One’s original religious belief system is often predetermined by the culture and geographic area one is born into and has little if anything to do with doctrinal truths. There are a multitude of multifaceted belief systems in a supreme entity or intelligence which can be observed from one cultural system to the next. These various belief systems, with their doctrines, ceremonial rights, and underlying psychological paradigms, differ from one culture to the next in infinitesimal and momentous ways. Due to the diversity in religious practices, doctrines, and beliefs, the study of religious systems and how religions interact within cultures, communities, families, and politics are often filled with controversial, complex, and conflicting claims. “We can learn much about religion in many societies by standing back from it, seeing its role in society, and noting the differences and similarities between religions.” In short, one’s geographical location directly predetermines their religious paradigm rather than the truth claims of the religion.
Looking at religious beliefs systems through an anthropologist perspective gives one the ability to trace the origin of religious belief systems from the macro level, where society itself interacts, to the micro level, where individual choices are made based on the personal beliefs of the individual. Furthermore, religious belief systems, both macro and micro, correspond to the underlying cultural agendas and persuasions. Since societies endeavor to maintain a stable foundation on which to build their own unique cultural agendas, it is not surprising to find that when the globe is dissected into religious persuasions one finds high concentrations of similar religious belief system within localized geographical areas. For example, in India the majority of the population is Hindu, in Afghanistan the population is predominantly Muslim, in China the major belief system is Buddhist, in Israel the inhabitant’s belief system is based on Judaism, in the United States the vast majority of the population claims Christian as their religious belief system, and so on.
The beliefs, customs, and rituals of one’s culture become a complex part of one’s personal beliefs and practices. Understanding a given subject is best done when it is associated with something already familiar to the inquiring individual. Therefore, a person’s belief system is added to “precept upon precept; line upon line, line upon line; here a little, and there a little” until it becomes a unique psychological and philosophical matrix which one uses to interact not only with the outside world but also within the realm of personal inquiry and consciousness (Isaiah 28:10). Religious doctrines and cultural customs become a unique intricate interwoven tapestry that dictates the course of a practitioner’s choices and thoughts. No two piece of cloth are identical and yet there are similarities between these intricate tapestries which allows sociologist, psychologists, and philosophers the opportunity of studying religious belief systems at a societal and individual level.
By the time one grows to an age of conscious recollection and understanding the doctrines of a given religion and cultural are already imprinted deep within the intellectual compass and morals of an individual. As a barrage of outward influences intrudes upon the five senses the intricate internal idea of the self, in regards to a given religious belief system, is continually in a state of flux; expanding, contracting, adapting, and developing in direct relationship to outward stimulus. Although not often thought about at a conscious level, one’s religious paradigm is constantly being reevaluated, restructured, and rewritten in accordance with cultural influences.
At the genesis of making sense of the bombardment of one’s senses, also known as the learning process, an individual yearns to make sense of intrapersonal perspectives in relation to the world around it. “Consciousness simultaneously distinguishes itself from something, and at the same time relates itself to it.” This sense of self relation to outside influences is a complex psychological process that involves distinguishing oneself from his/her surroundings and at the same time understanding one’s surroundings by relating them back to the self. The process of alienation reveals itself in many striking ways as one begins the arduous journey of incorporating the religious practices which one is exposed to. At first, religious doctrines must be simplified and even then are generally not fully understood. Upon further association with a given religion it often becomes the driving influence over one’s thoughts, perspectives, political agendas, and ultimately the outward behaviors that can be seen and interpreted by others. As stated by Hegel, “The movement is the twofold process and the genesis of the whole, in such wise that each side simultaneously posits the other, and each therefore has both perspectives within itself; together they constitute the whole by dissolving themselves, and by making themselves into its moments.” This state of understanding reality through religious beliefs is a continual growing process that can be seen throughout the course of an entire life.
As religious traditions are observed and experienced they become a part of how a child identifies their self. This self identification that occurs at a young age, through religious customs, is a way in which traditions are passed down from one generation to the next. This passing down of traditions can also be seen as a passing down of religious preference. Often times the religion of a family has a pedigree chart of its own that is traced and passed down from generation to generation. Although conversions take place, a new pedigree starts with each and every converted individual and so the process continues on with their posterity.
“There is an universal tendency among mankind to conceive all being like themselves, and to transfer to every object, those qualities, with which they are familiarly acquainted, and of which they are intimately conscious.” This anthropomorphic approach to life can be traced all the way back to 500 BCE with the Greek philosopher Xenophanes. Anthropomorphism is a type of comparison that relates the subject to the object. Due to this type of relationship the subject is able to associate themselves to a given object. This realization of the self through outside objects can be seen specifically in religious practices. Furthermore this familiar acquaintance that is imposed onto outside objects and beings allows one to feel comfortable and relatable to the outside world and to a personal ultimate being. The more familiar one becomes with something the more one sees their reflection in it.
The rituals, practices, doctrine, customs, and literature of one’s society are at the forefront of the developmental process. As a given individual develops he/she is trying to come to an understanding of their surroundings. This is done through analyzing their surroundings. These surroundings become a point of reference to that individual and as such a familiarization with certain rituals, practices, doctrine, customs, and literature occurs. This familiarization serves as a foundation to a person’s behaviors, thoughts, desires, and their religious preference. What is accustom to a given individual or society is generally what is best understood regardless of whether or not it is grounded in truth. Because of this customization with cultural practices, the various religions of the world prosper not due to their truths but because of their geological influence on self-identity. In India, Hinduism prospers however in American Christianity is the prosperous religious preference. One comes to realize that the religion one recognizes as true has a direct link to the culture it is found within rather than a direct link to ultimate truths. In this sense, religions are lenses to ultimate reality that apply understanding to the ultimate based on the practices one is most familiar with.
