Your Religious Belief - Culturally Predetermined

There’s seems to be numerous religious threads here in Great Debates, so I thought I would weigh in with my own thread regarding religious belief and culture. I posit this as a thread primarily for those dopers who consider themselves “true believers” or devout members of well-established religions (Christianity, Islam, etc.)

What I posit is that your religious beliefs/convictions are largely based upon acculturation. That is, if you are a Christian, for example, then your religious beliefs/convictions are largely based on the fact that you were born and raised in a culture where Christianity was the predominant religion in your community. In short, your “faith” was largely predetermined.

True, there are instances where someone becomes a member of a religious faith despite being acculturalted into a different one (someone who was raised a devout Catholic converting to Islam, for example). But I raise the above issue because I think many people forget how powerful an influence culture can be in shaping how one thinks about and interacts with the world. For example, many devout Christians sincerely believe that their faith is the one true faith, never fully realizing that their religious beliefs/convictions would be different if they had been acculturated into a different culture (e. g. you were born in Saudi Arabia instead of Mexico).

I also raise the above issue becaue I would sincerely like to know if there are any religious members who have “bucked the trend”, so to speak, and came to their beliefs/convictions despite being acculturated into a different culture. And I would like to know about the processes involved in deciding/concluding that that particular religion was the “right” one, rather than the religion in the community to which you were acculturated.

Before the actual debate starts, I’ve been wondering just how much religion is a function of personality as well as culture. Often one can, at least in the U.S., make a reasonably good guess at a person’s religion without actually knowing it. Of course, this is a generalization, and you will always have outliers, but there’s definately quite a correlation.

I personally was raised in a liberal Christian household, and from the very start, was more or less an atheist. Despite the efforts of the people around me (my parents weren’t THAT concerned, although they seem to like to pretend I’ll still be interested in going to church, etc), and the fact I knew few other atheists, I simply came out that way.

In which case, I think the title of this thread is inaccurate and misleading. Do you truly claim that these beliefs are “predetermined,” or are you merely claiming that culture plays a major role in adopting these beliefs?

Which of these claims are you truly purporting to defend?

This is one of the many realizations that prompted me to critically examine my religion, which I subsequently found wanting, and discarded in bits and pieces over a period of a few years.

BTW, my parents are fundamentalist Christians (my father moreso than my mother) and my brother and I both turned out atheists, independently of each other.

I had a similar experience. I belonged to a certain large church (I won’t mention which one) with certain beliefs. Various family members told me that I should stick to those beliefs because, well, I belonged to that church.

Of course, it should be the other way around. The church which you choose (if any) should be determined by your beliefs – not the other way around. I chose to examine the beliefs of that church, and the evidence for their claims. In the end, I wound up forsaking their beliefs and became a conservative evangelical Christian instead.

*Originally posted by JThunder *


I meant predetermined in the sense that a person’s religious beliefs/convictions are largely a function of the culture into which he/she has been acculturated. “Culturally Determined” would probably have been a better word-choice. I apologize for not making myself clear.

There’s not much of a debate here. Obviously everyone’s religious beliefs (and many of their other beliefs) are very heavily influenced by culture. This is true for atheists and agnostics as well as for theists, and I suggest that it is true for those who have changed their religious beliefs as well as for those who still hold the beliefs proposed to them by their parents.

So what?

In my case, it is more a matter of family history than directly of culture.

My great-grandfather on my mother’s side was deeply religious in the worst possible way (In my opinion, quoting scripture to justify beating your children is anything BUT christian).

My grandmother on my mother’s side is religious, but in a more benign, anhedonic way.

My mother is not impressed with what religion does to many people. My father is not especially religious either.

As a result, my brother and I were raised without having any religion forced upon us. We have always been free to choose our own faith, if any. We both went to church for a few years, but we no longer do so.

I can’t speak for my brother, but I consider myself neither religious nor atheist nor agnostic. While being raised in a predominantly christian culture has influenced my beliefs to some degree, my parents have played a far greater role.

Unless, of course, backlash against established religion is a north american cultural phenomenon…

And yet this is not so obvious to the “true believer”. At least it wasn’t to me.

Now this is interesting. Are you proposing that this atheist (and ex-fundamentalist) with fundamentalist parents, a fundamentalist wife, fundamentalist in-laws, and a large group of fundamentalist friends has somehow come to a belief system that is entirely at odds with all those who are important to me, because it was somehow “culturally influenced”? How?

See above. :wink:

I’d say I became an atheist, in part, because of being completely surrounded by fundamentalism. That is to say, if I’d been exposed to more moderate forms of Christianity, with less of an irrational, anti-science, literalist doctrine, I might never have started down the path of questioning my religion.

Well, first, I’m not saying that your (or anybody’s) belief system is entirely determined by culture – just heavily influenced.

Secondly, it’s not just influenced by culture. It’s influenced by personality, and by experience (and no doubt by other matters also).

So, having said that, how did you, whose near family was and is predominantly fundamentalist in belief, come to atheism? Was this at all culturally influenced?

You can answer this question better than I can, of course, but I’m guessing that when you started to examine and question the religious beliefs you acquired from your family, that process was heavily influenced by your cultural interitance as (I suspect) an American. Rationalism, scepticism and other tools you may have deployed in this process are culturally acquired, just like any other mode of thinking, and (assuming that was the route you took to atheism, or at least a part of it) your decision to approach religious questions in this way (rather than, say, to approach them in the light of concepts such as “submission to authority”, “commitment to community” or whatever) was culturally influenced.

