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Faith Isn't a Choice: Influences of Belief

Faith is no choice.

Faith is not a matter of choice, but it is a result of multiple uncontrollable factors. There are numerous aspects in someone’s life that can turn them to or away from faith, such as their parents’ beliefs, environment, biology, prior knowledge, and what circumstances they live through.

Childhood Influences

Parents have a large control over the amount of religious exposure a child has when during childhood. They can choose to share with their child baby bible stories, send them to bible school, or do neither. In addition, the amount of emphasis parents place on religion will likely be passed onto the child as well. A child growing up with a parent who consistently attends church or forms a significantly close relationship with their faith will very likely have religion a large part of their adult life as well.


Cultural Influences

The environment outside the household is also a factor of faith. There are many aspects of life that insinuate morality and religious faith are synonymous; people absorb this message unconsciously and are “strongly [discouraged against] personal secularity” (Niose). The United States is a very common perpetrator of this; the Pledge of Allegiance states the country is “one nation under God”, and the national motto of “In God We Trust” has been marked publically on the currency since 1957 (History). Historically, the common idea that the United States is a “Christian nation” and must uphold righteous values has been so influential on the population, it has resulted in some religion-influenced legislation before, such as Prohibition. It’s nearly impossible to avoid this subliminal idea that ethics and faith are connected. The message that faith and morality are correlated with each other is virtually ingrained in the American culture. People also unconsciously absorb the idea that the inverse, personal secularity and amorality are correlated. This effectively unconsciously steers some people from atheism.

Historical and Biological Influences

In addition to environment and parents, past knowledge and logic can also have a large influence on what someone can believe as well. According to David Niose, atheism is the “result of brain function combined with access to knowledge, information, and a social setting allowing disbelief” (Niose). There are more atheists today compared to the past because “it would have been harder to be an atheist hundreds of years ago, when so many mysteries about the universe had not been answered” (Niose). Religion has frequently been used as a comfort and to explain the unknown. For example, ancient Greeks used their myths of gods, Titans, and creatures to explain many aspects of the physical world around them. When there was a season change, it was not caused by the angle the earth rotates on as it revolves around the sun but by Demeter’s reactions to her separation or reunion with her daughter. As the average person does not have any control over what extent humanity understands the world around them, this is another uncontrollable influence on faith.

Biology is yet another uncontrollable aspect. In his study of the relationship between religion and genetics, Brian M. D’Onofrio explained that “religious attitudes and practices are moderately influenced by genetic factors” (D’Onofrio). Likewise, the study demonstrated that fifty percent of the “personal religiousness [of an individual] can be explained by a genetic disposition” (Tix; D’Onofrio).


The Influences of Age and Knowledge

No one has beliefs that stay stagnant l through their entire lives. A child may believe in Santa when he’s five, but he probably won’t when he’s thirteen. What explains this change in beliefs, if it’s not choice? Circumstances or gains in knowledge will affect someone’s beliefs. The toddler can easily believe in Santa Claus while the thirteen-year-old cannot because the adolescent has a good enough understanding of the physical world to realize a fat man giving gifts to every child in the world through their chimney during one night is actually impossible. One could argue that knowledge results from one choosing to educate themselves, and as a result, people have control over any changes of faith that the new knowledge created. However, this is false; there is still no choice here since someone cannot force themselves to believe a statement that contradicts prior knowledge. If someone knows with absolute certainty that dogs have four legs and one tail, they cannot be convinced that a creature with six legs and two tails is a dog.

There are multiple aspects that can directly affect someone’s faith, but none of these aspects are in the control of the individual. A child has no input on how they are raised and the extent faith is emphasized during their childhood. A citizen cannot control how often their country corresponds morality and faith either. Likewise, no person has any say in what their genetics predispose them to either. There is a lot of influences that combine to affect someone’s faith, but choice is not one of them.


Works Cited

D’Onofrio, Brian M., et al. “Understanding Biological and Social Influences on Religious Affiliation, Attitudes, and Behaviors: A Behavior Genetic Perspective.” Journal of Personality, Blackwell Publishers Inc, 25 Dec. 2001, onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/1467-6494.00079/abstract.


“History of 'In God We Trust'.” U.S. Department of the Treasury, www.treasury.gov/about/education/Pages/in-god-we-trust.aspx.


Niose, David. "Disbelief Is Not a Choice." Psychology Today. Sussex Publishers, 12 Sept. 2011. Web. 08 Aug. 2017. <https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/our-humanity-naturally/201109/disbelief-is-not-choice?collection>.


Tix, Andy. “The New Psychology of Atheism.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 21 Mar. 2016, www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-pursuit-peace/201603/the-new-psychology-atheism.

© 2018 Christina Garvis

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