Religion seems not only to be highly influenced by culture but one’s personal religion is directly tied to the household one is born into. “Religion, whatever else it may be, clearly embodies social practices and bodies of belief expressed in particular ways of life.” As social practices and beliefs are so intertwined with religious practices and beliefs it becomes difficult to distinguish the two from each other. Due to this interconnectedness, the ability to freely choose one’s religious preference is lost in adolescence. “Religious belief is not to be understood as a reflection of some transcendent reality but a projection of human needs and aspirations.” As human needs and aspirations are reflected in societal needs and aspirations religion attempts to satisfy these cravings. If an individual was born in Bhutan their needs and aspirations would differ from an individual living in America. Furthermore, the religious preference of these two individuals would also differ. The cultural upbringing of individuals stands as a centerpiece and reference point for each and every individual found in the various regions of the world.
Often times the religion of one’s parents is the first contact one has with religious doctrine and practices. There is little choice on a child’s part as to what material will be presented to them through their developmental years. Many times children are found attending church with their parents and at a young age and begin to be indoctrinated with the religion’s traditions of their parents. Frequently a given set of religious doctrines and religious customs turn into habits that become difficult to break or detach oneself from as the concept of the “self” is realized and shaped through them. Everything one does, sees, hears, and reads leaves an imprint on the self. This imprint although not always recognized has a direct influence on one’s conscious and subconscious behavior and belief system. Although a break from one’s original religious belief system is not essentially necessary, it is worth mentioning and analyzing that religious preferences are not always based on a quest for truth. Often time religious preferences are based on traditions of the family or the traditions of society. The truth contained within a religion is generally not questioned till later in life; if it is even to be questioned at all.
The theory of religion being predetermined by the community one is born into can be illustrated by the LDS community. Soon after a child is born a blessing is preformed through the recognized church authority, namely, the priesthood. This blessing is meant to present the baby to God as well as bestow certain blessing for their future contingent on their faithfulness to the specific doctrines and codes of conduct found within LDSism. Younger children, not yet baptized into this church, still attend church meetings regularly where they are introduced to LDS practices through lessons, songs, and activities. Although one is not able to become a member of the LDS faith until the minimum age of eight years old, the younger children that attend LDS church meetings still recognized themselves as Latter-day Saints. It is expected that when a child, that is already involved in LDS church activities, reaches the age of eight year old they will become a member of the LDS church through baptism. Tremendous speculation takes place in the LDS community if a member of a family chooses to leave or not participate in the LDS practices and traditions as, from my understanding of this religion, the LDS faith is seen as the only true church to its practitioners. Generally the autonomous choice to leave a given religion does not come till a later age when the influences of parents are less authoritative. In some cases, not just limited to the LDS church, the disgrace that encompasses the whole family if one of its members chooses to participate in alternative religious practices keeps individuals from abandoning the religion of their parents, even if they view the doctrine as false. Instead individuals stay bitterly entrapped within the religion of their parents or community.
The theory of the “accident of birth” states that what we believe in is primarily rooted in where we are born. “Someone born to Buddhist parents in Thailand is very likely to be a Buddhist, someone born to Muslim parents in Saudi Arabia to be a Muslim, someone born to Christian parents in Mexico to be a Christian, and so on.” Because of this most followers of a given religion are not actual believers but merely puppets of the previous generations. One’s personal religious truths are judged and interpreted from within the confines of one’s own particular religious traditions. This type of interpretation leads to ethnocentric blind sidedness and is an inadequate way of confirming one’s faith. “There are of course conversions from one faith to another, but in the case of the great world religions these are peripheral to the massive transmission of each from one generation to the next within its own population.”
In western cultural it is the common exclusivist view that only one religion can be correct unlike the well known eastern philosophy that religions are all different paths leading up the same mountain. The western standpoint creates opposition within various cultures as a battle of conversion begins rather than a pursuit of truth. For those trapped within western mindsets the religion of their birth is clung to and seen as a natural and acceptable aspect of life. Twisted ideology of what to expect from religion is often convoluted by the conflicting claims found within the various religions of the world. Separation between a given community and a given religion is often not completely attainable as religious doctrine generally has a stance on certain views that are constantly being debated in communities. It is almost impossible to remain neutral on either side as cultural beliefs and religious beliefs are continually intruding upon the other’s realm.
Many of the major religions of the world are so interwoven with given ethnic groups, cultures, political systems, and everyday life that it is hard to picture one without simultaneously picturing the other. It is hard to imagine America without Christianity, China without Buddhism, or Israel without Judaism. “In essence, religion is so deeply embedded into the matrix of many societies that its boundaries are permeable and its impacts pervasive.”
In conclusion, evidence indicates that an individual’s allegiance to their religion of birth is substantially conditioned by cultural influences. The vast majority of humanity’s religious beliefs are not supported by truth and validity but rather it is supported by how religious beliefs are incorporated into the overall paradigm of one’s cultural lens to ultimate reality. For a majority of the earth’s inhabitants religious beliefs are passed down from generation to generation; with parents, grandparents, and in some cases great grandparents having an influence on the rising generation. In most parts of the world families stay within the same geographical region for generations; as such the major world religions generally stay within the same geographical region and have an empowering influence over those regions. From the cradle to the casket one’s religion is often an affirmation based on family and cultural traditions. The decision on what religion one will practice is usually no decision at all. The interconnectedness between cultures and religions makes it almost impossible for an individual to autonomously choose a religious preference. The religion of the ageing generations is given to the rising generations as a family heirloom to be guarded and protected.