Browsing articles in "atheism"
Dec 16, 2014
neil

Why without Christmas there can be no dignity, liberty or equality

Oak Hill College in London invited me to contribute the following short article (part 1 features in this post)  to their winter 2014 edition of Commentary.

Our pattern for compassion

Richard Dawkins can’t stay out of the headlines for long. Mostly recently, Dawkins has caused a stir when tweeting in reply to a woman expressing her moral dilemma. What would she do if she discovered she was pregnant carrying a child with Down’s syndrome? Dawkins volunteered his judgement and his answer is a sobering one; ‘abort it and try again. It would be immoral to bring it into the world if you have a choice.’ A considerable disquiet ensued and Dawkins offered a speedy clarification writing it would be ‘immoral from the point of view of the child’s own welfare.’ There is an obvious and evident lack of compassion in Dawkins’ reductionist argument. But as he is quick to point out his argument is a rational response from his atheistic perspective. ‘Those who took offence because they know and love a person with Down’s syndrome, and who thought I was saying that their loved one had no right to exist, I have sympathy for this emotional point, but it is an emotional one not a logical one.’

Compassion: An unexpected virtue

At the other end of the Atheistic spectrum is author Bruce Sheiman. His book, An Atheist Defends Religion, certainly has a title designed to grab your attention and Sheiman’s book is unusual in its defence of religion. We might go so far as to say a lone voice amidst the hubbub of a more militant atheism vocal in its refusal to recognise that religion is capable of making any positive contribution to advancing the welfare of human-kind. So why is Sheiman moved to write a more generous estimation of a life lived for God? Not least because he recognises that Christ’s coming into the world paved the way for a brand new view of humanity. Apart from Jesus the world would have looked very different. In his historical survey Sheiman concludes that before Christianity ‘a commitment to human dignity, personal liberty, and individual equality did not previously appear in any other culture.’ It was a distinctly Christian view of humanity that led to a radical acceptance of the place and need of others. ‘Once we see ourselves as free individuals, and to the extent that we understand that we are all creatures of one God, we understand that freedom and dignity are the right of all people.’ Here’s an observation from outside of the church – Jesus’ followers committed to seeing the world differently and that included how they chose to view and treat others, especially those in need. In this article I want to explore briefly one particular expression of that impact – the place of compassion. Put simply, the gospel calls on us to feel something for those who are less fortunate than ourselves and that in turn leads to action.

Compassion: The supreme virtue

Jesus saw people as no-one had ever seen them. C.H. Spurgeon said ‘If you would sum up the whole character of Christ in reference to ourselves, it might be gathered into this one sentence, “He was moved with compassion.” And J.C. Ryle observes ‘It is a curious and striking fact, that of all the feelings experienced by our Lord when upon the earth, there is none so often mentioned as “compassion”. Nine times over the Spirit has caused the word ‘compassion’ to be written in the Gospels.’ The Bible word we translate as compassion describes, first of all a feeling, an emotion that comes from the heart (or more literally the bowels!) and so Jesus was moved by feelings of concern and sympathy. Those feelings compelled him to come to the aid of those in need. A quick word-search and we might remember the compassion Jesus showed an ostracized leper when he not only healed but first touched the unclean man (Mark 1:40-42), or his decision to delay his entrance into Jerusalem because of the cry of two blind men (Matt. 20:29-34). Jesus weeps with Mary and Martha over the death of Lazarus (John 11:32-36) and he is moved more by the fate of those who stood under God’s judgement than his own on his journey to the cross (Matt.23:37). There never was a heart like his.

Nov 7, 2014
neil

Maybe you should just bring people to church after all!

Trevin Wax has written a thoughtful post on the witness of the church as community to the gospel and its power to help overcome barriers to belief. It’s not a easy read and the key conclusion I’ve quoted in full below but do check out the article here to understand his argument more fully.

The classical approach of apologetics is to present rational proofs for God’s existence, and then from this point to argue for the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and His resurrection. Classical apologetics is beneficial in the effort to show that Christianity is true, but if Taylor is right, then one is already likely to accept or reject reasons for belief before they ever hear them because the greater story [their scientific materialist worldview] is already conditioning them to accept or reject “proofs” of God’s existence and the truth of Christianity.

Perhaps this is why one of the best ways to engage an unbeliever is simply to invite them to church. Lesslie Newbigin spoke of the people of God as a “community apologetic.” It’s not that the church replaces other, rational strategies and arguments for belief in God. It’s that the church becomes the atmosphere, the teller of a better story, a story whose truth begins to work on the heart of a non-religious person, conditioning them for the moment when the classical apologetics “proofs” are then used by the Holy Spirit to confirm the belief He has already initiated in them.

