believe, in asserting that Christianity is in some sense more prone to this than any other belief system. All metaphysical explanations for why we are here from the thetans and galactic overlords of Scientiology through to the grace of Jesus and on to the nihilism of serious Nietzschean atheism offer a take-it or leave-it approach to truth. There comes a point where the question get so serious, answering them wrong is really bad news. St. Paul admits as much of Christianity when he writes in that grand old KJV translation, “If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men most miserable”.
Or, put another way, it is important to note that overwhelmingly, the people most likely to argue that Christianity is a socially constructed belief system come from the Western world, where belief in the secular reading of socially constructed belief systems in most strong. In other words, someone from London or Las Angeles is far more likely to make the argument against Christianity from social structures than someone from Madagascar.
Which surely gives us reason to distrust the social structure argument.
One of the leading philosophers of our age, Alvin Plantinga, puts this more precisely than I ever could:
Suppose we concede that if I had been born of Muslim parents in Morocco rather than Christian parents in Michigan, my beliefs would have been quite different. But the same goes for the pluralist… If the pluralist had been born in Morocco he probably wouldn’t be a pluralist. Does it follow that his pluralist beliefs are produced in him by an unreliable belief-producing process?
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