The bitterness and rage that has followed the US mid-terms should make all Christians pause and reflect. Particularly if we are feeling those emotions towards the other political ‘side’. Whatever the rights and wrongs of the particular political issues, Jesus did not call us to be political prophets, righting the wrongs of the world. He called us to love, and he prayed for his church to be united. I wrote a blog for Christianity magazine to expand on these ideas.
I did a talk about this subject recently, but some of the points are in this article in Christian Today.
Science is given an authority in our culture that often ignores its limitations – this is potentially dangerous. It’s also referred to by people who don’t understand it. Particularly in the social sciences, there are many opportunities for bias and misunderstanding. Take a look!
I wrote an article for Christian Today on the pretty common experience of not feeling God’s presence, or when it comes and goes a lot. In my experience, it’s a common reason why people lose their faith or struggle. Hope it’s interesting and/or helpful!
Kenneth is now an atheist, though once a Wycliffe missionary. He describes what happened at length in his memoir: ‘Why I believed: Reflections of a former missionary’. The book attempts to convince the reader of his arguments against Christianity, and claims that his deconversion was due to ‘weighing the evidence’. Though he says at various points that he is not trying to persuade believers to doubt, this doesn’t tally with his rather sinister invitation at the end of the book: “Consider taking a swim in the waters of unbelief. You won’t be struck by lightening…”
His analysis did not persuade me to doubt my faith. In fact it reminded me of the strength of the intellectual arguments for Christianity. Perhaps that is because of our very different backgrounds.
Kenneth grew up in a supportive but fundamentalist Christian environment, then began to have doubts while at university, which did not go away. Not an unusual story, as university is where we start to think independently from our parents. I think that’s why I was more convinced that God exists at the end of my science degree than when I began. My mind had been opened – though it took some time before I truly adopted Christian faith. But I grew up in a secular environment. Neither of my parents were practising Christians. I came to faith in my late 20s, after a lot of searching. It requires a lot of independent thought, as I’ve written elsewhere, to break out of the secular, atheistic worldview we are immersed in. It takes effort and courage. Becoming a Christian helped me to open my mind further. Though now, I absolutely, without hesitation, believe orthodox Christianity to be true.
Yet, Kenneth took the opposite path. Why? Well, he claims throughout the book that he didn’t want to lose his faith. One reason he cites, is that his family, wife and career are all devoutly Christian. (It’s worth pointing out that his doubts existed before he went to Wycliffe). Kenneth describes heartfelt prayers, spiritual experiences, earnest studying, that he hoped would bring him back to faith. He says that his deconversion was purely because he ‘weighed the evidence’ (p.56).
However, I do not see this careful ‘weighing’ in his book, which leaves me puzzled. He read fairly widely, yet often confidently makes assertions without apparently being aware of some of the counter-arguments. He seems to me, to be trying to convince himself that God’s not real. He also appears to be arguing against a particular kind of Christianity – fundamentalist, creationist etc – rather than the Christianity that I know, which is evangelical, but thoughtful and open. This leads to a whole load of straw men and red herrings for someone who does not identify with “fundamentalist” Christianity. (Though as I point out at the end of this piece, in some ways I think Christians should be more concerned about the fundamentals as Jesus described them).
The objections that Kenneth raises are nothing new. The violence and “un-Christian” commands of the OT, the “conflict” between evolution and creationism, the Biblical “contradictions” or “errors”, the existence of hell, suffering.
I was raised in British culture that sees such problems as insurmountable objections to Christianity, and rarely mentions the Christian point of view. This counter-Christian rhetoric is all over our TVs, in our most popular books, claimed as fact by many of our teachers. Most younger people in the UK now uncritically accept these ideas. For that reason, most committed Christians, especially adult converts, have thought through these objections carefully, and found them to be unfounded or secondary to their experience of Christ in their lives.
So how could these issues have been so devastating for Daniels? I don’t know, but I spot a few interesting possibilities. From a spiritual point of view, on the surface he had everything he needed. He grew up in an apparently loving Christian home, his experiences of Christian community seem to generally have been positive. He must have been covered in prayer, because he was open about his doubts while a missionary.