Christians today should make use of the various tools we have at our disposal in order to persuade people to follow Jesus. But let’s not leave out the world where God’s good news comes alive – the people of God who corporately witness to a kingdom that has no end. It may be that the best apologetic for a secular age is a people who are in this world but not of it, who counter the rugged rationalist with the true story of new world which began on a Sunday morning outside Jerusalem.

Oct 31, 2014
neil

‘Christianity is getting hard to control in China’

Fascinating article in the Economist on growing numbers in the church,  growing confidence of the church and growing persecution by the state of the church in China.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(HT: Chris Green)

Oct 10, 2014
neil

How to respond to 10 top atheist claims

A helpful guide to offering quick responses to the claims atheists make

 

 

 

 

 

 

(HT: Paul Rees)

Apr 18, 2014
neil

Is Richard Dawkins leading people to Jesus?

Fascinating article on the Telegraph web site on the intellectual bankruptcy of the new atheism espoused by Dawkins.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Worth a reading this weekend is this Spectator article on the inability of atheism to provide a foundation for morality and ethics. In Douglas Murray’s piece ‘Can human life be sacred in a post-Christian world?’ his honest answer is ‘it’s disturbingly hard to say so.’

(HT: Tony Watkins)

 

Dec 7, 2013
neil

The attraction of atheism

The Nobel prize winning Polish poet Czeslaw Milosz writes in his essay ‘The Discreet Charm of Nihilism’;

A true opium of the people is a belief in nothingness after death, the huge solace of thinking that for our betrayals, greed, cowardice, murders we are not going to be judged. The Marxist creed has now been inverted. The true opium of modernity is the belief that there is no God, so that humans are free to do precisely as they please.

(HT: Martin Ayers)

Oct 11, 2013
neil

David Mitchell on why atheism isn’t the answer

(HT: Ben Desmond)

Oct 1, 2013
neil

Three atheists who think the world needs Christianity

Former editor of the Sunday Telegraph, Dominic Lawson, recently reviewed a book by Harvard Professor, Niall Ferguson entitled Civilisation: The West and the Rest.  In his review Lawson includes a remarkable quote from a member of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (which describes itself as  ‘the highest academic research organization in the fields of philosophy and social sciences as well as a national center for comprehensive studies in the People’s Republic of China‘). Here is what the Chinese have discovered:

One of the things we were asked to look into was what accounted for the success, in fact, the pre-eminence of the West all over the world. We studied everything we could from the historical, political, economic, and cultural perspective. At first, we thought it was because you had more powerful guns than we had. Then we thought it was because you had the best political system. Next we focused on your economic system. But in the past twenty years, we have realised that the heart of your culture is your religion: Christianity. That is why the West is so powerful.

Why?

The Christian moral foundation of social and cultural life was what made possible the emergence of capitalism and then the successful transition to democratic politics. We don’t have any doubt about this.

Now the Chinese are not alone in reaching this conclusion.  Bruce Sheiman in his book An Atheist Defends Religion writes about the impact of Jesus on our world. Christianity he says introduced:

A commitment to human dignity, personal liberty, and individual equality did not previously appear in ANY other culture.

What you and I take for granted, living as we do in the UK, has its origins in Christianity and the Christian worldview.

Matthew Parris writing in the Times talked of his own return to Africa after 45 years away and concluded;

travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I’ve been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

Christianity has made a massive difference to our world.

Aug 16, 2013
neil

What Christians must learn from the ‘new atheists’ if only we will listen

Two articles in the past week, both on the Telegraph website, highlight the growing embarrassment that so many atheists find with the posturing of Richard Dawkins.

Brendon O’Neill confesses that ‘things are now so bad that I tend to keep my atheism to myself’ in his article How atheists became the most colossally smug and annoying people on the planet.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Matthew Norman writes in his piece Come in Agent Dawkins, your job is done, ’as one who became a devout atheist at the age of nine’ but also asks  ’is there any stronger argument against the existence of a benign deity today than the existence of Richard Dawkins?’

 

 

 

 

It seems to me there are many lessons for  Christians to learn from these articles. Let’s fill our apologetic with love and compassion as well as contending for truth. Let’s also watch out for the pride and posturing in our words that do nothing to commend our cause.

Jun 16, 2013
neil

Atheism has failed says Chief Rabbi

Fascinating article in this week’s Spectator from Jonathan Sacks,the chief Rabbi on the failure of atheism to find an answer to the question ‘why be good?’

I have not yet found a secular ethic capable of sustaining in the long run a society of strong communities and families on the one hand, altruism, virtue, self-restraint, honour, obligation and trust on the other. A century after a civilisation loses its soul it loses its freedom also. That should concern all of us, believers and non-believers alike.

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