Are we merely the product of where we live?

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, especially when contemplating where to move outside of New York and observing the different subcultures I’ve come across in my travels.  While growing up on Long Island, my introverted nature turned me into something of a recluse, too proud of my individualism to run with the herd and participate in the myriad of strange cliques that surrounded me.  I was always the fish who swam the other way.

It made me wonder though: was I really such an anomaly, or were there others like me who only behaved the way they did, not because they were being true to themselves, but so they could fit in and not risk being alone?

When I traveled, in all the places I visited it seemed like everyone was like everyone else.  In places like Seattle, everyone was a hippie and a liberal.  In the Bible Belt, everyone was a conservative, church going Christian.  So if I wanted to be with people that were like me, it would just be a matter of going where they were, and I’d be happy right?

But I started getting uncomfortable with the thought that people only evolved to become who they were not out of individual choice, but because that was the culture they grew up in.  If you were born and raised in Utah, you likely became Mormon.  If you were born and raised in California, you likely became a surfer dude.  If you were born and raised in Wyoming, you became a cowboy (or at the very least, not a city slicker.)

So that’s it? We’re nothing more than the environment we wind up living in?  What if my parents had been Muslims instead of Christians, would I have grown up to be a Muslim too?  Are the convictions I hold in life really based on the choices I make, or did I simply inherit them?

That’s when I started to realize what was bothering me about some of the places I’ve visited, particularly the south.  Despite people who had the same political leanings and Christian beliefs I did, something was off.  And it occurred to me that despite the appearances of camaraderie, I still had nothing in common with them, because their livelihoods and Christianity were not borne out of conviction, but out of social expediency.  Their culture was steeped in conservative, Baptist tradition, and yet the Bible Belt culture did very little to change the true nature of man.  That’s why there was the paradox of encountering people who quote Bible verses while, for example, cooking meth.  It was part of the culture they grew up in, but it didn’t change who they were. They were just schools of fish, swimming the same way.  The monolithic culture was a facade.

That’s why I tend to regard people who “profess” the name of Christ with a heavy degree of suspicion.  Do they really believe that, or was that simply how they were brought up?  It’s easier to believe one is a Christian living in an Islamic country than if they were living in Alabama, because despite the enormous collective pressure to be Muslim, they rebuffed it, often at the risk of their very lives.  They didn’t go along to get along, they specifically chose a different path.  Those are the kind of people I think I have the most in common with, the ones who are true to themselves.

Being a true individual I think carries with it the burden of being a stranger in a strange land, and if my goal was to move only to find people who were like-minded as me, I would never be happy.  Instead, I find contentment in accepting who I am, and that I will always be the square peg who can never fit in with the circle of the world.  Once I learned to accept that, I realized my happiness doesn’t have to rely on being surrounded by people who shared the same convictions and beliefs I did.

11 Responses to Are we merely the product of where we live?

  1. Simone February 1, 2015 at 10:24 AM #

    I believe there are two types of contentment. There’s your type of contentment of accepting you are not a part of the mind-washed populace, and then there’s the other type: People who are content wallowing around in the muck. These are the people who prefer to let someone else drive the car. These ‘wallowers’ find it easier to latch onto someone else’s ideals because they are too lazy to think for themselves. Societies flourish when people are desperate for change. Societies diminish when people become content with their environment. Can you imagine having been a product of your environment during the Renaissance? Me thinks that Michelangelo, Machiavelli, Leonardo et al were perhaps less than content with their surroundings and more content with their belief in their own ability to accept who they were. Sometimes, all it takes is a good kick in the ass for people to remember that we crawled ourselves out of the muck millions of years ago. Frank, please continue to be a square peg and write a book already. I’d read it.

    • Frank Swift February 2, 2015 at 12:46 PM #

      Thanks Simone, writing a book has always been on the bucket list, something I hope I can cross off one day soon.

  2. ava February 8, 2015 at 9:35 AM #

    => So that’s it? We’re nothing more than the environment we wind up living in? What if my parents had been Muslims instead of Christians, would I have grown up to be a Muslim too?

    probably yes.

    => Are the convictions I hold in life really based on the choices I make, or did I simply inherit them?

    well, have you ever questioned your religion? I mean serious questioning and examining from the general claims to the tiny little details. have you? what were your questions? have you ever researched other religions to the same extend that you researched christianity? probably not, which means that your choice of religion is biased to say the least. what are the reasons that convinced you that christianity is true? what if one day you realized that these clams were not true, would you still hold on to your religion and adjust your reasoning to fit that conclusion, or would you rather change the conclusion?

    I’m not attacking you, I’m just asking some honest questions :)

    • Frank Swift February 8, 2015 at 2:32 PM #

      Sure, we’re all just asking questions here. ;)

      I think my honest examination is why I’m so much at odds with the rest of Christianity today. Very little of constitutes Christianity today has any resemblance to the literal teachings of the Bible. It also contains 1/3 prophecy, and the fastest way to destroy any credibility is for a religion to make outrageous prophetic claims left and right that later turn out to be disproven, so the tendency in any belief system is to minimize predictions of the future. Yet the Bible is virtually wall to wall prophecy, making it unique amongst the world religions. It also has the historical and archeological support that other religions do not, it’s been preserved with a fervor that left us with thousands of manuscripts to draw from (as opposed to works like Aesop’s Fables in which only a handful of dated manuscripts survived). It continues to map our trajectory and cuts to the core of our fallen nature, so much that what was written thousands of years ago still remains just as true today as it was back then.

      I also believe deep down we all know the truth, and our gravitation towards whatever popular religion that influences the environment we grow up in rather than looking beyond that for the truth is a reflection of our fallen nature. “Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things.” — Romans 1

  3. ava February 9, 2015 at 9:55 AM #

    from your answer it’s pretty evident that your examination of christianity was limited to reading christian books about christianity written by christians. I actually believe you your intentions in the examination were honest, I just don’t think it was intelectually honest. There are probably many muslims that were born into Islam, and they ‘examined’ their religion by reading muslim books explaining how Islam is the only true religion.

    you say that ‘deep down we all know the truth’, well isn’t that odd that that truth seems to be so strongly correlated with where you were born?

    you say that most of the people were born into their religion, and they keep it more as their cultural reference than a true belief. you’re probably right to some extend, but there are also many others that truly believe that the religion they were born into is the only true religion. And yet they are of different religions, so at least some of them must be wrong. The only intellectually honest inquiry of the truth is when you put aside your default position and examine it from all angles, listen to both sides of the story. that truth can stand questioning.

    again, don’t take it the wrong way. I’m just pointing out some logical inconsistencies, that’s all.

    • Frank Swift February 9, 2015 at 10:19 AM #

      By your assertion you’d have to spend a lifetime researching millions of religions and then deciding between them all. That’s crazy talk, nobody can do that. I believe God brings the truth to those of us who are willing to receive it. Intellectuality can only get you so far. If a child can grasp the truth and become saved, the truth isn’t nearly as hard to find as we think it is. I don’t think you’re giving God enough credit here.

    • ava February 9, 2015 at 10:38 AM #

      then you have no right to call out others for merely ‘inheriting’ their religion. you’re just no different.

    • Frank Swift February 9, 2015 at 10:40 AM #

      LOL, if I had truly inherited my religion i would have became Catholic.

    • ava February 9, 2015 at 10:45 AM #

      catholicism is a christian denomination. that’s still the same religion.

    • Frank Swift February 9, 2015 at 11:21 AM #


  4. ava February 9, 2015 at 9:57 AM #

    *THE truth can stand questioning, not THAT truth.

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