Your Atheism (or Irreligion) is Socially Shaped

atheismOpponents of religion have often said that the beliefs of Christians (or religious folk in general) are weakened because those beliefs (for the most part) are simply the adopted from their family or culture. Sheeple, they’ll call us.

Whenever I hear this, I don’t get defensive or upset. In fact, I accept that my culture and upbringing has been significant in shaping my beliefs. I’ll even take it a step further. I think one’s society is more influential than these objectors realize. Not only do I think my beliefs are sociologically influenced, but I believe their beliefs (or non-beliefs) are too. Irreligious people fail to see that their irreligion or agnosticism or atheism is sociologically influenced too. Their beliefs, too, are socially shaped.

Vern Poythress, using the example of a fictitious man named Donald, explains it well:

Many people in many cultures have had confidence in their religious views. But Donald does not have confidence in any religion. And today in Europe, Canada, and the United States we meet many people like him. Why? Sometimes sociology of religion has played a role. Sociologists observe that many people hold the religion of their parents or the predominant religion in their location and in their ethnic group. Religious convictions are passed on by society, especially by parents. When Donald observes this social dimension of religion, he concludes that exclusive religious claims are a product of narrow ethnocentricity. Donald thinks that religion as a whole is suspect.

But now let us ask why Donald is so different from many people in non-Western cultures who confidently belong to a particular religion. Just like other people, Donald has received social influences, including the influence of sociology of religion. Donald’s views about religion have been socially shaped. If social shaping undermines truth, it undermines the truth Donald’s views as well as everyone else’s. Donald’s views are just as ethnocentric as everyone else’s, but Donald is unaware of it. (Taken from Inerrancy & Worldview, p. 20-21).

Yes, a person’s religion is undeniably affected by their family and culture, but so is the irreligion or atheism of others. The blade cuts both ways. If sociological influence undermines the religion of some, then it also undermines the irreligion of others.

How can we avoid being trapped in the thinking our of society? There are more answers than could be given here, but a place to start is by studying for yourself. Unfair caricatures and straw men must be put away; the truth must be ruthlessly sought. Do not uncritically conform to the beliefs (or non-beliefs) of your parents, neighbors, or nation, but also don’t act like you are absolutely unaffected by them. We all carry cultural biases and assumptions. The key is to seek the truth regardless of how counter cultural it may be. I am confident that, earnestly seeking the truth, people will meet the Truth (John 14:6).

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About Dana Dill

I am a happy slave of Jesus Christ, a thankful husband to Chawna Dill, and the youth pastor of South Shores Church. I'm here on assignment (Acts 20:24).
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14 Responses to Your Atheism (or Irreligion) is Socially Shaped

  1. cdbraun says:

    No atheist response would deny that beliefs arise from culture, education, family, etc. The real question is how a multiplicity of faiths erodes the credibility of a divine revelation. Why would God create so many contradictory faiths throughout the world and history if there is only one Truth? The answer need not be a mess of theological wordsmithing, but is quite simple; he didn’t. Humans created the plurality of religious faiths. If God were just, all people would have equal access to your “Truth” and equal chances to chose to go to Heaven or Hell. But it is simple enough to say that there were a great number of people, before Jesus lived, who categorically cannot enter Heaven because they could not know Jesus. Do they deserve eternal damnation for being on the wrong side of the timeline? Many other religions teach a similar division of the saved and unsaved, which in turn, makes their God wholly unjust.
    Saying that skepticism, humanism, or atheism is socially conditioned doesn’t invalidate it in any way. Saying that religious beliefs are socially condition actually does invalidate the beliefs in as much as those religious beliefs posit a good and just God, who does not offer salvation equally.

    • Dana Dill says:

      Thanks for the comment, Collin. I have a few short responses.

