Piers Morgan has taken over from Larry King on CNN and in his first week conducted an hour long interview with Ricky Gervais just a day or two after he ruffled feathers hosting the Golden Globe Awards show.
The interview is well worth watching not least for Ricky’s take on God. As Ricky brought the 68th Golden Globes Award show to an end he said “Thank you to God for making me an atheist,” something Piers was keen to follow up in his interview.
I guess we’ve all heard comments like this when we’ve talked about matters of faith over a pint. I thought I might make a few observations on some of Ricky’s arguments for atheism to help us to meet such comments as we come across them in our conversations.
So let’s look at three statements that Ricky makes in the interview:
1. ’Unlike religious people I look at all religions equally’
Because it’s a throw away line in an interview it’s not altogether apparent what Ricky meant by this but what seems clear is that as far as he is concerned atheism is tolerant where religion is not and one assumes by virtue of that fact a better worldview to hold.
But take a closer look and I’m not too sure how a position that says ‘all religion is wrong’ is more tolerant than the position put forward by Christians. It seems to me that both the atheist and the Christian are making exactly the same claim to exclusive truth. Christianity says there is only one truth and that is found in Christ. Atheism says tehre is only one truth and that is found in rejecting all religion as wrong. Is one position more tolerent than the other? I don’t see how.
2. ‘Christians haven’t got a monopoly on good’
I’m not aware of Christians ever claiming that they did! The crucial point I would wish to make to Ricky over our pint is not that its only Christians who can choose to be good but it is Christianity and not atheism that makes a compelling case for why we must be good.
The difference I’d seek to highlight is that the Christian has a reason – more than that an obligation – to be good because of the demands of God. The atheist may choose to be good but can equally well choose to be bad. In fact good and bad are just arbitrary labels – badges of convenience – without any reference point to ground them.
The atheist philosopher Kai Nielson once said:
We have not been able to show that reason requires the moral point of view or that really rational beings unhoodwinked by myth or ideology need not be individual egoists or classical amoralists. Reason does not decide here. The picture I have painted for you is not a pleasant one. Reflection on it depresses me. Pure practical reason even with a good knowledge of the facts will not take you to morality.
So I think I would seek to persuade Ricky that atheism frees people to be as bad as they wish. Whereas Christianity has a monopoly over reasons to be good rather than being bad.
3) ‘Of course I believe in love…of course I believe in the beauty of nature’
Ricky is pretty put out by the thought that Christians claim that only they can love and once again I’d be seeking to help him understand that, as with the argument for goodness, Christians are not suggesting that only they can love or live a moral life.
The big issue though is who decides what love is and is there any rational foundation for love if we beleive that the universe is ultimately a dark and loveless place.
Richad Dawkins acknowleges;
In a universe of blind physical forces and genetic replication some people are going to get hurt other people are going to get lucky and you won’t find any rhyme or reason in it nor any justice. The universe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is at bottom no design, no purpose, no evil, no good, nothing but blind pitiless existence. DNA neither knows nor cares DNA just is and we dance to its music.
But more than anything else the purpose of apologetics is not winning arguments but seeking to win hearts and minds for Christ. More than anything I’d want to help Ricky to see that his very concern for goodness, beauty, love (and no doubt truth?) are pointers away from atheism (which explains them all away) and pointers to the God who is good and beautiful, love and truth.
You would think – and the man in the pub almost certainly thinks – that the further in time we are away from the life and times of Jesus the less we can know about him with any degree of certainty. If true that would be reason enough not to give Christianity a second look. But the facts work in exactly the opposite direction. The more time that has elapsed the more evidence we discover, for example, that the gospels that record the life and death and resurrection of Jesus are the gospels of antiquity and are a reliable record with regards the events that took place. And yet over that same time there remains an unbroken silence with regards any other 1st century documents that work the other way.
The Christian in the 21st century has more good reasons to believe that his faith is true than believers at any other time since the death of the apostles.
Here’s a great presentation of some of the arguments from Dr. Daniel B. Wallace of the Ehrman project.
A good friend recently told me the story of how a mother could get her children to swallow anything by rolling bitter pills in butter and coating the butter in sugar. It tasted good to the kids and they swallowed whatever they were given.