Indeed, the reason why you began to question your earlier beliefs may also have been culturally influenced. You found fundamentalism unsatisfactory for one reason or another – it failed to meet some demand that you make of a belief system, if it is to be the right one for you. Whatever that demand was – and I have no idea what it was, obviously – may well have been culturally influenced. For instance, many people in modern America reject biblical literalism since they require of a belief system about the development of the physical world that it be not inconsistent with the physical evidence, and the rational deductions which can be made from that evidence. In doing so they are placing a value on scientific enquiry and/or rational analysis which, I suggest, is culturally influenced.

(I share that value, of course, but it’s culturally influenced in me too.)

When talking about the influence of culture, I think it would probably make more sense to keep things vague: definately there are biases and inclinations that cultural experience instills, but they probably are very sublimate and symbolized, open to reinterpretation, not explicit.
Specific beliefs are really probably much too explicit to survive as cultural imprints: especially in such a diverse and contentious culture.

I believe that simply calling into question the existance of dieties or the validity of religious beliefs would cause a clear-thinking person to move towards either atheism or agnosticism regardless of their cultural upbringing. In other words, atheism & agnosticism are “default values” for humans who have decided that religion (whichever religion they have been spoon-fed in their formative years) is bunk. You don’t have to have been raised in any particular culture to be able to decide for yourself that there is no supreme being (or that his existence can not be satisfactorily proven), but you do have to be brought up in a particular culture in order to acquire certain established religious beliefs, unless you establish your own.

emphasis added

Which cultures are the irrational, non-skeptical ones? Is it culture that inspires rationality & skepticism? I think that I would touch a few nerves to suggest that it is more a function of education & the general pemissiveness of society that allows (encourages?) not just free thinking, but the logical & critical thinking that enables one to resolve the conflicting issues raised by the world’s various competing religions.

Well, that would depend?

Of course I’m Catholic because of my background-my family is Catholic, I was born and raised Catholic. Despite my currently non-practicing status, I cannot get away from this influence in my life.

Some things about Catholicism will no doubt always be with me-certain customs we have at holidays, certain habits-for example, if I’m over at someone’s house, and they are saying grace before dinner, I MUST cross myself. It feels, well, “not right” not to before and after praying.

I don’t know if this is what you are asking. Some aspects of Catholicism don’t sit well with me, but I cannot get away from the influence. It is a part of me.

It might help to clarify one thing here. When I talk of a “religious belief” I mean a belief or position adopted on a religious question. Hence the beliefs that there is a God, that there is not a God, or that it it not possible to know whether there is a God are all “religious” beliefs, and theism, atheism and agnositicism are all “religious” positions. I realise that the word “religious” can be used in a different sense, but just run with this, OK?

But surely the question of whether, in any society, any significant number of people are going to decide that “religion . . . is bunk” is itself culturally influenced?

Consider: Atheism and agnosticism are much more prevalent, and much more socially accepted, in the western world than was the case a century ago. Do we really think that cultural changes have nothing to do with this?

Consider also that, until relatively recently, atheism and agnosticism were not widely prevalent in any society. When people abandoned one religion, it was generally because they took up another. Sometimes whole groups did this, and we see entire societies converting from (say) Arianism to Christianity, or Christianity to Islam. But we do not find many people taking up atheism or agnosticism until modern times. This argues strongly against the idea that atheism/agnosticism is a “default value” for humans. It may be a default value in modern western society for people who reject religion on rational or sceptical grounds, but that’s not the same thing at all, and it is very influenced by culture.

You don’t think education and permissiveness have anything to do with culture?

If you’re talking in absolutes (e.g., “Your belief systems are nothing more than culture writing upon the blank slate that is you”), you’re wrong and I will debate you.

In a less absolute sense that leaves room for some independent pattern-recognition and the acceptance or rejection of belief systems based on how well they describe the patterns of one’s experienced reality, yeah, sure.

I have my own independent religion, similar to Wicca with some “westernized eastern” pseudo-Taoist/pseudo-Zen notions interwoven into it, with a streak of scientific rationality and skepticism for counterbalance. That may not be as mainstream a product of American culture as, say, Southern Baptism or LDS–or even existing established granola-head neoreligions–but my exposure to all of the above plus many tomes and volumes of written material provided the backdrop, and the modern cultural norm of freedom of expression and minimal official rules concerning what you are required to believe gave me the opportunity.

I am pretty confident that given sufficient freedom of thougth people from very diverse backgrounds would eventually reach the same conclusions and spiritual insights that I did.

In fact, faith in this is a “stealth disincentive” against apostolic witnessing. If I did not think this was true, I’d feel compelled to share the vision. But I’m not good at it, and ultimately it is not necessary. Hearing other folks’ descriptions and experiences can help, but but it isn’t essential.

I think that standards of education have less to do with culture than religion does. The U.S. has basically the same educational standards all over the country, but quite different cultures (in a petri dish sort of way). Using the definition

you could say that religion is culture.

But using the definition

wouldn’t you agree that a society’s institutions (or use of them) can change without necessarily affecting a change in the culture of the people who attend them?

Think of Afghanistan. Even though women are now able to go to school, I don’t really see the overall culture as having undergone a major change.

Oh dear. Don’t know what happened there, but it was probably my fault.

No offense, but I really don’t think that’s much of an improvement. There’s a tremendous difference between saying that culture affects one’s religious beliefs, and saying that they deteremine those beliefs.

If you mean the former, then as UDS said, there’s really not much debate here. I think the latter claim would engender more debate, although it would also be demonstrably false.