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Do religious beliefs depend on where you are born? | Objections considered

Updated: Mar 4

Objection: Your religion depends on your country/area of birth. If you were born elsewhere, you'd believe differently than you do now...

If you were born in Afghanistan, chances are excellent that you'd be a Muslim and follow Muhammad as the prophet of Allah. If you were born in Norway, you'd most likely be Lutheran. Israel, you'd be Jewish. In India, you'd be a Hindu. If you're a Christian, it's very arrogant to believe that your religion is the "right" religion. If you were born anywhere else, you'd feel exactly the same about a different religion. The following map roughly indicates the distribution of the world's religions:

Distribution of the world's religions
Distribution of the world's religions

The Columbia Tribune writes:

No matter how loudly our ministers proclaim their beliefs, no matter how knowledgeable they are about the Bible, no matter how much they rail against other religious beliefs and Satanism, they're really just displaying their birthright. In other countries around the world, rabbis, ayatollahs and monks are just as passionate and just as emotional about their beliefs. They're displaying their birthrights.

Religious beliefs depend on where you were born

Preliminary considerations: Let's take a step back

When you're in a conversation with an unbeliever and the preceding objection pops up, rather than attempting a knee-jerk answer (as we sometimes do as we provide immediate emotional responses), try to provide a well-thought-out answer. You can do this by simply asking questions to the person who raised the objection (this is a useful principle in all apologetic encounters). By asking questions, you can understand why they believe the objection is valid against your Christian beliefs, and you can subsequently form a more informed response that addresses their particular concern. Also, try and ascertain whether there is at least some element of truth in what they are saying, and acknowledge it as such.

Let's think about the objection.

(1) Firstly, it is the case that countries tend to have religions that are considered "majority" religions or sometimes even "state" religions. It is the case, that if a person was born to a Muslim family in Saudi Arabia, they most likely would've attended a Mosque, and would've been taught to consider Muhammud as the last prophet of Allah. It is equally the case that if a person was born in some European countries, they'd have a secular/atheistic upbringing rather than a Christian or Muslim upbringing. If you think about it, the argument can be turned on the objector's own beliefs as well - as the objector's beliefs were surely influenced by their upbringing.

(2) Secondly, the problem can probably be better stated by referring to the family you were born in, rather than the country. Even in "Christian" countries, not many "Christians" will be able to give an account of the basic articles of the Christian religion. If you were born into a family that attended a Bible-believing Church, spent time with God's Word at dinner, prayed regularly and catechised you, odds are you'd adopt those beliefs. But what if you were born in your neighbour's household, also in a "Christian" country, who don't take their Christian religion seriously but mainly consider it "cultural heritage"? In this case, we can equally say that odds are you'd be more secular in your worldview.

(3) Thirdly, we must consider whether the "source" of a belief has anything to do with the "truth-value" of the belief (i.e. is the objector committing a genetic fallacy?). It is common knowledge in apologetic circles today that this argument has no real thrust because of the genetic fallacy. The genetic fallacy is a fallacy of irrelevance in which arguments or information are dismissed or validated based solely on their source of origin rather than their content. In other words, a claim is ignored or given credibility based on its source rather than the claim itself. So, let's say you believe that Jesus rose from the dead. If someone dismisses it simply because you believe it as you learnt about it from your Bible-believing parents, their dismissal is committing the genetic fallacy. It doesn't matter how we came to believe some truths, what matters is whether they are true or not - and that's the point of apologetics, to give a reasoned defence of the faith (i.e. show that it is true).

The above three considerations should be enough to dispel the argument when it arises, but in my experience, it doesn't satisfy the unbeliever.

So, what's the problem then?

It always baffled me that people would still raise this objection when the issues with the objection are so glaringly obvious: The objection can be equally applied to the beliefs of the unbeliever, and the objection commits the genetic fallacy!

I was baffled until I read Cornelius Van Til who saw the real thrust in the argument against the core of the Christian worldview. You see, unbelievers raising these objections against the Christian religion aren't neutral observers of the facts who honestly seeking the truth. They are sinners, trying to suppress the knowledge of God, and trying to be their own gods (Rom. 1). Unbelievers, despite their suppression and rebellion, are not uneducated (as some apologists would make them out to be when they raise this objection). They do know that the above objection suffers from the genetic fallacy if used in a particular way. It is my contention that in raising this objection, they're not trying to disprove the Christian religion, they are trying to make a statement about the Christian God and His involvement in His created world that would vindicate them for any responsibility they have toward Him - and this gives them comfort in sin.

The argument is more of an internal critique of Christian theology than it is an external argument against the Christian religion.

Allow me to explain:

Chance and possibility independent of God

If you look closely at the objection, there is a hidden assumption that almost always goes unquestioned. The assumption of Chance (the occurrence of events in the absence of any obvious intention or cause). The assumption is that the time and place (be it country or family) of birth are purely due to Chance. Imagine the following scenario: Assume Christianity is true for the sake of argument. Now, imagine that two babies are born as you read this article. One is born in Saudi Arabia (by Chance), and another is born in the United States (into a Bible-believing family, by Chance). On what grounds is it fair for God to judge the baby who will be raised Muslim for his Muslim beliefs, and withhold judgement from the baby who will be raised, Christian? If we are the products of our circumstances, it would not be fair for God to judge anyone who happened to not form the right beliefs about Him and sin because of Chance.