As to intellectual issues – he appears to have read many of the great Christian apologists. He has definitely thought through the issues to a certain degree. This is too small a space to go into all his objections – reams and reams have been written about all of these things from apologists on both ‘sides’. Kenneth has read fairly widely, but what interests me more, is the underlying assumptions he was holding as he read them. On what basis was he evaluating these arguments, and why? He describes ‘weighing the evidence’, but what scales was he using, why, and what is his criteria for evidence? On page after page of his long book, I found many holes in his arguments, or at least valid critiques. The most common thought I had was: “But you could apply that criticism to atheism too”. (This is a crucial point that I’ll come to later, and it is picked up in the video ‘The Skeptic’s Dilemma’, posted below.)
So what’s the reason Kenneth lost his faith? My hunch is that ultimately, God gives us choices. We choose what we read, and we choose what criteria we will use to adopt our beliefs or reject them. Certainly during my faith journey, there have been a number of crossroads at which I think I could have chosen to turn away from God. I didn’t want to do so. For me, they were more emotional than intellectual. However, my intellectual searching and questioning has helped me to develop my theology and way of understanding my faith – I am a fully ‘intellectually satisfied Christian’ and I see many good rational arguments to believe. But my faith is something more fundamental than just a ‘belief’ or an ‘experience’.
Daniels sometimes expressed a passivity when he was a doubting believer – along the lines of ‘please God, show me that it is true because I want to believe’. I think this is a good prayer to pray. But was it honest? What choices did he make along the way that reflect his heart in the matter?
Daniels writes that he found his faith was on ‘sinking sand’. I suspect he is right. Let’s say that the OT does have errors, and evolution is true – both things I would be open-minded about, to a point. So what? Why does this make anyone doubt the existence of God, and that Jesus is the Son of God and died for us? Why does that lead one to think that the material world is all there is?
Most testimonies of coming to faith are not clear logical arguments from one intellectual position to another (though some do experience intellectually-driven conversions to Christianity). Neither is Daniels’ deconversion. For example, several times his doubts seemed to appear from nowhere and he doesn’t challenge them. If he had applied his ‘doubting’ to his own doubts, he may have had a more balanced rational journey. Yet he seems to accept his doubts as fact, in the same way that others would accept their faith as fact. If only skeptics would be as sceptical of their own beliefs as they are of religious ones.
For example, once Kenneth describes doubts came from observing the evolution of language and then thinking that this is plausibly how species evolution occurred (p.29). I’m at a loss to understand how this could have damaged his faith, it just doesn’t seem logical to me. But then, before my conversion, I read a degree in Molecular Biology, so I understood evolution pretty well to start with. I came to faith with the presumption that evolution was entirely true – it didn’t stop me believing in Christ. Other logical leaps are described in the book that suggest to me that this can’t have been a purely intellectual deconversion, though this is what Kenneth experienced it to be.
There is the odd almighty clanger in the supposed ‘evidence’ against Christianity. It would take a book in itself to challenge all of Kenneth’s arguments in detail, but I choose a select few here:
Clanger 1: “As long as moral behaviour is grounded in the relational consequences of our actions and we can ask ourselves, “what kind of society would result if everyone behaved like me? then no holy text or divine design is necessary to explain or support morality.” (p.164) He spends a long time arguing that you don’t need religion in order to be good. No, he says, we only “need to decide what’s ultimately in our best interest in the long term.” Goodness, as if every terrible act in history hasn’t been done with that in mind! A motivation to stop doing evil because “if everyone did it it would damage society” has not prevented the evils of the world. He’s also assuming quasi-Christian morals. But what about a community in which murder, or rape, or cannibalism, was seen as morally acceptable and pleasing to society? Is that OK because they’ve decided that such behaviour was ‘in their best interest?!’ This naivety at how human beings have decided and enacted their moral codes is worrying. As William Lane Craig simplifies, morality on naturalism is a matter of, “Who says?”