      “Why would God create so many contradictory faiths throughout the world and history if there is only one Truth? The answer need not be a mess of theological wordsmithing, but is quite simple; he didn’t. Humans created the plurality of religious faiths.” I agree with you here, in that God did not create all the various religions, but they are creations or aberrations of man. Truth always has its distorters.

      “If God were just, all people would have equal access to your “Truth” and equal chances to chose to go to Heaven or Hell.” Romans 1 says that all people are given some light about God and they always reject that light. Yes, some are given the saving news of Jesus and others are not, however, all people, unless the grace of God intervenes, reject the light they have no. All people know there is a God, but they choose to reject that knowledge and instead worship the creation rather than the Creator.

      “But it is simple enough to say that there were a great number of people, before Jesus lived, who categorically cannot enter Heaven because they could not know Jesus.” Here, you show a wee bit of ignorance about the Christian faith. The Bible teaches that those who trusted in God’s promised salvation before Jesus arrived were saved by their faith. Give Genesis 15:6 a read and then follow it up with Romans 4. That should be clear. God’s people have always been saved by faith in God’s promises.
      “Do they deserve eternal damnation for being on the wrong side of the timeline?” People are damned because they rebel against their Creator and reject Him as God.

      “Saying that skepticism, humanism, or atheism is socially conditioned doesn’t invalidate it in any way.” This is exactly the point of the post. Simply because something is sociological influential doesn’t invalidate it; whether its religious ideas or others. Good work.

      Lastly, you seem to oppose the idea that God judges, condemns, and punishes some people. Do you think this is wrong of God? Also, given the Bible’s framework, the only people who are condemned are those who have lived in rebellion against the true God. Because of their sin, they deserve death and judgment and nothing else. God is not obligated to save any sinners just as a judge is not obligated to pardon any criminals. However, the good news is that God, through Jesus Christ, gives us what we don’t deserve by sending Jesus to endure what we do deserve.

      Hope that helps. Thanks for your thoughts.

      • cdbraun says:

        If God were real, which he’s not, but if he were and he were a God worth praying to and believing in, he would be just. He would offer equal chances at salvation. Do you mean to say that you, probably raised within a Christian context, have the same chance of receiving, understanding, and living a life of salvation as someone who had no contact with the Christian message? If that were so, why then would the Bible be important? Why would we need it (spoiler: we don’t)?
        You also employ some circular logic. The Bible is right because the Bible says it’s right, in your reference to Romans and Genesis. You could say the exact same thing about the Koran, and you would be no more correct.
        No matter what any part of the Bible, Koran, etc. say, all people are not born with the same access to religious education. In fact, that’s really what you’re article is about: the fact that we are socially conditioned to believe things. How can that be true and there still only be one “Truth”?
        There is plenty in the Bible that says it is the only way to salvation. There is clear demarcation between the saved and unsaved. And yes, Jesus said that…. not that people living on the other side of the world at the time had any way of knowing it. You’re saying that they have equal chances of receiving the message, because, uh, the Bible says so?

      • Dana Dill says:

        “If God were real, which he’s not, but if he were and he were a God worth praying to and believing in, he would be just. He would offer equal chances at salvation.”

        Question for you Collin, by what standards can you say that only a just God would be worth praying too? Also, according to you, what does it mean to be “just”? What is the standard you are using?

        Further, the Scripture teach that all have sinned and rebelled against God and deserve nothing but death and judgment. Therefore, God’s justice demands only that sinners be punished, not that God gives them a chance to be saved. Salvation comes by God’s grace alone and, by definition, can never be deserved. The amazing thing about the Bible is not that God doesn’t save all people, but that God doesn’t send all people to judgment. All people deserve judgment and death because of sin, but God, in grace, saves countless people through Jesus Christ (John 3:16-17, 36).

        “You also employ some circular logic. The Bible is right because the Bible says it’s right, in your reference to Romans and Genesis. You could say the exact same thing about the Koran, and you would be no more correct.”