If it is the case that Chance is an active force in the world (a force that is outside of God's control), then the objector has a point. Van Til sees this and writes (the following is paraphrased):

If Chance is independent of the will of God... That means, of course, that salvation is also possible for those too who have never heard of Jesus of Nazareth. Salvation is therefore possible without an acceptance of substitutionary atonement through Jesus. If possibility [Chance] is independent of God, then [the unbeliever] need not be afraid of hell. It is then quite possible that there is no hell. Hell is that torture of a man’s conscience which he experiences when be fails to live up to his own moral ideals. So [why should they] bother just yet about accepting Christ as [their] personal Savior? There is plenty of time.

What does Van Til mean by the above? Quite simply, it is the case that if Chance is a determining factor of a person's beliefs (e.g. their birthplace), then God owes people salvation outside the work of Jesus Christ. It's not their fault that they don't believe in Christ. Given the outwork of Chance in their lives, they did the best they could and attempted to be as rational as they could: The only fair judgement would be if they fail to live up to their own (not God's) ideals/laws (i.e. judgement only makes sense if they didn't do the best they could and act on the truth they had given the cards they've been dealt by Chance). Should God punish those who in all things attempted to be rational, asks the unbeliever? No. Well then, since all men are merely the product of their circumstances, and since they're doing the best they can - the argument seems to successfully absolve us of all responsibility toward God and any requirements He might place on us through His law.

Consider the below illustration:

The non-Christian views God and man as being encapsulated in a greater reality. In this case, the greater reality is some principle of Chance that is outside of God's control. Our responsibility, therefore, is not toward God, but toward whatever is dealt to us by this greater reality. God might have some good rules to live by, but Chance can ultimately negate God's rules (i.e. cause His Word to lose relevance as time passes), or cause us to be ignorant of them altogether. This is in complete antithesis (i.e. direct opposite) to the Christian view of God and the world.

No chance in the Christian worldview

It is at this point where the Christian must push the antithesis, and offer a consistent witness based on Biblical truth. If the argument is offered as an internal critique of Christian theology, we are allowed to answer the implicit assumptions of the argument using Christian theology. The argument might gather much success against Roman Catholic and Arminian theology (because they also believe in Chance and "possibility" independent of God), but not against Reformed (Biblical) theology.

Reformed theology has always held that God is in absolute control of all the details in creation, from the big macro events to the minute details of sub-atomic particles and quantum mechanics. Consider the below illustration of the Christian world, contrasted with the non-Christian worldview above.

In the Christian worldview, God is the ultimate reality and creation is absolutely dependent. There is no principle of Chance. There is no uncertainty for God. God is universally revealed, and His requirements (law) are universally applicable.

Chapter 3 of the Westminster Confession, titled Of God’s Eternal Decree, written almost 400 years ago reads:

God from all eternity did by the most wise and holy counsel of His own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass; yet so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence offered to the will of the creatures, nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.
Although God knows whatsoever may or can come to pass, upon all supposed conditions; yet hath He not decreed any thing because He foresaw it as future, as that which would come to pass, upon such conditions.

Article 13 of the Belgic Confession, titled The Doctrine of God's Providence, written almost 500 years ago reads:

We believe that this good God, after creating all things, did not abandon them to chance or fortune but leads and governs them according to his holy will, in such a way that nothing happens in this world without God’s orderly arrangement...

Building on the words of the confessions, Van Til writes the following:

[We may never subvert] the clear teaching of Scripture on the all-controlling if ultimate and mysterious power of God. The moment a Christian theologian admits that anything happens in the whole course of history, whether by devil, or man, or power of nature, without the will of God, that moment the foundations of a Christian theology are shaken. For to admit that anything happens outside the will of God is to admit the pagan notion of chance. God by his plan controls whatsoever comes to pass.

Van Til, An Introduction to Systematic Theology.

The reason for this is that the allowance of Chance severely compromises the doctrine of God by bringing Him down to the level of a creature, making Him dependent on a greater context that encapsulates both Himself and His creatures. Reality becomes ultimately mysterious to both God and man. God no longer governs history but is forced to react to it.

All this is to say, to bring it back to the original objection, that the place/family/time of birth of any baby is not due to Chance. God has ordained it as such. Knowing this, we can reflect on the words of Psalm 139 (which applies to both believers and unbelievers alike):

For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.