Kenneth also betrays a very legalistic understanding of Christianity. His understanding of how Christianity might help society is to restrain people’s worst instincts by fear or motivation. He says that he regularly prayed for the Holy Spirit to guide him, but says there was no difference to his moral behaviour after he lost his faith. He seems not to have experienced the increases in love, patience etc that the Holy Spirit can bring. (Note, I’m NOT saying he doesn’t have love, patience etc, but I do say that the Holy Spirit can bring breakthroughs in those areas that are not found otherwise – that is my personal experience and that of countless others). It’s not the rules that help real Christians to be moral, it’s the Holy Spirit and a change of heart. Obviously there are lots of half-hearted Christians in the world, as Kenneth is keen to point out. He says that the similar (or worse!) divorce rates among Christian groups compared to outside show this. Yet he’s talking about the US, again, and there are so many confounding variables in these kinds of studies, that make such conclusions are not empirically valid. In my culture, where Christians are in the minority, I can say that though there is much lukewarmness and bad behaviour by Christians – regularly I see, experience and hear about moral breakthroughs that have come from prayer.
Most importantly, he’s missed the real point of the moral argument that he claims to be refuting. The question is, does objective morality exist? Kenneth seems to believe so, as he’s very sure that atheists can be moral, and that his behaviour as an atheist is just as moral as when he was a Christian. So presumably he is happy to define morality as something beyond just what he thinks to be true. If objective morality exists, then how and why? Is it on some metaphysical moral plane that science can’t currently detect? If not, than who says Kenneth’s understanding of what is moral is correct? I suspect that Kenneth has not wrestled with the real dilemma that he faces. Atheistic moral philosophers are very aware of this problem, and are trying to find ways of getting around it, but it is not easily done.
Clanger 2: Prophecies. Warning bells should ring when he recommends to the reader a book written in 1807 on Jesus’s fulfilment of Biblical prophecy. His chapter on this subject begins by arguing Daniel’s apocalypse in chapter 10-12 is not prophecy, but written after the events in the second century BC. He cites the ‘Oxford Companion to the Bible’. He says that there’s no evidence that the book wasn’t written afterwards. Well, maybe not, but using secular assumptions that a genuine prophesy is impossible probably won’t help. It’s a strange place to start, as I don’t know many Christians who find this prophecy to be foundational to their faith.
The really important prophecies to Christians have clear evidence that they were written well before the events prophesied, and Kenneth barely mentions them. As for the most convincing prophesy, tellingly Kenneth limits his comments: “Perhaps… Isaiah 53 was not presented primarily as a prophesy but a series of past events.” (p. 210) and “most of what it refers to is spiritual in nature, so it was possible to apply it to Jesus or any other righteous person who was unjustly executed.” I’ll leave this to readers’ own conclusions – though it’s fair to say that people who are not well acquainted with the life of Jesus will not realise how astonishing Isaiah 53 really is.
Clanger 3: “There is no evidence that any of the authors of these five sources [of the gospels] witnessed any of the events they described.” As Kenneth’s book was written three years later than Richard Bauckham’s ‘Jesus and the eyewitnesses’, the claim there is ‘no evidence’ was, and is, patently incorrect.
These are three examples, but there are more problems with the ‘evidence’ cited in the book.
So, why did Kenneth lose his faith? I can only speculate. I would never attribute it to some great moral failing – everyone suffers from great moral failings of some kind. I did observe some interesting themes throughout the book that might offer some possible routes to understanding.
- He describes not being exposed to secular or atheistic ways of thinking until adulthood, and feeling afraid of reading non-evangelical authors or having his fundamentalist interpretations of Christianity questioned. Obviously, this does not help someone to really explore what they believe and why. Someone who comes from a non-Christian background such as myself, will have had exposure to all these things, and analysed them without ‘fear’. Though I think it would be better for a child to be brought up in the Christian faith, clearly there can be a downside, if they do not encounter the problems that ‘outsiders’ have with the faith, and so consider such ‘doubts’ to be more significant than they really are.
- Often he described being persuaded by a book, just by reading it – whether the author was Christian or atheist. This suggests to me that he tends to take things at face value and accept them, perhaps because of his fundamentalist roots? Though he has clearly thought a lot about the subjects – his childhood non-critical acceptance of what he is told does reveal itself in the adult Kenneth. Mind you, many atheists and Christians are also like this – we all have blind spots of some kind. Lack of critical thinking is as much a problem in atheism as it is in Christianity, and Kenneth displays a lot of rigid thinking.
