Browsing articles in "atheism"
Mar 5, 2012
neil

It’s not really about gay marriage

Peter Mullen writing in the Telegraph argues that behind the debate about same-sex marriage is a much bigger clash of ideas.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

(HT: David Robertson)

Feb 29, 2012
neil

The most horrific thing I have read in a very, very long time

Just when I thought it was impossible to be shocked any more…

 

 

 

 

 

 

(HT: Christine Happ)

Feb 27, 2012
neil

What’s the best answer a Christian can give to an atheist?

What might just persuade our friends to embrace the gospel of Christ? I guess that depends on what we think is stopping them.  Our apologetic (defense) of Christianity largely revovles around answering various questions; Are the gospels reliable, what about other religions, suffering, etc…

But Doug Wilson wonders whether we’ve really understood the nature of unbelief? Can I suggest that next time you chat to a self-confessed atheist why not ask them this question ‘Do you hope that God is there?’ and it might reveal the true nature of the problem. Their answer might well reveal that behind intellectual doubts, at it’s heart unbelief is a heart issue rather than an issue of the head.

Wilson takes us to Romans 1 and reminds us that unbelief is really a suppression of the truth because of a hearts desire to rebel against God and his word. People in some sense don’t believe because they don’t want to believe.

What them should we do? How should our theology drive our apologetic? Doug Wilson asks us to aim at the heart in our apologetics because that is the heart of problem. When the Christian community learns to love God by demonstrating a deep gratitude for all that we have received from him that has persuasive power. From a  man who debated Christopher Hitchens on more than one occasion its a helpful reminder. And after all wasn’t it Francis Scaheffer who said ‘the greatest apologetic of all is love’.

 

Feb 25, 2012
neil

A must-read piece by Matthew Parris ‘As an unbeliever my sympathies are with fundamentalists’

In this Spectator article Parris is, as always, uniquely insightful on matters of faith and refuses to see the wisdom offered by those who find religion useful without a personal belief in God.

‘As I get older the sharpness of my faculties begins to dull. But what I will not do is sink into a mellow blur of acceptance of the things I railed against in my youth. ‘Familiar’ be damned. ‘Comforting’ be damned. ‘Useful’ be damned. Is it true? — that is the question. It was the question when I was 12 and the question when I was 22. Forty years later it is still the question. It is the only question.’

Feb 22, 2012
neil

Janet Daley reflects on what turned out to be a bad week for Atheism

Janet Daley in the Telegraph a couple of days ago reflects on why the last week was a bad week for atheism

Dec 27, 2011
neil

When God is gone who do we worship? ‘Dr. Who’ reports the Guardian

Stephen Kelly, in an article entitled Does Dr. Who feature a god for our times assesses how a country that has turned its back on its God(s) resorts to making up new ones.

The article concludes

And that’s just it, isn’t it? In the absence of an interventionist God, people simply make their own. After all, when presented with such an abyss, you fill it with whatever you can. Even if that does happen to mean someone who now thinks bow-ties are cool.

As GK Chesterton once said

For when we cease to worship God, we do not worship nothing, we worship anything.

Dec 26, 2011
neil

It’s hard to be an atheist at Christmas

The problem with atheism is that as ideas go it’s a perennial underachiever – the Tim Henman, if you will, in the world of ideas. Wherever it has been tried it has been found wanting, not least because as a ‘negative’ philosophy it is unliveable and unloveable. The absence of belief in a transcendent reality finally collapses into a celebration of nothingness.

So what is an atheist to do? Alain de Botton has hit on an idea – why not should steal all the good ideas from the world of religious belief and pass them off as your own.

De Botton, author of soon to be published Religion For Atheists, has written a piece for the Guardian in which he comments that ‘Religions are intermittently too useful, effective and intelligent to be abandoned to the religious alone‘ and that therefore ‘the wisdom of the faiths belongs to all of mankind, even the most rational among us, and deserves to be selectively reabsorbed.’

It doesn’t take much by way of intelligence to recognise that there is nothing particularly rational about such a statement. After all ethical ideals depend upon reasonable foundations for believing them and compelling reasons for protecting them. Atheism is a denial that any such foundations exist and so any morality or virtue is so to speak built on sand and so easily swept away. Unlike de Botton, the New Atheists recognise that religious ideas cannot simply be stuck on.

Yet atheists who have experienced  and benefited from the values they have inherited from Christianity find it so hard to let them go.

Roger Scrutton in An Intellegent Person’s Guide to Philosophy admits;

The ethical vision of our nature gives sense to our lives. But it is demanding. It asks us to stand up to judgement. We must be fully human, while breathing the air of angels; natural and supernatural at once.

A community that has survived its gods has three options. It can find some secular path to the ethical life. Or it can fake the higher emotions, while living without them. Or it can give up pretending, and so collapse, as Burke put it, into the ‘dust and powder of individuality’. These are the stark choices that confront us, and the rest of this book defends the first of them – the way of high culture, which teaches us to live as if our lives mattered eternally.

As yet, I offer no philosophical justification for taking this apparently objectivist stance. For the moment, it is enough that, in practice, it seems to work.

One hopes, as a Christian, that such thinkers who find the fence they sit on so uncomfortable will land safely on the side of the God who alone makes life liveable.

Dec 20, 2011
neil

Will Dawkins succeed in ‘destroying Christianity’?

In an interview with Christopher Hitchens in the Christmas Double Edition of the New Statesman, guest editor, Richard Dawkins, speculates as to what would happen if he and the new atheists succeed in ‘destroying Christianity‘.