Such deceitful behaviour doesn’t stop with medicene! Take entertainment for example. What we consume through TV. film and music is like a pill in sugar. We end up swallowing allsorts of things unintentionally. What we might well spit out if served to us ‘Straight-up’ we swallow without a thought because it tastes so good.
ALL media contains a message, even entertainment, and like sugar-coating a pill the ideas that are absorbed have consequences on our thinking and living.
So Christian do you seek to be only entertained by what you watch or listen to or do you seek to engage with what you watch?
A Missionary in culture
Driscoll regards himself not as a consumer of culture but a missionary in culture. What’s the difference?
As a missionary, I do not view culture passively, merely as entertainment. Rather, I engage it actively as a sermon that is preaching a worldview.
I teach my children to do the same. We watch shows with our children. Those shows are recorded on a TiVo so that we can stop and have discussions during them, helping our kids understand the ideology that is being presented and how to think about it critically. We want our kids to be innocent but not naïve. Naïve Christians are the most vulnerable to engaging culture ignorantly and unpreparedly. If a Christian kid does not know how to walk as a Christian in culture, it’s no surprise that once he or she leaves their parents’ home after graduation, they are statistically likely to fail continue walking with Jesus.
Driscoll as a pastor sees it as his responsibility to teach the church how to think critically about media.
Like our children, our goal is not to create a safe Christian subculture as much as to train missionaries to live in culture like Jesus.
As a missionary, you will need to watch television shows and movies, listen to music, read books, peruse magazines, attend events, join organizations, surf websites, and befriend people that you might not like to better understand people whom Jesus loves. For example, I often read magazines intended for teenage girls, not because I need to take tests to discover if I am compatible with my boyfriend or because I need leg-waxing tips, but because I want to see young women meet Jesus, so I want to understand them and their culture better.
7 tips for getting more engaged
1. Try listening to a different radio station for an hour a day each day for a week.
2. Watch, if only once, programmes that are most talked about at your work or amongst your friends that you’ve never watched. Think through why they are popular, what message they convey and how the gospel interacts with those ideas.
3. Use the web to read journalism from different perspectives. A short cut approach can be found by visiting the New Stateman which links to 10 different but interesting articles from the papers each day.
4. Watch a film with some Christian friends or better still watch with a mix of friends and chat about it afterwards (tell everyone this is what you plan to do BEFORE you watch the film). Do your research in advance. Try Damaris for some good resources.
6. Ask your pastor to preach on culture and engagement or ask for some church-based workshops on film, tv, etc.
7. Above all else remember that cultural engagement is essential for Christians. It protects us from swallowing those bitter pills of untruth that undermine our faith or the faith of those around us. Understanding the world around us including it’s thought-forms and ideas enables us to build bridges with those around us. The more engaged we are the more opportunities are provided to open up a conversation that leads us to a gospel conversation.
Did you catch the BBCs screening of The Nativity over the Christmas period? (if not catch it here while you can). The screenplay was written by Tony Jordan best known for writing 250 episodes of EastEnders and more recently Life on Mars. In a fascinating interview in The Telegraph he tells of his own personal journey from scepticism to belief.
“I don’t come from a religious background and I don’t think I’m anybody’s fool. I was expelled from school at 14. I’ve been in trouble. I know that people from my sort of background have always discounted the story of the nativity and I certainly didn’t believe it when I started on it three years ago. But now I do.”
“The only thing I know for sure is that the words I read as coming from Jesus Christ are the most truthful thing I have ever heard. As a blueprint for mankind, it is so smart that it couldn’t even have come from a clever philosopher. Who would have been smart enough to say ‘He who is without sin cast the first stone’? Wow! That’s pretty cool.”
Even the virgin birth is taken in its stride:
‘If you accept that Jesus is Son of God, why would you not believe that Mary was a virgin, and that God must have had some handin the impregnation?’
It suggests to me that the biggest challenge that Christians face is in inspiring people to read the Bible for themselves. Perhaps the biggest barrier to faith is the beginning – once people start the journey many continue it to its destinations end.
Certainly it’s been my experience that once people meet Jesus on his own terms and take time to understand him that the cynicism faces and many find themselves drawn to him. There is something beautiful, compelling, attractive about the man, his message and his mission.