- He does not fully understand many of the Christian arguments for God. Eg, he is confused re the moral argument, as explained above. He also doesn’t engage with a lot of good Christian arguments for the existence of God, such as the argument from consciousness, and the excellent Christian challenges to atheistic naturalism, such as the Evolutionary Argument Against Naturalism.
- He says he had been brought up with the idea “Christian = good, non-Christian = bad”. This is so easy to refute (and begs questions of what is good, how can we label something Christian etc) that I’m not surprised he was confused.
- Regularly, he cites a potential alternative to the Christian viewpoint, as if it is a damning indictment. Perhaps again, this is a reaction to his upbringing, but to me such possibilities do not undermine my faith. Reasonable atheists and Christians acknowledge the strong points and weaknesses of their own and the other ‘side’ in terms of the rational debate. But I didn’t read Kenneth – once – acknowledging some of the very real problems with atheism and naturalism. He appears to find the unanswered questions or uncertainties of Christianity to be devastating for belief, yet doesn’t see the massive rational problems with his adopted worldview. Yet plenty of atheists are willing to acknowledge, along with Christians, that atheism has many difficulties intellectually.
- To whom do we listen, and why? It’s worth examining our motives and emotions about our choices of what we read and what we believe. On what basis are we evaluating something, and how have we chosen this criteria? And why? Kenneth said: “I came to my present perspective initially against my will, and I persevere in it only because it is genuinely where I believe the evidence leads.” This begs an awful lot of questions. What kind of evidence is he talking about? Why choose that kind of evidence? Isn’t that choice culturally constructed? On atheism and naturalism, how can we trust the cognitive reasoning of our brains in any case? And, is there any such thing as a ‘choice’ as the world has to be scientifically determined? And, the biggie… to the next point
- There is often a blatant inconsistency by which atheists pick holes in arguments for theism or Christianity, yet ignore the holes of the atheistic arguments. This phenomenon is well articulated by David Wood in this talk: The Skeptic’s Dilemma. This summarises what I believe Kenneth does so often in his book.
- We are not just passive accepters of faith. Unless Calvinism is true (I don’t believe so), faith requires decisions of our own making.
- He seems to have picked up quite a lot of rigid assumptions, such as ‘if the Bible is not inerrant, it is worthless’ and ‘if I feel uncertain or doubtful about one area of Christian belief, all other areas are in doubt too’. Having such absolute beliefs without any notion of a ‘middle way’ may not be helpful. I can testify to the fact that it is possible to be a passionate believer, holding to the basics of faith, while still being open-minded about certain issues. Our faith shouldn’t rest on whether or not it’s possible to prove that every piece of our theological system is infallible. Surely, it should rest on the sure foundation of Jesus Christ and His love and sacrifice for us.
- A significant factor preventing Kenneth from rejecting Christianity was the fear of hell if it was true, and the rejection of his family (though they have not rejected him). This reveals quite a legalistic ‘faith’, once again. This kind of fear-based adherence to God can’t be a good thing. Did he really, genuinely, know that God loves him, before his deconversion? It doesn’t sound like it, sadly.
- Very early on in his doubting, he said he didn’t believe Jesus was the Son of God. In fact, I noticed a surprising lack of discussion about Jesus – the book was much more about the religious trappings of the faith. Did he actually know and love Jesus, before he lost his faith? I suspect he would say yes, but the lack of mention does intrigue me. If he had a more Christ-centred hermeneutic to his Bible reading, would this help him to know God?
I once listened to a talk by Michael Ramsden about the ‘ontological grounding’ of the gospel, which I thought was a good way to articulate the reality of a Christian. Essentially, he said that his faith was more than just a belief, more than just a feeling – that it was a way of being, something much more fundamental. Did Kenneth ever experience this? I wonder whether this internal “being” influences our emotions, beliefs and choices – though the influence can go the other direction too? I’ve known a number of people who have converted to Christianity through intellectual means, as well as emotional, spiritual, and other routes. Likewise, people appear to make the trip the other way through these same means. How can we trust our own thoughts, our own logic? If we are nothing but dust, atoms and molecules, material objects – nothing can be trusted. As Plantinga has persuasively argued, atheism is a philosophy that refutes itself. But faith is something more than just matter, thoughts or emotion.
