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.
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)
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.
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.
A small group of Muslim men turned up at church from the local mosque to ask a few questions on Sunday evening. Unsurprisingly conversation soon turned to the Trinity. As it turned out we had just returned from a church weekend away reflecting on how essential the doctrine of the trinity is if we are how to live well in the world. Here’s a sketch of my notes from a talk I gave on the weekend.
A. How does God define our relationships?
I wonder when you last spent some time thinking about the Trinity? I guess many Christians find understanding what it means that we believe in One God in three persons a little confusing if not a little awkward to explain. Maybe we find the trinity intellectually embarrassing if and when we are challenged by a non-Christian and I suspect we do find the doctrine a little irrelevant when it comes to living everyday life.
Well this morning its not my place to give a defence of what Christians believe or the history. But my job in just 30 minutes is to show you how life-changing it is to know that you love and serve a God of relationships.
The Bible affirms that there is One God in three persons. That means because God is eternal relationships (between Father, Son and Spirit) have always been at the heart of ultimate reality. And my big point this morning is that ONLY the Christian can say that!
And that means that only the Christian has a foundation for relations.
Whoever we are, our doctrine of God IS the foundation for our relationships.
B. What we think of God defines and shapes the nature of our relationships
Maybe the best way to look at this truth is by way of comparison with the other ways of looking at relationships.
The dilemma of modern man is simple: he does not know why man has any meaning. He is lost. Man remains a zero. This is the damnation of our generation. – Francis Schaeffer in He is There and He is not silent.
We don’t know how to live in the world and we cannot agree how we should live in this world;
- If there is no God then there is no basis or standard for relationships (there is nothing informing our relationships!)
- We can recognise the problems in our relationships but cannot find a binding answer (the world would be a better place if we all got along…but we can’t agree on what that means)
- We define relationships for ourselves (every man, and woman, does as he sees fit)
- Relationships are an aspect of ‘survival of the fittest’
Richard Dawkins summed up how the absence of God impacts his ethics in the following sobering words: If someone used my views to justify a completely self-centred lifestyle, which involved trampling all over other people in any way they chose I think I would be fairly hard put to argue against it on purely intellectual grounds.
Fellow Oxford intellectual Peter Atkins puts it this way when quoted by Richard Dawkins in Unweaving the rainbow: We are children of chaos, and the deep structure of change is decay. At root, there is only corruption, and the unstemmable tide of chaos. Gone is purpose; all that is left is direction. This is the bleakness we have to accept as we peer deeply and dispassionately into the heart of the Universe.
Is it enough to believe in ‘god’ to understand the nature of relationships and living well in the world? As we will see the answer is ‘no’. All depends on the nature of that god.
No word is as meaningless as is the word god. Of itself it means nothing unless content is put into it. – Francis Schaeffer.
- God is not a personal god. He exists in ‘splendid isolation.’ Even in paradise God will not be with us.
- God and relationships are separate thing – God is not a God of relationships for before he ever created he was alone.
- God cannot inform our relationships (we cannot look to him to teach us) and our relationships are not an aspect of image-bearing.
- When God is teaching us about relationships he is not teaching us about himself
- God may be loving (toward his creation) but he is NOT love because in eternity he has no-one to love. He had to create in order to love and experience love.
3. Pantheism (Hindism, New Age, etc..)
- God is an impersonal force
- Impersonal forces cannot define or inform personal relationships. In fact, more than that, they undermine relationships. The holy men of Hinduism retreat from relationships and community.
- Our final goal as human beings is to join the impersonal ie become one with the impersonal force.
- Relationships and personality are temporary
The truth is that if you exchange the truth about God for a lie it will not only damage you but destroy community and confuse society.
Look with me at Romans 1:18-30. What is the result of humanity suppressing the truth about God. It is two things i) a turning to worshipping other gods and ii) a break down of relationships. The SIN of rejecting God leads to all sorts of SINS damaging to community. Looking at the list at the end of the chapter (vv.28-30)
Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.
Only Christianity has at its heart a God who IS a God of relationships and God’s own relationship makes your relationships meaningful.
C. What can we learn from the God of relationships?
The Father, Son and Holy Spirit have always existed in perfect relationship. They express and define perfect love.
Therefore (for example) we can learn how to love one another within a marriage by learning from the relationship between Father and Son.
|Bible verses||Nature of relationship|
|John 14:31, 3:35||Perfect love seen in a desire to bless the other.|
|John 17:1,4||Other-person centredness. A seeking after the glory of another ahead of own. Love involves service, sacrifice.|
|John 10:30||Unity. One in Being. One in purpose. One in ministry.|
|John 5:30||Difference. Unity does not mean uniformity. There is an order to the relationships. The Son does the will of the Father and obeys him even though they are both fully God.|
As God’s image bearers in the world God shapes and defines our relationships. Whether that be relationships between husband and wife, parent and child, employer and employee, authorities and those subject to authority. All our relationships reflect in some way the God of relationships. Our relationships are defined by love, other-person centredness, unity yet difference.
Reasons to rejoice in the Trinity!
There is no other sufficient philosophical answer than the one I have outlined. You can search through university philosophy, underground philosophy, filling station philosophy – it does not matter—there is no other sufficient philosophical answer to existence, to Being, than the one I have outlined. There is only one thought, whether the East, the West, the ancient, the modern, the new, the old. Only one fills the philosophical need of existence, of Being, and it is the Judeo-Christian God –not just an abstract concept, but rather that this God is really there. He exists. There is no other answer, and orthodox Christians ought to be ashamed of being been defensive for so long. It is not a time to be defensive. There is no other answer. – Francis Schaeffer, He is There and he is not silent
Part 2 of this series will consider just how our relationships are to be based on the God of relationships.
In discussing faith and science Higgs went on to say I don’t happen to be one [a believer] myself, but maybe that’s just more a matter of my family background than that there’s any fundamental difficulty about reconciling the two.
(HT: David Robertson)
Originally a post on this blog Evangelicals Now have edited and published it for a wider audience
This section of a documentary entitled The trouble with atheism presented by Rod Liddle also highlights the extreme violence conducted by atheist states in the past century.
( HT: Mez McConnell)
Janet Daley in the Telegraph a couple of days ago reflects on why the last week was a bad week for atheism
After Richard Dawkins guest-edited the Christmas edition of the New Statesman Mehdi Hasan replied with a good summary of exactly why he is wrong on the issue of the relationship between God and science
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