March 4, 2019

Christian By Choice

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I ran across someone recently whose Twitter bio said something like, "Christian by choice and proud of it." I found that interesting. I was raised Christian and although I suppose one could say that I chose to go along with it for several years, I've always found it hard to claim I had much of a choice in the matter. Beginning at an age when I was too young to question such things, I was told I was a Christian because my family were Christians. I certainly was not given any choice about attending the church my parents selected. And much like Christianity, I have never experienced atheism as a choice. I could not resume believing in gods today no matter how much I might want to do so.

Although I'd guess that most Christians were raised by Christians to be Christians and that their Christianity has more to do with this than any choices they've made, I do think there are some circumstances where it might make sense for someone to claim that they are Christian by choice. Someone who was not raised Christian but becomes a Christian as an adult could make such a claim. Someone who was raised Christian, moved away from it for several years, and returned as an adult could probably claim it too. At least some people who become "born again" Christians as adults might fit here as well. Some Christian denominations have rituals (e.g., confirmation) where older children or adolescents asked to confirm the religious belief system in which they were raised. Depending on the degree of pressure they face to do so, I suppose this could be considered voluntary for some.

Some may find it curious for me to claim that I did not choose atheism while acknowledging that some people may choose Christianity. I don't see this as an inconsistency, though. When I say I did not choose atheism, I mean that I never made the choice not to believe in gods and that I could not make myself start believing in them again. But if I did believe in gods, I imagine that I might be able to choose the religious tradition with which I decided to affiliate. I do not see that as being very different from me choosing to be a humanist, a skeptic, a freethinker, or a secular activist today. I could choose to do any or all of these things. I'm just doubtful that I could choose to resume believing in gods.

I have known some people who were raised as Christians but decided that it was not for them as they moved through adolescence. They did not stop believing in gods, but they concluded that the existence of the Christian god in which they previously believed was unlikely. They spent years searching for answers and explored various religions and other religion-like belief systems along the way. Some of them eventually returned to some form of Christianity, although it was often a different one than the one in which they had been raised. Others embraced non-Christian religions or decided that organized religion was not for them and that they'd be "spiritual but not religious." It was not always clear how much choice was involved in this sort of thing, but it often seemed like there was some.

If someone did choose to be a Christian, it makes sense that they might take pride in it. I'm not saying I would take pride in it; I am saying that I can understand why someone else might do so. What I have trouble understanding is why it would possibly be a source of pride if one did not truly choose it (i.e., in the more typical case where one is a Christian because one was raised that way). Then again, I've long had difficulty understanding why some take pride in things over which they had no control.