No, I think that there is something much more fundamental going on. The ultimate point of our existence is the acceptance or rejection of God. This is something more than a belief, an experience. It is who we really are.
I’ve just written a piece for Christian Today, reflecting on a recent article by Brandon Withrow. He was brought up in an evangelical home, and had worked in a Christian university. But after what he describes as an ‘intellectual journey’, he has publicly declared he does not believe, and is now a secular humanist. He sounds genuinely heartbroken over this, which I find really sad – even more so as I don’t think it’s necessary.
I’ve probably said all I’d want to say in the piece, so please do go and have a read. But I think it’s really important that those of us who have a ‘thinking’ faith articulate very clearly why we believe – the ‘heart’ reasons and the ‘head’ reasons. There’s no intellectual reason to abandon Christian faith. The only reason to do so is to conform to the dogmatic secularist worldview that most of us are absorbed without even being aware of it.
All weekend I was talking about my story, of why I became a Christian. I was hearing other people’s stories too. People are always interested, especially when you come from a pretty secular background, like myself.
In my old life, I would have thought it hilarious if I’d known that I would become a Christian. But it’s without doubt, the best thing that’s happened to me in my life. The best thing being Jesus.
I used to love to party. I smoked, drank, danced and suchlike. It was fun, at times. But it didn’t bring me a lot of joy. Joy being a more whole happiness – from inside out. Not dependent on situation, friends and nightclubs, but just in my being.
I left a fairly decent newspaper career in my mid-twenties, to try to do something more caring. I worked in mental health for a while. But dropping the gear from the frenetic and boozy world of journalism to the chaotic and humble acute mental health ward prompted a lot of thinking. Why did this suffering go on, and what is the answer to it?
I had a kind of itch inside. I knew I needed something spiritual, but didn’t know what it was. I started exploring various different kinds of faith. Buddhism, paganism, Islam… Christianity would have been the last on my list, because it seemed to be a bit uncool. Really, there was a bit of social stigma about it – a prejudice – that is very prevalent in the liberal left world in which I had inhabited. But hey, I like to swim against the tide. Often that’s how you get to the truth.
When I first started going to church, and reading the gospels, I knew that there was something about Jesus that I wanted. I started seeking, and asking, and knocking. And as Jesus promised, I found. And what I was looking for was love – and the love of our Creator.
You can’t really describe spiritual experiences, you have to know it for yourself. But all I can say is that my worldview changed into one where love was the real meaning behind the universe, and the source of it all was God. Jesus is the visible image of God – how we can understand God and his love for us.
That’s the problem with the world – there’s not enough love. And that’s because we’ve shut ourselves off from the source of that love. That’s the answer I’d been seeking.
That might sound a bit ‘hippy’, but I’ve had seven years of scientific education and I can assure you I’m pretty hard-nosed when it comes to investigating the truth. I spent a long time questioning my beliefs.
Well, the story is an awful lot longer than this. I’ll not going to go into too much more detail. After working in the NHS for a bit, and finding that secular approaches to mental health did not seem to provide the kind of healing that Christian approaches could do (especially for addicts) I thought I’d go back to journalism to pay the bills, and spend more time doing voluntary work rather than taking an NHS cheque.
Journalism in the Christian world is a lot softer and calmer than the mainstream kind. This kinda suits my lifestyle. Plus, whether the NHS or newspapers, I don’t think it’s easy to be a person of faith in those workplaces these days, unless you’re willing to shut off that part of you. And when that part is what makes you tick, then you don’t want to do that.
All I can say is, don’t knock it till you’ve tried it. I think Jesus has his arms open to everyone. You just have to ask him for a hug.
I attended the Evangelists’ Conference in London on Tuesday, with the view to reporting it for Christian Today. Professor John Lennox was the main speaker, and very good he was too.
