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There is much truth to this statement. No one decides or acts in total isolation. Many social factors influence our choices and our practice of religion. We are continually affected by both our past upbringing and our present environment. Yet this sort of social conditioning does not preclude genuine freedom of choice in religion, or in anything else. We are never simply bound by our influences; we live in dynamic interaction with them.

There are many people, however, who hold to their religion (or irreligion) simply because they were brought up in it or becasue they have succumbed to the pressure of a peer group. Others come to a specific faith through manipulative, "mind bending" techniques that violate personal integrity. But these factors do not account for all cases of conversion or religious experience.

There are also authentic religious choices. People often consciously and intelligently choose to go against their upbringing or peer group. Many are personally convinced of the truth of their own religion and have committed themselves wholeheartedly to it.

This is the Christian ideal. Genuine Christian conversion depends neither on the suddenness of the commitment nor on the intensity of accompanying emotion. Authentic faith is as distinct from the passive acceptance of tradition as it is from teh eager grasping at passing fads. While it is often initially hesitant and full of doubts, it grows and matures into a sustained, reasoned trust in God, with life changing results.

This last point is crucial. Without a transformed life, faith is useless. Religious experience with a growing change in behaviour and character is simply not Christianexperience. "By their fruits you shall know them," said Jesus (Matt. 7:16) may contextually appeal to false teachers but there is an overiding principle involved here. Good roots make good fruit! Christ emphasized repentance, the radical turning from evil to good, the renunciation of falsehood and the embracing of truth.

This is a stringent demand. By this criterion, many who call themselves Christian would be excluded. Socialization and conditioning are simply not enough. Radical commitment is required.

But commitment cannot stand alone. In the final analysis Christianity is concerned with the issue of truth. And this is the test for every commitment. Is God there or is He not? Does he have a demand on our lives? Who is Jesus Christ? What is the significance of his death? Did he rise from the dead? Does the Christian answer to the question of life's meaning really make the best sense of our experience? And there are many other important questions that invite serious investigation.

The challenge to each of us, then is not to passively acquiesce in our own social conditioning, but to actively seek to know the truth about the universe and act accordingly.

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