People who are unfamiliar with my journey of faith sometimes seek to explain my conversion from atheism on the basis of geography. The objection sounds something like this: “Christians believe Christianity is true simply because they were raised in a Christian culture. If they were raised in a Muslim culture, for example, they would believe Islam is true with the same passion and certainty.” While it is true that cultural and geographic influences often favor a particular point of view or behavior, our personal experience demonstrates that individuals often make private, independent choices in spite of the accepted beliefs of our culture. As an example, many of us are vegetarians in spite of the fact the culture is predominantly carnivorous. The history of Christianity also confirms the vast majority of Christian converts concluded that Christianity was true in spite of their geographic location or cultural background:
The History of the Ancient World
Christianity emerged in a largely Jewish or Pagan culture (a polytheistic mix of religious beliefs within the Roman Empire) completely hostile to the claims of Christianity. History records the hardship faced by 1st Century Christians who concluded Christianity was true and devoted their lives to Jesus. These believers did not become Christians because Christianity was the default religion of the time.
The History of China
China also has a history of religious suppression related to Christianity. The native culture of China has historically embraced some version of Shenism or Taoism. While Christian missionaries labored in China for centuries, their efforts were often suppressed by governmental regimes (like the Communist Party of China). In spite of this suppression and the cultural inclination toward Shenism or Taoism, Christianity has continued to grow as an underground movement, with some reporting as many as 130 million Christians now living in China. These believers did not become Christians because Christianity was the default religion of their region or culture.
The History of Persecution
History has demonstrated Christianity continues to grow in spite of intense persecution. Christians have historically come to faith in regions where Christianity is not the default religion. For this reason, Christians are still the most persecuted religious group in the world, particularly in places like North Korea, Muslim countries, India, China, Vietnam, and the Philippines. These suffering believers did not become Christians because Christianity was the default religion of their region or culture.
The History of Many of Us Here In America
While America has clearly been a predominantly Christian nation, our principles of freedom have allowed our citizens to embrace a number of competing religious worldviews without restriction. In fact, a recent Pew Forum poll revealed that Muslims and those who do not affiliate themselves with any religious belief system are the two fastest growing groups in America. Many Christians have come to faith in homes that were hostile or benign to theistic beliefs. In spite of their familial “micro-culture”, they converted to Christianity. These believers did not become Christians because Christianity was the default religion of their family.
Millions of Christians have historically demonstrated a willingness to embrace the Christian worldview simply because they found it to be true. In many of these situations, Christianity was not the default position of their family, culture, region or era in history. I was not raised in a Christian home. The one man I respected more than anyone else (my father) has always been a committed atheist. I didn’t know any outspoken Christians growing up, and I was hostile to the claims of Christianity until the age of thirty-five. While I had examined a number of eastern religions, Mormonism, Islam and the Bahá’í Faith, I was eventually persuaded by the evidence of the New Testament gospel eyewitness accounts. On the basis of those accounts, I began an investigation of Christianity and the existence of God. Like so many others, I came to believe Christianity is true, not because of my surrounding influences, but on the strength of the case itself.
J. Warner Wallace is a Cold-Case Detective, Christian Case Maker, Senior Fellow at the Colson Center for Christian Worldview, and the author of Cold-Case Christianity, Cold-Case Christianity for Kids, God’s Crime Scene, God’s Crime Scene for Kids, and Forensic Faith.