Is faith a matter of choice -- or place? 

by Ken Midkiff

The majority of the U.S. is Christian. 

Sure, there's a smattering of Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, and even atheists.   But by and large, most Americans describe themselves as adherents of Christianity.   And -- from  Baptists in the South to Mormons in the West -- what type of Christian you are depends a lot on what part of America you call home.

If you were born in Afghanistan, chances are excellent you'd be a Muslim worshipping Allah.  Born in Norway? You're likely Lutheran.   Israel:  Jewish.  India:  Hindu, Jainist, Buddhist, or Sikh. 

Certainly, people of other faiths also inhabit these lands.   But that's not the point.   Faith is a matter of place at birth, and only becomes a matter of choice later on.   That most people stay with the faith of their birth is not surprising.   That many people fight over faith is.

To claim that your faith is the right and only choice is tantamount to claiming that your geography is the right and only place.

A Reverend Pat Robertson or a Reverend John Hagee -- both known to rant and rail about the evils of other faiths in other lands -- are revered by their Christian followers here.  But take them to India or Pakistan, and both would be likely reviled. 

How is it that two ministers serving presumably the one and only God, the God of India and the God of America, could be loved in one place and hated in the other?   And how much sense does it make -- really -- for them to insist their faith is the only way?

As a product of place, religion is not a mere choice.   It depends on birth, culture, geography, and family.  It makes no sense, then, that we try to foist our religious beliefs on Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan, because in so doing, we're asking them to make religion a choice

The same is true for "radical Islamists" who want to wreak havoc on this country in the name of their One, True Way.

No matter how loudly some ministers proclaim their beliefs, no matter how knowledgeable they are about the Bible, no matter how much they rail against other religions, it is highly unlikely Christianity will ever overtake Islam in the Middle East.   

And no matter how badly some imams and ayatollahs want just the opposite, it is equally unlikely that a religion founded on the principles of Muhammed will ever replace a religion founded on the principles of Jesus here.

Funny thing is, most ministers, priests, rabbis and imams -- educated persons, generally -- recognize and acknowledge all this.  Still, many religious leaders remain convinced that their faith is the Only Way. 

Some religious leaders try to enforce and extend their beliefs with intimidation -- and violence.   But damning non-believers to everlasting hellfire, stoning adulterers, or bombing innocent civilians -- all in the name of God -- never achieves conversion and never will.

What we need instead is to recognize that faith starts at birth, and in most cases, the only real choice is adopting a sect or a church.   Even that choice, however, is often cemented -- by longtime family tradition -- before we're ever born.

Though faith may be hard to choose, how we conduct ourselves is all about choice and responsibility.  Some Muslims are moderates; others, radical jihadists.  Some Protestants believe there's no need to be "good stewards" because the End Is Near; others are ardent environmentalists who consider care of Mother Earth a sacred duty. 

Some Baptists abhor dancing.  Some Jews see the Koran as the work of Satan.  Still others embrace the diversity religion offers.

These choices are the important ones: the choices we can make and do.   We choose to fight wars over religion, and we choose to believe "God is on our side" and not the other side.  We choose to cut trees, bulldoze hillsides, and blast the tops of mountains, all in the name of differences over a deity.

In other words, as people of a faith we probably didn't choose, we do choose how to act.  If only we would stop acting like we can change the deeply-engrained, birthright religions of others. 

I know that will probably never happen, but I choose to have faith that it will.

-- Ken Midkiff is a columnist for the Columbia Heart Beat