He took queries from the audience, of questions they’d been asked by atheists or skeptics. I collated ten of these into a short article for Christian Today – click here. Those who like to discuss their faith will find the atheist claims very familiar.
Of course, most of these touch on subjects that could take books and weeks of discussion before they’re even partially resolved. However some of the atheist claims are a bit daft and illogical, so can be answered pretty quickly. Anyway, I hope the article stimulates some thinking and seeking in whoever happens to be reading it.
It was great to see so many people out marching for Climate change around the world last weekend. It’s always good to see a community getting together for a common cause. But will it change anything? I doubt it. Governments already know that a significant minority of their populations are concerned about climate change. What will really change the situation is not going on marches, but changing the way we live.
And, encouragingly for Christians, this way of living is laid out pretty clearly in the Bible. In fact, even if you don’t believe in climate change, if you want to take the Bible seriously, you’ve to live a life that is in agreement with the greenest and most right-on environmental protesters.
Why? Well, anything that is producing carbon and going into the atmosphere, is related to consumption. It’s caused by money, or more to the point, it’s caused by some people having too much money and greed. It’s now the norm for our culture to be going off on foreign holidays via plane, even twice a year, having two cars, changing technology every few months, eating vegetables that were flown from the other side of the world. And what makes all this possible? Having too much cash, and then choosing to spend it on ourselves rather than on helping others. This is a lifestyle that we’re all caught up in in the West, and dealing with it is a lot harder than going on a march. Our societies need root and branch reform, and the Bible is the best place to start. I think this passage is key to the issue:
“Yet true godliness with contentment is itself great wealth. After all, we brought nothing with us when we came into the world, and we can’t take anything with us when we leave it. So if we have enough food and clothing, let us be content.
But people who long to be rich fall into temptation and are trapped by many foolish and harmful desires that plunge them into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is the root of all kinds of evil. And some people, craving money, have wandered from the true faith and pierced themselves with many sorrows.” 1 Tim 6:6-10
How true this Bible quote is. Greed, and the lust for entertainment, stuff, activity and fashion, has lulled us into this situation, where the world’s resources are scarce and we’re wasting them on consumer goods and leisure rather than investing them into people and the planet. We have a model in Jesus, who was so low-impact that he didn’t even have his own house (Luke 9:58). We’re told to be stewards of the Earth and all the living things in it (Gen 1:28). When we think of Matt 25 we normally remember that those who go to eternal punishment are those who have not helped the sick, the imprisoned and the hungry. But Rev 11:18 also points out that those who destroy the earth will be in this group. So if we’re God’s people, then we’ll be caring for people and caring for the Earth too.
Breaking our addiction to consumption, cars, boys toys and all the trappings of the modern world will take a long time. In the same way as an addiction to crack or alcohol, it takes Jesus to fill the hole that the addiction leaves and repair the damage. This in and of itself will direct our attention from entertainment and buying stuff, towards helping others and loving Creation, in all its beautiful variety. We’ll not be working every hour God gives us, but working fewer hours because we’ll need less money: truly we’ll be serving God and not filthy lucre (Matt 6:24). We’ll have more time for our friends and family, and serving our community, even putting on dinner parties for the lost and broken (Luke 14:13). We’ll be able to give away the money we do have to good causes.
I can hear the mini-me Richard Dawkins of the twitter world howling in outrage at what I’ve just said, thinking of the gas-guzzling SUVs and private jets of certain parts of the Christian community, especially in America. But it’s not our job to shout at them, it’s our job to lead by example. And perhaps we need to get the log out of our own eye, before we can help others get the speck out of theirs (Matt 7:3-5). We need more than shifting to a green tariff, reusing plastic bags and buying recycled paper, to get the almighty, rotten trunk out of our own eyes.
Living a life worthy of that 1 Tim passage, and to be content with just having enough food and clothing to survive, is radically different from our Western culture. But as the ancient monks and nuns discovered, it can leave more space for what’s really good, and what’s really God. After all, it’s His Earth, not ours.
