A lot of people think something like this: “If I had been born in a Hindi community, I would be Hindu, if I were born into a Buddhist family I would be a Buddhist. It is the same with Christianity. Sociology demonstrates that people tend to believe whatever other people around them believe, so even if I feel drawn toward Christianity, it is probably just because a lot of people in the US believe it. Culture creates belief, religion can be described by the need to think alike. All values are ultimately social constructions.”
Differences in belief means no beliefs are true
“If I had been born in India, I almost certainly wouldn’t be a Christian.” Yeah, that’s true, but if you had been born in the 80’s you probably would have thought you could get Aids from sitting on a toilet seat, that doesn’t mean that our contemporary knowledge that people don’t get Aids that way is on shaky ground. Disparity in belief doesn’t mean no beliefs can be true.
You can escape the power of culture’s influence by being aware of it, but no one can escape it, and it can’t help inform your ideas about what is true.
Ask them “what parts of your belief do you think are shaped by your culture?”
Point out that if you are going to be worried about the effect culture has on one’s worldview, then you should really be suspicious of the idea that “values are merely constructed by cultures and therefore relative”. That idea is really popular in our culture. If you are going to resist the world views that exert an unnaturally strong force on you because we are cultural sponges soaking up the ideas of those around us, then the idea that “value is relative” is the one to resist.
Encourage them to engage their real beliefs. Trying to keep a sociological distance from our own beliefs doesn’t accomplish anything, at the end of the day we need to choose something to believe and live based on it. I would rather build my life around a world view that gives a rich interpretation of meaning than one that doesn’t. Wouldn’t you? So an important question to ask is what world views make the most sense out of the similarities and dis-similarities of belief through-out the world. Which brings us to the next point.
Christianity makes the most sense out of the similarities and dis-similarities of of belief we se see through-out the world. Draw their attention to the fact that ideas of love, justice, family duties, definitely differ but have a consistent core throughout all cultures. Ask them “what does that tell us about our purpose?” There are a lot of beliefs which differ from culture to culture, but paying attention to the beliefs that are the same across cultural lines reveals a core of human values. Ideas of how justice gets parsed out might differ, but the idea of justice is retained in every major culture. Ideas of modesty differ, but every culture demands some parts of the body be covered. Ideas of love, courage, shame, friendship, duty to family, leadership among countless others have different flavors in different places, but a consistent core in every culture. I think Christianity gives the most satisfying interpretation of the meaning of all of these consistent human tendencies, by locating them in a conscience that reflects the attributes of God. More importantly Christianity provides a resolution to the problems our conscience surfaces. In Jesus we find a God who loved the world to much to leave it in a broken state, and came to rectify and forgive the hurt and selfishness in us and in our world.
Realizing the affect culture plays on belief is daunting, and ultimately abstract thoughts do little to convince us. So invite them into your story. I’ll share mine, you share yours. I was only able to stop worrying that my belief could be a product of my culture after God overwhelmed me with his presence and showed me a deeper type of knowing than I was able to reach with my brain. And those moments of closeness with God only became something I could routinely trust after I had opened myself up to the teaching and direction of Jesus. As I did I saw my life get better, my relationships get better, and my, health, love, and hope grow. Do you want to open yourself up in prayer and see if God has anything to say to you? Do you want to try living Jesus’ teachings and see if you grow?