“If you were born in Saudi Arabia, you’d be a Muslim.”
This argument takes many forms, but the basic idea is that my Christian faith is significantly, if not entirely, dependent on where and when I was born, and it is therefore unreasonable to hold it. On the face of it, this seems relatively logical, if only from looking at regional demographics. However, there are a few serious problems: it is based on a logical fallacy, it excludes the one making the claim from its conclusion, it denies the possibility of an omniscient and provident God, and ignores the multitude of stories of people in strict Islamic countries coming to faith in Christ without even the benefit of an evangelist.
The “genetic fallacy” occurs when one attempts to falsify a belief based on how someone comes to believe it. In this case, Christianity is presumed to be false because I learned it from my parents or the society I was raised in. Had I been born in Saudi Arabia, I would have been immersed in an Islamic culture and adopted that set of beliefs. How I come to believe Christianity, however, has no impact whatsoever on whether or not it is true. If I believe that the Earth is very old because there is a lot of dust on it, my logic is bad, but the conclusion is not false as a result. Nor can my faith in any way be falsified by how I came to believe it.
The one who makes the claim is excluding himself from the conclusions of his argument without justification. If my Christianity is a result of where I was raised, why can your atheism not be similarly caused? Many arguments against faith fall into this same trap, and it is difficult to see why they should be excluded. I believe it comes down to pride – the belief that the atheist is more rational and has lifted himself above the temptation to succumb to mere authority and blind faith. (I discuss this idea here.)
Demographics certainly show that children tend to follow in the faith of their parents, at least until they begin to rebel. This argument attempts to invalidate the justice and love of God based on the placement of such massive numbers of people beyond the reach of the Christian message. And yet, the Christian belief is that God perfectly knows the actions of all people past and present, and lays out Creation in such a way as to perfectly effect His will. This would obviously involve knowing who would freely accept the salvation offered by Christ, and there is nothing that would prevent His being able to place people in the world – wherever and whenever – based on this knowledge. Maybe I believe Christianity because my parents were Christian, and maybe I was born to Christian parents because God knew that I would eventually come to realize the truth of the Christian message and accept the free gift offered by Christ (albeit much later than could have been expected). I am not claiming that this is exactly how it works, but it cannot be dismissed out of hand as if the only possibility is that an accident of history is the root cause of my belief.
Finally, there is extensive anecdotal evidence of Muslims, for example, who are coming to faith in Christ without ever hearing the Gospel. Typically, this involves dreams or visions where Christ appears to them, but it is clear that they have an understanding before they ever take the step to seek out a Christian believer to answer questions and help develop their faith. The stories are remarkably similar, and the circumstances preclude fabrication or copycat storytellers. This demonstrates that nobody is beyond the reach of the Holy Spirit, and I emphatically thank God that He is not required to wait for the faithful to reach everyone, because many of us have proven ourselves to be slow in obedience.
I used to be defensive when I would hear this argument, because it seemed so apparently logical. It does not take much dissection, however, to see that it is based on the assumption of a limit on God’s power, a logically unsound premise, or the supremacy of the atheistic mind over that of a believer. This argument can be easily refuted, and yet it pops up continually in social media and the blogosphere.
As always, I welcome questions and rebuttals, and will continue to share why I believe in Christ beyond any social, parental, or instructional authority. I believe, because I know Him; I know Him, because He lives in me. If I had been born anywhere in the world, I rejoice in the knowledge that He would have found me and saved me just as assuredly as He did in the American South.