Well it certainly looks as if he’s got some way to go in his attempts. The Pew Forum’s recent Report on the Size and Distribution of the World’s Christian Population shows that as of 2010 Christianity is the world’s largest religion (2.18 billion)and accounts for one third of the global population. A proportion that has remained unchanged despite 100 years of secularisation and oppression of Christianity in communist countries.

 

 

Dec 17, 2011
neil

Is David Cameron right to call Britain a Christian country?

On the same day that the nation woke up to the news that Christopher Hitchens had died our Prime Minister gave a speech in Oxford to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the King James Bible.

That these two items of news should have followed on from one another on the BBC 10 o’clock news was striking.

Hitchens in his book God is not great argued that religion poisons everything. For Hitchens religion is not just wrong it is dangerous and damaging to society.

Cameron’s speech flatly contradicted everything Hitchens stood for when he said:

We are a Christian country. And we should not be afraid to say so.

So who is right?

It is important to read Cameron’s speech in full to understand what he is and isn’t saying.

1. He was NOT saying that the majority of people in our country are Christians (although we should not entirely disregard the fact that in the 2001 census 71% of the British population chose to define themselves as Christian). It is not particularly clear in what sense Cameron regards himself as a Christian for example.

2. Nor was he saying that Britain as a Christian country is intolerant of people of other faiths. Quite the opposite it is Christian countries that have demonstrated a tolerance for other faiths.

Cameron notes:

Those who say being a Christian country is doing down other faiths simply don’t understand that it is easier for people to believe and practise other faiths when Britain has confidence in its Christian identity.

The tolerance that Christianity demands of our society provides greater space for other religious faiths too.

That could certainly not be said of Muslim countries where freedom to convert from Islam to Christianity is illegal and those who do face severe sanctions.

And although I have no way of assessing his claim it was striking that Cameron also said:

Many people tell me it is much easier to be Jewish or Muslim here in Britain than it is in a secular country like France.

What was Cameron’s point then?

Essentially it was this:

The Bible has helped to shape the values which define our country. Indeed, as Margaret Thatcher once said, “we are a nation whose ideals are founded on the Bible.”

Responsibility, hard work, charity, compassion, humility, self-sacrifice, love, pride in working for the common good and honouring the social obligations we have to one another, to our families and our communities these are the values we treasure.

Yes, they are Christian values. And we should not be afraid to acknowledge that.

So David Bentley Hart in his work Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and its fashionable enemies rightly concludes:

Even the most ardent secularists among us generally cling to notions of human rights, economic and social justice, providence for the indigent, legal equality, or basic human dignity that pre-Christian Western culture would have found not so much foolish as unintelligible. It is simply the case that we distant children of the pagans would not be able to believe in any of these things – they would never have occurred to us – had our ancestors not once believed that God is love, that charity is the foundation of all virtues, that all of us are equal before the eyes of God, that to fail to feed the hungry or care for the suffering is to sin against Christ, and that Christ laid down his life for the least of his brethren.

It is very hard to imagine what the world would have looked like without Christianity. The nearest we can get is by asking how are countries that have long history of Christian faith and worship different from those that do not.

This post can’t possibly do the work of establishing that Christianity has had a profound influence for good that we all benefit from whether we acknowledge that origin or not. For that you must look elsewhere. Perhaps with Bentley Hart’s book or maybe this one God’s Philosophers: How the Medieval World Laid the Foundations of Modern Science by James Hannam which has been short-listed for the Royal Society Prize for Science Books 2010

How should we respond as Christians to the speech?

At least three things come to mind.

1. David Cameron in his speech gave Christians ‘permission’ to openly acknowledge the God who has blessed our nation in ways not even we Christians easily remember. It is often the case that it is those who have emigrated to our country from other parts of the world who can see what we take for granted. They rejoice in the rule of law, freedom of speech, human rights, isn’t it time we thanked God for them too!

2. Christians also have been given permission by Cameron to challenge Government positions that would seek to undermine this all to valuable heritage for instance in the proposed attempt to redefine marriage.

3. The speech was also a repost to the new atheism which wants to rewrite history by distorting the contribution of a thousand years of Christianity in our country. Such a denial of history creates a culture in which scepticism flourishes. Cynic and doubter alike would do well to be reminded, and we can help in this, that the life that we enjoy and celebrate is simply NOT to be found in nations that are not built on a Christian foundation. There are uniquely Judeo-Christian values and at least in that sense Britain remains a Christian country.

 

Dec 16, 2011
neil

How to think about the death of an outspoken atheist

Christopher Hitchens died yesterday on the same day as I was reading his last piece of journalist written for Vanity Fair.

Always controversial and an outspoken atheist his ideas have impacted and infuriated many.

His entry in Wikipedia notes that he was included in ‘The Top 100 Public Intellectuals Poll’ The poll ‘was conducted in November 2005 and June 2008 by Prospect Magazine (UK) and Foreign Policy (US) on the basis of responding readers’ ballot. The objective was to determine the 100 most important public intellectuals who are still alive and active in public life.’

I remember watching the documentary Collision which followed Christopher Hitchens (author of God is not great) and Doug Wilson as they debated ‘Is God good for the world?‘.  It’s not a particularly good documentary in some senses but what you can’t miss as you do watch it is what a friendly relationship they enjoyed.

In an article in Christianity Today on the death of Hitchens Wilson writes ‘During the time we spent together, he never said an unkind thing to me—except on stage, up in front of everybody. After doing this, he didn’t wink at me, but he might as well have.’

As we reflect on the death of a godless man we remember the word of the Lord in Ezekiel:

‘Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign LORD. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?’

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