Why do I believe? Part 6 – My heritage

Posted by Dan Martin | Posted in Apologetics, Creeds | Posted on 23-03-2013

I'm not actually Jewish, and this image is of a Jewish mezuzah, a container for a bit of scripture placed on the doorpost of a home.  But to me, the mezuzah illustrates the concept of parents passing on their faith to their children, and is therefore relevant to this topic.

I’m not Jewish, and this image is of a Jewish mezuzah, a container for a bit of scripture placed on the doorpost of a home.  But the mezuzah illustrates the concept of parents passing on their faith to their children (see Deut. 4:6-9), and is therefore relevant to this topic.

Not all my reasons for belief are evidence based.  I say this without shame and without apology.  I am at least in part a product of my own upbringing, both from the standpoint of what I was taught, and the societies in which I have passed much of my life.  So, I would suggest, are we all, and no less so if we reject our past, than if we accept it.  I would explain this in part by saying that there are a variety of forces that lead to one’s position on the Belief Matrix I’ve discussed before.  Differing bits of evidence may have vectors that impel one toward theism or atheism, or may affect the certainty level of the other axis on the matrix.  My own history pushes me in the direction of theism.

It does much more than that.  I grew up learning of Jesus in the context of a family that did not have tight denominational ties, but was strongly influenced by the Anabaptist movement, and the Mennonite Church and Church of the Brethren denominations.  While I do not fellowship with either group today, and while my positions are quite distinct from those of my parents in a number of ways, it is an incontrovertible reality that my basic Christian focus, my aversion to ecclesiastical authority, and my particular form of Sola Scriptura exegesis owe a great deal to my Mom and Dad (if you want proof of that, just spend a little time browsing my Mom’s blog).  I believe I’m my own man, but there’s no question I’m my parents’ son too (thanks Dad & Mom!).

There’s plenty of what I’ve come to believe that I did not learn from childhood.  Peruse the topical index on this blog and you’ll come across topics such as Open Theism, my questioning of the doctrine of the Trinity, or the nuances of my perspective on nonviolence, all of which came well after I left home, though I would argue they remain grounded in the same approach to biblical authority.  I’m a product of my upbringing, but I’m no clone.

Likewise, though I ground many positions (particularly ecclesiology and nonviolence) in the Anabaptist movement of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and though I have literal as well as figurative ancestry among the Anabaptists, I do not follow their lead without question.  I am no more in full agreement with every article of the Schleitheim Confession of the Anabaptists, than I am with the Nicene Creed to which I’ve previously objected.  I have taken the raw material I was served, including my parents’ faith and the teachings of my church(es), combined it with my own independent reading of the Bible, seasoned it with the thoughts of many others both published and not, and come up with a faith that is mine today.  This is a faith that is in some ways distinct from all my prior influences, but to deny their influence would be downright silly.

An important caution is in order, though.  I acknowledge the influence of my upbringing on my beliefs, but I know many who seem to believe that the way to be free of such influence is to reject whatever they were taught.  Nowhere have I seen this attitude in sharper relief than among those who, decrying the legalism or “narrow-mindedness” of their parents’ faith, profess atheism (or more honestly, anti-theism).  It takes but little reflection to realize that one who rejects his upbringing out of hand is influenced by that upbringing just as surely as one who accepts it.  “X” and ”Not X” are indistinguishable in one vital respect–both are equally and inextricably referential to “X.”  One can–and I believe ought to–attempt to step back and evaluate one’s heritage.  Such an exercise, if done honestly, likely will result in keeping some elements, refining others, and discarding still others.  But one cannot reasonably deny that one’s heritage has an influence.  Mine certainly has.

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One parenthetical note:  it is the reality of the influence my culture and upbringing has had on my own philosophy, that as much as anything informs my reluctance to accept the exclusivist claims many Christians (and maybe others) make about faith.  The vast majority of humanity see the world as they do, in large measure due to an accident of birth.  The world’s religions are geographically distributed, and while there is certainly overlap, it’s a reality that a person born in China is likely as not to be Buddhist; one born in India, Hindu; one in Latin America, Roman Catholic; and one in the Middle East or North Africa, Muslim.  I have written before that while I am not strictly universalist, I do not believe the Bible supports the common Christian claim that anyone who hasn’t appropriated Jesus’ salvation as they define it, is damned.  I rather lean toward the principle of “Available Light” (expounded at length by Moxey and Garrett, as well as the older Quaker concept of Inner Light) … that God evaluates each person’s response to that truth which has been revealed to him/her.

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