Post Author: Bill Pratt
Many skeptics of Christianity proudly point out that they are “free thinkers.” This expression used to confuse me, as I consider myself a free thinker, but clearly I could not be one in the same way the skeptic means it. After talking to several skeptics, I discovered that “free thinker” is mostly a synonym for “atheist.” The general idea seems to be that religious people are trapped in their thinking by the family and culture they were born into, whereas atheists are not – they are free to think as they please.
If you were born into a Christian family and culture, then it is natural for you to believe Christianity. If you were born into Hindu-dominated India, it is natural for you to believe Hinduism. Wherever we are born largely determines what kind of god we believe in, according to the free thinkers.
For skeptics, a person becomes a free thinker when they escape the chains of their family and culture. I don’t know what atheists call themselves when they grow up with atheist parents who live in a non-religious community. It seems like they’re trapped in their thinking just like the religious folks, but that’s a topic for another time.
There are two points I want to make about this idea of being born into your religion. First, skeptics of Christianity do us a favor when they point out that many Christians have never questioned what they were taught growing up. It is true that many Christians have merely taken on their parents’ beliefs without any reflection of their own. Often this can lead to a shallow faith that collapses at the first signs of trouble. Additionally, the Bible is quite clear that a person is never physically born into a saving relationship with God. The decision to embrace Jesus Christ is a personal one that cannot be made by one’s parents. Growing up in a Christian home absolutely does not guarantee a person’s salvation. It is truly dangerous to take on your parents’ beliefs without thinking about them for yourself.
Second, we have to be clear that just because a person takes on the beliefs of her parents or surrounding culture does not mean that those beliefs are false. Even free thinking skeptics admit that many things their parents taught them are true. The source of a person’s beliefs have nothing to do with the truth of those beliefs. I may be told that God exists by a genius or by a moron – it doesn’t matter when it comes to the truth of God’s existence. In fact, philosophers long ago spotted the error in confusing the source of a belief with its truth – they call it the genetic fallacy.
So, to Christians, I say think about your beliefs for yourself. Weigh the claims of your faith. Apply your mind to its teachings. If your parents were Christian, that’s wonderful, but it doesn’t guarantee you a relationship with God. You have to do that on your own.
To skeptics, I remind them that the source of a person’s beliefs have nothing to do with the truth of those beliefs. If a free thinker is someone who has critically examined the beliefs given him by his parents and community, then there are plenty of Christians who are free thinkers and plenty of atheists who are not.