As westerners, especially as Americans, we listen to this song as it the DJ plays it at our friends 90s party and nod our heads. We generally believe that we are free to do whatever we want, any old time with the exception that whatever we choose to do doesn’t infringe on the freedoms of anyone else. We’re free to choose our occupation, our hobbies, our sports teams, the music we listen to, the political candidates we support, etc.. I woke up today in Boise, Idaho and decided that I wanted to eat a bagel for breakfast. I left my hotel, walked a few blocks and proceeded to enjoy a very tasty everything bagel. The freedom to choose our preferences is so deeply ingrained into our society that it is simply unfathomable for us to see it any other way. It’s second nature.
This sense of freedom also bleeds into our religious preferences. The predominant religion in America is Christianity and the predominant form of Christianity in America is predicated on “right belief”. Basically, we get to God by arranging our thoughts about God in just the right way. If someone comes along, say a guy named “Rob,” and suggests that right belief might not be all it’s cracked up to be, people get really upset.
The reason I bring all this up is that underpinning this sense of right belief is the deeply held assumption embedded in our freedom-loving phsyces is that all human beings are completely free to choose what they want to believe. If you are a Christian it is because you objectively chose Christianity over all other religious options available to you. Or if you are a Muslim, it is simply because you’ve chosen to be one.
Absent from this assumption are the other factors that help determine our conclusions such as place of birth, cultural influences, familial influences, economic circumstances, and life experience just to name a few. All of these factors play very important, determinative roles in our decision making. To ignore these factors is to grossly oversimplify and misunderstand how we as human beings come to the conclusions we do.
I’m not saying that we don’t have some amount of freedom to make our choices, but these other, often ignored factors provide a framework that essentially limits or inhibits the kinds of choices we make.
Someone once asked me in an email interview why I was a Christian. I sat a thought about it for a while, trying to be as honest as I could with myself why I believe what I believe and the only really honest answer I could give was because my parents raised me to be a Christian. And it’s likely that I was raised to be a Christian because my grandfather was a Baptist minister and he raised my father to be a Christian. And the fact I was born in America where Christianity is the predominant religion didn’t hurt either. If I had been born in Japan or Saudi Arabia or Jakarta, chances are I would not be a Christian. If I had ardent atheist parents who raised me in a community of atheists where I had a bunch of atheist friends, chances are I’d be an atheist.
To take this a little bit further, a very important reason why I’ve reassessed my faith as a Christian in so many ways has been my life experience directly related to playing in a band. Traveling all over the world, making friends with and working with people who are not Christians. Making friends with atheists, feminists, homosexuals and learning about who they are and listening to their stories has greatly shaped my thinking and the conclusion I’ve come to.
Some might point out that this discredits my convictions. That I simply blow where the cultural winds take me. But the reality is that we are all blowing in the wind and it’s much nicer to be aware of that fact than to be blind to it.