        Whenever you are dealing with ultimate realities, this is really all you can do. However, the authority of the Bible is also supported by the evidences of its truthfulness and reliability. You said, “You could say the exact same thing about the Koran, and you would be no more correct.” That is unless the Bible is correct. But you are assuming the Bible is not correct. Any reasons you say that?

        “No matter what any part of the Bible, Koran, etc. say, all people are not born with the same access to religious education. In fact, that’s really what you’re article is about: the fact that we are socially conditioned to believe things. How can that be true and there still only be one “Truth”?”

        Not sure I understand you here. Sorry, I’m a bit slow.

        “There is plenty in the Bible that says it is the only way to salvation. There is clear demarcation between the saved and unsaved. And yes, Jesus said that…. not that people living on the other side of the world at the time had any way of knowing it. You’re saying that they have equal chances of receiving the message, because, uh, the Bible says so?”

        No, I don’t think all people have “equal chances of being saved.” I believe that all deserve judgment for their rebellion against God, but in amazing grace, God saves many, not all (Mark 10:45).

        I hope these help. Let me know what you think. Thanks for the engagement. If you could, for better clarity, try to make your objections a but more clear and concise. Thank you.

      • cdbraun says:

        Good talk.
        So what this gets back to is a basic matter of faith. Muslims have faith that the Koran is the one true message of God just as Christians believe that the Bible is. Other religions have their books, etc. you get it. But even within Christianity and Islam there is significant disagreement on theological articulation. I find it quite reasonable to believe that there are very many honest people, socially conditioned, to trust and believe in what their elders have taught them even if that may not be what you or others would consider the Truth. So, through no fault of their own, people could be born into a life where they are heavily persuaded, even threatened with death, to believe something that may not be true. So is it fair or is it just for God to place someone in this situation? If God is truly good or just, feel free to use any basic definition of either of the words, why would he favor certain people? For example, I’ve been raised a Christian and have had the good fortune of a good family and a good education, etc, so I have had an opportunity to really explore deep questions about faith and God and form opinions. My guess is you are similar. But what about those much less fortunate with little access to education, a loving family, proper resources, etc? Or how about humans living 10,000 years ago or farther back? They obviously could not have received the divine message of any major faith. It would seem that God would not be favoring them for heaven. That does not seem like justice to me.
        Referencing the bible, and passages within, does not present a convincing case. This is the written word of man, the same way any other holy text is. You must understand, and I’m sure you do, that other religious people believe in their faith with the same conviction that you do. They don’t think they are rebelling against God. They genuinely believe they are doing what they should. How could God fault them for that.
        As you know by now, I find it much more plausible that God does not exist at all and that all holy texts are man made. The bible is not special in that respect. This is not the result of my own personal moral rebellion against God (how could I rebel against the non-existent?). I’m not an evil person. I’m not against the major maxims of religions to treat others with respect and dignity. I’ve arrived at my conclusions through my sincere and honest investigation. I’m wiling to accept the evidence of been provided. And I can say with great confidence that I understand Christianity and the phenomenon of religious belief in humanity in far greater depth than I did years ago. But it wasn’t through just reading the bible over and over again. Prayer never really aided me either. I never felt any spirituality despite my sincere attempts. It all just felt like people were pretending, playing make believe. So, how is it that a fair and just God could fault me for my sincere and honest belief? Would God say “I said you have to believe in me. I said so in the bible.”? I don’t think that the bible isn’t from God because I’m a jerk who deserves to burn in hell. I don’t think he bible is from God because I genuinely truly think man wrote it without any divine assistance. Same as the Koran.

      • makagutu says:

        I am afraid, as cdbraun has pointed out, this

        “Saying that skepticism, humanism, or atheism is socially conditioned doesn’t invalidate it in any way.” This is exactly the point of the post. Simply because something is sociological influential doesn’t invalidate it; whether its religious ideas or others. Good work.

        doesn’t work for religion. Either it is divinely revealed to all people and thus a person born in Saudi Arabia can be Christian without the need for proselytizers. We don’t see this anywhere.

