So you’ve played a couple hands with your atheist friend by now. When he plays his 3 tens, you reveal a Full House. Suddenly, on the next hand he has a 2 of hearts, and Jack of spades, a Wild card, and a Level 57 Charizard. You pause, look at him sideways, and he grins back at you, basking in your inability to respond to his awesome play. He’s revealed, so he thinks, a deus ex machina (he seems to have lots of those). It’s a play sure to throw anybody off who isn’t prepared or knowledgeable about the game. In the end, of course, he’s done nothing to win the game (he’s not following the rules), and has only temporarily suspended play (the most the atheist can hope for).
This is how it happens. You’ve just shown him that unless he believes in God, he has no way to account for a viable, consistent morality on which to base such things as laws, etc. Let’s say he’s consistent and agrees, deferring to the majority of those he considers to be smart people out there. Let’s say he has also conceded concerning Logic and Truth. All of a sudden he tells you, “Well you’re only a Christian because you were born/raised in America. If you were born in India, you’d be Hindu. In Pakistan, Muslim,” and on and on it goes. After he’s granted that you’re reasoning and arguing in a valid manner, he attempts to undercut your belief by making it entirely subject to (essentially) your environment. He reasons that, since environments are different, and beliefs are attached to and determined by the environment, and since there’s no way to arbitrate between them (remember what he granted), therefore you aren’t any further from (or closer to) the truth than he or anyone else.
Firstly, let’s look at what *is* true concerning the statement:
- If a sizable majority of people in a country believe a certain way, it’s reasonable to guess that any particular person within that country might believe that way.
- In Christianity, families are a large, important part of the Covenant. Christians are commanded to raise their children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. So, being exposed to the Gospel from a young age, children of Christians are more likely to be Christian than children of non-Christians. To be sure, there are exceptions to this, and this applies more to families than entire countries.
- And so environment is at least one reason you are a Christian. But it is not a sufficient reason.
Now on to the problems:
- Even though it would be reasonable to guess that some person might be a Christian because he was born in a Christian country, it’s certainly not a necessity. The reason this is a problem is that your friend is putting it forth as the only (or perhaps strongest) reason you’re a Christian. Otherwise he wouldn’t put it past you. In fact, you might even point right back to your friend (if he were also born in a Christian country) as an exception to his very rule, thereby nullifying it. Furthermore, there are Christians in non-Christian countries.
- If it were true that a person’s belief is determined by his upbringing and therefore worthless to determine truth, then neither can your friend speak with any authority on truth. Not without a heavy dose of special pleading. His argument is self-defeating.
- The only sufficient reason that you are a Christian and he is not is the sovereign grace of God. Don’t expect this point to be convincing to your friend. But don’t neglect to give him the answer either. You believe, and only because God has granted you the grace in order to do so. Your environment comes into play here insofar as it has exposed you to the Gospel whereby you were saved. And yet even the environment is under the sovereign providence of God. So in light of this, Christians have a consistent, logical explanation for the differences in beliefs among different nations.
Feel free to direct your friend back to the deck of cards he began with, and to stick with them. As you call him to consistency, remind him that by borrowing from other decks, he is showing that his own deck is not sufficient. Hold him to the rules of the game, because after all, you’re the one with the Rulebook.