Are We Solely Products of Our Environment?

July 13th, 2010

Originally posted by IBD Vice President Matt Coombe on

I recently received this email and thought it would profit more than the sender. Here is the email in its entirety:

“I have a very intriguing question and no one has ever given a satisfactory answer. Will you please? Are you born by own will? Not certainly. I am a Muslim because I have been born among Muslims and those who have been born among Christians, Jews, and Hindus etc. become what ever teachings and knowledge they get from their parents, teachers or society.

It is a common belief among Muslims, Jews, Christians and Hindus that only members of their sect will be rewarded by God and people of other religions will go to hell. When a person does not have any control on birth and adopts religion where he has been born by God, why God will punish or reward on the basis of religion?

Kindly guide me. Thanks.”

This is a great question. In a world where post modern thought has pervaded every level, this question is an excellent example of the conflict between post modernism and traditional theism. According to post modernists, all truth is relative and subjective. One culture has their truth and another has an equally valid truth that is true for them. This question approaches the same subject: If each person adopts the “truth” of their culture, why does God condemn one and not another? Wasn’t it God who caused them to be born there?

We are, after all, not born of our own will. Can we control the environment we’re born into? Are we supposed to somehow see beyond the culture we were raised in; The culture that compels us to act, live and think in certain ways? How can a Muslim, Hindu or Christian be condemned by God when they are only acting in accordance with their own environment? It all seems so unfair.

For example, some environmentalists hate the loss of even a single tree, yet is the Beaver condemned by God for destroying a stand of trees to make its home? Does the Raven stand in judgment for feeding on the robins’ young? Should the Lion feel guilt because he has feasted on a fawn? Of course not, in these examples each animal is acting in accordance with their nature. The beaver in his beaver nature, raven in raven and lion in lion. Are humans any different?

Let’s suppose that you knew absolutely nothing about me. If you looked at my house, saw my clothes and peered in the windows of my car,  you could discover alot about me just from the outside; Police do it all the time. You could see the DVD’s I own and determine what type of movies I like. You could see my small and fairly modest library and probably draw some firm conclusions about what I believe. And each new thing you learned would reveal a little more about me; At the same time, the culture I come from would also be revealed, since I am, after all, a product of it.

That said, the question remains: Is man defined by his environment and merely a product of it, or do humans, unlike animals, posses the ability to make decisions despite their culture? I believe it is the latter. The culture I was born into had a definite Christian slant. The Christian religion was always nearby to influence my decisions, thoughts and actions. Does this mean that the only possible choice for me was a Christian one? Of course not. Differing from the raven or lion who act on instinct, in accordance with their nature, I can choose to shun my own culture and turn against it. It happens all the time.

However, if the premise of the question is true, then being born into a culture that follows one particular religion will always lead to the children following that same religion. As a result, those who follow the religion of their culture can not be condemned; They had no real ability to choose anything else. God placed them there and thus their fate was determined.

Nonsense! Take the acorn for example. Depending on the environment, an acorn has two options: It will either rot away or grow into an oak tree. Certainly the tree may be a different size or shape than the ones around it, but there is no doubt, no wavering, an acorn that grows will always produce an oak tree. If for whatever reason the acorn does not produce an oak, it is not considered normal. That is how an acorn works.

Is a human an acorn? If he is left to grow in the same environment, will he produce the same results every time? If the premise of the question is true, namely that each person born into a religion, then they have no option other than to embrace that religion. This leads to at least two conclusions:

  1. Man is like an acorn . Despite any intervening situations, he will become what his environment demands.
  2. If the first premise is true, then there can be no counter examples. A counter example would be a person who is born into a religion and, for whatever reason, did not embrace that religion.

In the case of the email’s author, consider Muhammad. Was he merely a product of his environment? Did he blindly follow the religion of his father and those before him? What about Jesus? Was he not mocked and beaten because the religious leaders of his day thought he was acting contradictory to the religion of his father? And these are just two examples. There are many counter examples to the premise.  A human need not always become merely the product of his environment.

Even in my own experience, I can think of people born into atheist homes who became Christians, Christians that became atheists, Muslims who became Christian and Christians who became Mormon. Humans are inherently religious. Humans also have a tendency to fall in line with their own culture, becoming indoctrinated at the earliest of ages. Many have never known any other culture. That said, at any time, any man can make any decision; This is called Free Will.

So, although a man is born into a culture and is indoctrinated thoroughly, it is the duty of all men to seek the truth. The ability to reason and to know is one of the greatest gifts given to man. So although God does place each man into a culture, He also gives every man the ability to examine, reason and to think for himself. Man is free to embrace or to reject his environment and culture.

In my case, if the culture a man is born into denies the God of Biblical Christianity, then that environment and culture should be rejected. Of course, some cultures make this is much harder to do than others. As a man who has studied the pertinent historical and biblical accounts, and spent years seeking the truth, I believe I’ve found it.

It is my prayer, then, that all people seek the truth and make it their goal, for then they will understand the words of Christ who said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life, no man comes to the father but through me.”

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 13th, 2010 at 11:50 pm and is filed under Spoken Thoughts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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