The British Humanist Association has just launched a new advertising campaign on the London Underground. Under the heading, “What’s it all for?” the posters feature quotes from atheists such as AC Grayling and novelists like Virginia Woolf. Partly it’s to rival BBC Radio 4’s ‘Thought for the day’ which continues to be religious.
I rang up the chief executive of the BHA this morning, Andrew Copson. He was more friendly than the folk in certain other secularist organisations. It was an interesting exercise in conversing with someone from a different point of view, while asking my questions about the campaign.
I think most Christians would say that there is very little broadcasting that they can relate to as Christians: what little there is, such as Songs of Praise, is often designed more for the older generation, or can come from a very liberal point of view. I suspect other religions might feel the same. But it seems that this feeling is the same for humanists.
This surprises me, because to me, almost everything on TV and radio has an underlying humanist worldview and secularist assumptions, which are definitely not neutral. I’d love to see some quantitative evidence of to what extent religious and humanist views are expressed on TV, and whether they’re given a positive or negative light.
In any case, the conversation did help me to understand this guy’s point of view, at least a little bit. Perhaps we all notice opinions that are different to ours much more often than we do our own. The difficult thing is to communicate with the people holding those opinions, but that’s the way we come to understand each other.
It’s been an interesting spectacle, to watch the fame of the New Atheists such as Richard Dawkins rise in the last decade, and then a little sad to observe that in recent years they have become increasingly offensive. It’s no longer just believers who are offended, it’s women, people with disabilities, and many others.
I wrote an article for Christian Today yesterday about the latest offence from Sam Harris: that women’s “Estrogen Vibe” led them to be less interested in his books. It didn’t go down very well and feminists expressed their irritation on the hashtag #EstrogenVibe. The article contains a short summary of offensive comments from the New Atheists.
Of course there are plenty of Christians out there who cause offence, too. But those people generally are not put on pedestals, at least in the UK. I am starting to feel sorry for the atheists. They seem genuinely unaware of why what they say is offensive, and really believe that their approach is the rational and right one.
Perhaps that is the problem: that when we become proud of how intelligent we are (or we think we are), then it naturally lends itself to being insensitive to others. The mark of a humble person is often their soft and non-judgemental attitude, and they’re the least likely to cause offence. It’s a virtue that is valued in some religious circles, and perhaps it needs more popularity outside, too.
What do you worship? What can’t you live without? It might be your fast car, lipstick or your football team. It might be your new house, your carefully selected wardrobe or your TV. It might even be your partner or your job. I think that making a list of these things can really help us to learn spiritually.
If we look at Jesus, we see someone whose only priorities were loving people and his Father. He told us in Matthew 8:20 that he had ‘no place even to lay his head’. He was homeless, and without possessions. He was supported by some disciples, we learn in Luke, and he was blessed with other people’s perfumes and hospitality. But his life was one of pure simplicity: loving, teaching and serving.
If this is our model, we can question some of our attachments to things of this world. Are we actually addicted to our techology and our material possessions? An alcoholic can’t live without his drink – what’s the difference with being attached to other kinds of material objects? What would happen if everything went up in smoke – the computers, the DVDs, the clothes and the cars?
Perhaps material objects were meant only to serve us and help us in our life – but we’re in a situation where most of us are serving them instead. I love this which flies round social media now and then:
We were created to
Love people and use things
The world is in a mess because
We are loving things and using people
The less stuff we have and need, the more we can give to others: of money and time for example. The less time we spend buying and earning, the more time we can spend loving. Let’s follow the example of Jesus, and worship only the Father, and seek our treasure in heaven alone. God is the only thing worthy of worship, after all.
I am interested in politics, but it worries me how tribal it is. As if one side has all the answers. I guess I used to be very tribal – a real leftie. But I’ve learned the error of my ways. Do you hate any political parties? UKIP? Socialists? Anyone?
It’s not that I don’t think Christians should be into politics, but the minute we start throwing stones at the other side, we need to stop and think. Here’s a comment piece I wrote for Christian Today: “Why political tribalism is bad for the soul”
I don’t think it’s the political colour that matters – people just generally like to move in tribes, and once we are in that tribe, the terrible temptation is to condemn and look down on others. We all do it, but it poisons our hearts.