Psalm 139: 13-16, ESV

And so, by denying chance, we've effectively got an answer to the objection. Firstly, the objection has no bearing on the truthfulness of the articles of the Christian religion (it's committing the genetic fallacy). Secondly, God does not owe us anything because there is no principle of Chance that is outside of His control. This argument (i.e. the argument the unbeliever raises) does not absolve the sinner of responsibility because there are no aspects of our existence that formed our being and beliefs that are outside of God's control. We cannot escape the requirement of God's law by trying to find comfort in Chance. God is in control, and He presses His requirements always and everywhere. All people have to reckon with the knowledge of God and His law that they do have by nature (as God reveals it to all men everywhere). The simple BIblical truth is that no one will be able to plead the ignorance card when the day of judgement comes.

A final objection against Reformed Christianity

It would seem like we're not in the clear yet. Sure God might no longer owe us salvation since we've removed Chance, but now we've only seemed to flip the problem to its other extreme. God has determined the Muslim baby to have Muslim beliefs and will subsequently punish him for it. How then is this any better from a Christian perspective? It would seem like God still owes the Muslim baby a fair chance. Why would God bless unbelievers with children knowing that they'd be raised not knowing Him? Does God unfairly damn people to hell? These are all loaded questions - and it again shows us that the questions raised by unbelievers aren't as shallow as some people try to make them out to be.

Further considerations: Let's again take a step back

Before we attempt an answer, it is again useful to consider what the person is asking and attempt a composed answer that is steeped in Biblical truth. What are the implicit assumptions embedded in the objection? Is there something the objector is assuming that goes contrary to the Biblical truth on the matter?

(1) Firstly, the objection assumes that God's sovereign control removes the secondary responsibility of humans for their actions. The Bible does not indicate this at all. The Bible indicates that God is in control of human actions, but also that humans are responsible for their actions. This is a paradox, but one that can be vindicated. God acts in a way that establishes secondary causes, rather than removing them. In our own lives, we can testify to the fact that we do as we please. Whenever we sin, it is because we want to, not because we are coerced by something outside of us. However, the sin itself falls within the will of God, yet He is not responsible for our sin (What we intend for evil, God intends for good (see Genesis 51)).

(2) Secondly, the objection fails to reckon with the clear teaching of the Bible found in places like Psalm 19 and Romans 1 - that the knowledge of God as Creator and sustainer is universal. No one will be punished for any lack of knowledge. They will be judged on the knowledge they do have - and according to the Bible, this is knowledge of God and the knowledge of his moral law. No one does not know the true God, and no one does not know the requirements of His law. Hence, whether you are born in Afghanistan or the USA, you are created in the image of God, and the knowledge of God is pressed on your consciousness wherever you go.

(3) Thirdly, the objection does not reckon with the effect of sin. The knowledge of God and His law is not enough to enact salvation. Sin has separated us from God, hence why we need the propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus Christ to justify us in the eyes of God. Whether you are born in Afghanistan or the USA, all people have this same problem, and all people, in the same way, need Jesus Christ. Being born in the USA does not equate to salvation.

(4) Fourthly, the objection does not reckon with the fact that God, especially after the fall into sin, does not owe anyone anything. All men have sinned and all men have turned their faces away from God (sinning against the God they do know). The fact that God offers salvation to some is a miracle - and is purely up to His grace and good pleasure. That God has elected to show some grace and justify them by paying the price for their sins in their place is an amazing gift and testifies to God's love and justice. That some men are saved, is purely up to God and his electing grace.

What's the answer from the Christian perspective?

Given the above Christian truths, we can formulate a final answer from the Christian perspective.

A person's time, area and family of birth are determined by God, and not Chance. The knowledge of God and His law is universal, and all men everywhere have a sin problem. No one will be punished because of ignorance but will be punished based on the knowledge of God and His law they do have. God, in His grace, elected to save some men. The means by which He saves men is by the preaching of the Gospel and thereafter through the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men upon hearing the Gospel. That some men hear the Gospel before the end of their lives is in the hands of God. That some men accept the Gospel after hearing it is likewise in the hands of God. The means by which God decreed the Gospel to spread is via preaching (in the context of the Church and evangelism) and in the context of family structures (where parents teach their children about the Lord and about the Gospel of Jesus Christ).

The point to stress here is that being born in a "Christian" country or even a "Christian family" is in no way a guarantee of any person's salvation. Each person must take responsibility for his/her own faith.

However, there is much grace (which is a free gift from God) in being born into a loving Christian home anywhere in the world. It is part of the means that God uses the save His elect people. But it in no way guarantees your salvation. In the same way, being born in Afghanistan in no way guarantees your damnation. If God so chooses, He will ensure that Gospel reaches His most remote children in the most unlikely places in the world, and His Spirit will regenerate their hearts such that they freely accept the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and trust in Him for their salvation.


When providing answers to common objections like this one - remember to ask questions and dig deeper into the motivations of the unbeliever. Take a step back, and offer answers that are steeped in Biblical truth. Don't take anything for granted on the part of your interlocutor.


Published by Apologetics Central

At Apologetics Central, we are committed to providing biblically grounded, Reformed presuppositional apologetics resources to equip believers in defending the Christian faith. As a ministry, we strive to uphold the truth of God's word and present it winsomely to a world in need of the gospel.


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