      • Dana Dill says:

        I don’t understand what you are saying here. Try again.

      • makagutu says:

        If religion is subject to one’s particular society, the claim of divine revelation becomes almost untenable. I hope this is clearer

      • Alex Black says:

        “All people know there is a God, but they choose to reject that knowledge and instead worship the creation rather than the Creator.”

        I don’t know that there is a god. And I spent a lot of time searching for a good reason to believe in God. I wanted to believe. But I still was eventually forced to face the fact that I just couldn’t find any good reason to think there is any god.

        And I don’t worship anything. I used to, when I was still a Christian, but I don’t any more.

  2. R.E says:

    Religion, heavily influence by society, involves believing something with very little evidence. Atheism, if socially influenced to such an extent, would involve society not believing in anything until there is sufficient evidence provided.
    In my opinion, a society influence by atheism is still a productive one in terms of searching for the truth.

    • Dana Dill says:

      “Religion, heavily influence by society, involves believing something with very little evidence.”

      That’s not true. Speaking specifically of Christianity (you can take people from other religions to answer for themselves), one believes in Jesus because they become convinced of His identity as Lord and Savior through His public life of miracles, public death on the cross, public resurrection from the dead, and public ascension to the right hand of God. The records of these have been given to us in the eyewitness documents of the New Testament. This is not very little evidence. This is a lot of evidence.

      And now, a funny way of saying the same thing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0d4FHHf00pY

      “Atheism, if socially influenced to such an extent, would involve society not believing in anything until there is sufficient evidence provided.”

      This is not true of Atheism. Atheism often ignores the evidences of other religions because they presuppose there is no God. Therefore, the evidences of Christianity (as noted above) are often ignored by atheists because it doesn’t fit within their preconceived materialistic worldview. Because of presuppositions, many atheists unthinking reject the evidences of Christianity because the evidences (e.g. miracles, resurrection) don’t fit within their materialistic worldview. Just as there many who are religious because of unthinking, blind faith, there also are many atheists who have the same blind faith.

      “In my opinion, a society influence by atheism is still a productive one in terms of searching for the truth.”

      This is not true historically speaking as atheistic culture were terrible producers of technology and culture. Christianity, on the other hand, has always produced the best art, science, and technologies our world has seen. The Christian worldview has historically shown itself to be one that brings flourishing in the world. Why? Because, I believe, it tells the truth about God and His world.

      Here are a few posts that elaborate on how Christians have produced some of the greatest movements in history.

      http://www.str.org/blog/how-christianity-created-science-and-why-atheism-wouldn%E2%80%99t-have

      http://www.journeywithjesus.net/BookNotes/Jonathan_Hill_What_Has_Christianity.shtml

      • R.E says:

        Just because someone becomes convinced of The Lord does not make it a valid argument. People do this in all kinds of religions and of a wide variety of Gods. And why do we have to rely on ancient testimony to prove a God that exists today? Where is God now? In some kind of hibernation mode?
        Mate, atheists do not ignore evidence from religions because we assume there is no God. We presume there is no God because the evidence is so weak. Theists believe largely down to the fact they were brought up to believe in a certain way, there is no denying the trends you see the world over. You just have to be a little more open minded. I don’t even know you but I’m hugely confident you were brought up in a Christian society.
        Christianity has been a huge influence on music and arts. And? Islam has had a huge contribution too. Historically our achievements are going to carry the hallmarks of ancient religions. They had very little evidence to consider anything else.

        If you look at history for your answers, you are going to think with the same restricted ideologies. It is common sense.

  3. cdbraun says:

    And by the way, Dana, I’ve been chit chatting with others here and there on WordPress and most of the people are really poor at these discussions. You’re one of the good ones. So take that as a real compliment.

  4. REALIST says:

    God is dead

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