Recently, I heard a challenge to Christianity that was worded like this: “The only reason you identify yourself as Christian is because you were born in America; if you had been born in Iraq, you would be Muslim and if you had been born in northern India, you would be Hindu—religion is nothing more than a cultural expression of morality.” The person making the challenge was Richard Dawkins, a popular atheist in our culture today. Though I had not heard that objection worded in the same basic way, I have heard this objection of Christianity before, and thought that I would like to pose a response from two perspectives.
The first perspective is purely a practical one, for I know that there are many nominal Christian parents that are essentially banking on this principle, hoping that their children will remain Christian (at least in name), while never truly training their children up in the faith. They think that of course, America is a Christian nation, so of course, my children will remain Christians all of their life. This not only exposes a faulty understanding of Christianity (as I will mention below), but it is a dangerous assumption, for America is becoming more and more of a secular, atheistic nation, and not a Christian one. Thus, some are estimating that as many as 80% of teenagers leave the church when they hit their college years, often without returning. Don’t get me wrong, many of them still think of themselves as Christian, but their Christianity has no bearing on the way they live their lives and for all practical purposes, they are secular humanists in practice and thought.
Furthermore, many of these children will openly reject Christianity because they see how self-serving, jaded, lazy, and corrupt so many churches have become. Many embrace the atheism of their college professors, but others are embracing false religions like Islam because they are attracted to the self-discipline and rigid lifestyle that such religions offer. We should not need to be reminded that one of the reasons that the Byzantine empire fell so easily to the Muslim expansion was due to the corruption and self-seeking nature of the church—people saw its weaknesses and rejected it as diseased and dying. Such an observation has been made of much of the church in America. Thus, it is not enough that we are actively pursuing the Christian faith, it is essential for us to recognize that our children must be actively pursuing the Christian faith as well.
That is the purely practical perspective, now for the theological one… While many religions may very well be simply cultural expressions of morality, Christianity, by definition, is different. For in Christ, we are called “new creations” (2 Corinthians 5:17)—in other words, we are changed from the outside in. Christianity is not a mere self-help program, it is a total change of lifestyle that can only be accomplished if one is supernaturally changed by God—we refer to this as being “born again” (John 3:3). This change is impossible to do for oneself, but God must effectively draw us to Christ as well (John 6:44). God draws us from the world, God gives us new life, and God makes us a new creation. This is more than mere morality, it is transformation. And, it is a transformation that takes place all over the world, even in countries where you can be put to death for claiming Christ as Lord and Savior.
The sad thing is that too many Christians simply treat Christianity as a self-help program, and when that happens, they do not live like new creations and Christianity becomes nothing more than a social norm—a norm that is quickly being redefined in America.