For a great review of The Nativity from a Christian perspective check out Mark Meynell’s blog here.
For an extended interview with Tony Jordan try this (with thanks to Mark Meynell).
A really helpful article by Donald Whitney suggesting 10 questions you could ask to get conversations started this Christmas. Some of them, in particular, set up good gospel opportunities and others get us thinking a little more about our own priorities this Christmas:
Many of us struggle to make conversation at Christmas gatherings, whether church events, work-related parties, neighborhooddrop-ins, or annual family occasions. Sometimes our difficulty lies in having to chat with people we rarely see or have never met. At other times we simply don’t know what to say to those with whom we feel little in common. Moreover, as Christians we want to take advantage of the special opportunities provided by the Christmas season to share our faith, but are often unsure how to begin. Here’s a list of questions designed not only to kindle a conversation in almost any Christmas situation, but also to take the dialogue gradually to a deeper level. Use them in a private conversation or as a group exercise, with believers or unbelievers, with strangers or with family.
- What’s the best thing that’s happened to you since last Christmas?
- What was your best Christmas ever? Why?
- What’s the most meaningful Christmas gift you’ve ever received?
- What was the most appreciated Christmas gift you’ve ever given?
- What was your favorite Christmas tradition as a child?
- What is your favorite Christmas tradition now?
- What do you do to try to keep Christ in Christmas?
- Why do you think people started celebrating the birth of Jesus?
- Do you think the birth of Jesus deserves such a nearly worldwide celebration?
- Why do you think Jesus came to earth?
I’ve added a couple more of my own
- Do you think Christmas is over-rated?
- What’s your favourite Christmas song? Why that one? Would you put a carol in your top 10?
Feel free to join in….
A couple of days ago we considered the remarkable story of how atheist and arch-enemy of Christianity AN Wilson rediscovered his Christian faith.
In a follow up article in the Daily Mail Wilson set out some of the reasons he had become an atheist along with his route home to faith. I hope by looking at it together it will give us renewed confidence in our faith and a fresh desire to share it with others.
Like having spots
One of Wilson’s key insights looking back on his life is that his atheism rested not on the fact that Christianity is no longer believable but that it has become so deeply unfashionable. Our culture is much more than secular (in which it would simply ignore matters of faith). Our culture is in fact deeply anti-religious. It’s not satisfied to leave Christianity alone it seeks out opportunity to give it a good beating.
Wilson, in his article, examines how the media-pundits and intelligencia in British society systematically attack and ridicule Christianity.
‘Like most educated people in Britain and Northern Europe (I was born in 1950), I have grown up in a culture that is overwhelmingly secular and anti-religious. The universities, broadcasters and media generally are not merely non-religious, they are positively anti.
To my shame, I believe it was this that made me lose faith and heart in my youth. It felt so uncool to be religious. With the mentality of a child in the playground, I felt at some visceral level that being religious was unsexy, like having spots or wearing specs.
This playground attitude accounts for much of the attitude towards Christianity that you pick up, say, from the alternative comedians, and the casual light blasphemy of jokes on TV or radio.
It also lends weight to the fervour of the anti-God fanatics, such as the writer Christopher Hitchens and the geneticist Richard Dawkins, who think all the evil in the world is actually caused by religion.
The Guardian’s fanatical feminist-in-chief, Polly Toynbee, is one of the most dismissive of religion and Christianity in particular. She is president of the British Humanist Association, an associate of the National Secular Society and openly scornful of the millions of Britons who will quietly proclaim their faith in Church tomorrow.
‘Of all the elements of Christianity, the most repugnant is the notion of the Christ who took our sins upon himself and sacrificed his body in agony to save our souls. Did we ask him to?’ she asked in a puerile article decrying the wickedness of C.S. Lewis’s Narnia stories, which have bewitched children for more than 50 years. Or, to take another of her utterances: ‘When absolute God-given righteousness beckons, blood flows and women are in chains.’
The sneering Ms Toynbee, like Richard Dawkins, believes in rational explanations for our existence and behaviour. She is deeply committed to the Rationalist Association, but her approach to religion is too fanatical to be described as rational.’ Continue reading »
Is there a better time to invite your friends, colleagues, family, neighbours…
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