Don’t worry, Church – secularism has your back!

22 Dec

Does the church really need society to be secular to ensure religious freedom?

A commentator on this blog post helped to crystallise a few thoughts which have been circulating in my addled brain recently on the subject of secularism’s claim to be interested in religious freedom.

What the lady said was: “…the purpose of a secular society… is not to restrict, destroy or ban your right to believe, but to protect it. And not just for you, or for other Christians, but for everyone.” She’s by no means unique in this view; it has been on my mind for a while just how the secular lobby seems to see itself as the referee in matters of religious rights, apparently ensuring that all the believers from different religions play safely in an arena run by non-believers for the benefit of all.

How cute, I thought as I read her comments. And how naive.

It’s cute, because I’m delighted that the church, after struggling for 2,000 years to make headway in the world, finally has a bunch of unbelievers who are willing to look out for it.

I hope my sarcasm is shining through.

And it’s naive, because anyone who thinks that the agenda of the secular lobby is to protect, ensure, or otherwise facilitate the exercise of religion, is living in cloud-cuckoo land.

The truth of the matter is that not only has the church been quite able to take care of its own freedoms, thank you very much, but it has also been unique in its tolerance of other religions.

Okay, so strongly Christian local councils in western democracies may not be rushing to grant planning permission for new mosques, but look on the flip side: Christians in Muslim lands are routinely arrested and imprisoned for their faith, with some facing the death penalty.

As a religion of state, Christianity grants unparalleled freedoms to those of other religions, while other national religions (with the honourable exception of Judaism – could there be a connection?) are openly and obviously hostile to anything that smacks of apostasy or competition. In countries where religions other than Christianity dominate, life can be anything but safe for those who possess a Bible or who assemble to worship God in the person of Jesus Christ. And it is often unsafe for followers of other religions not sanctioned by the state as well.

Christian missionary organisation Open Doors has a watchlist of countries in which Christians are persecuted for their faith. Most of the Islamic Middle East is on it, along with North Africa, China and parts of Asia.

In the vast majority of Christian lands, however, anybody of another religion has the right to worship Allah, Buddha or Krishna (or the deities of a myriad of other religions) without fearing a knock on the door, imprisonment or deprivation of normal human rights. If there is a Christian nation whose government imprisons non-Christians for being non-Christian, I’m hard pressed to think of it.

So why does secularism offer itself as the guarantor of religious freedom and so glibly imply that Christianity is not up to the job? It is breathtakingly arrogant on the part of secular people – the kind of breathtaking arrogance of which secularists normally accuse Christians when they state that Jesus is the only way to God – to suggest that they are best placed to have religious people’s interests at heart. I’m pretty sure my Muslim, Hindu and other religious counterparts would agree on this point. “Thanks for the offer of help, but really, no thanks,” I imagine them saying.

Why can’t religions be their own advocates, without secularists meddling? While it’s true that secularists and Christians are standing together to preserve freedom of speech in the face of parliamentary bills that could criminalise street preachers, coming together in that fashion to protect a right from which so many movements can benefit is a bit different from asserting that the church can only thrive if secularism is there to protect it. Most religions seem to be perfectly at home with arguing their own case. Since no actual oppression of other religions by Christianity is taking place, why get involved? Obstacles to the building of mosques don’t really count – it is hardly persecution, and if Christian faith is to be both recognised as a good thing and if its tenets are to be properly observed (one of which happens to be exclusivity as regards what is divine), it does not seem right to pour resources into promoting other religions. They have the right to make their own way, free from persecution.

What secularists really believe, of course, is that religion is of no significance. With that established, it naturally makes sense that no religious person should be allowed to advocate for religious freedom, lest they foul it up for everyone by, y’know, actually taking their beliefs seriously.

And why should we let secularists impose any form of control on religion, even in the name of religious freedom? A quick feel of the pulse locates the secularist in one of two views. In one view, all religion is dangerous and should be eradicated. This is the view of Richard Dawkins and a great many others. The other view has religions back-to-front: when you hear a secularist (and indeed some “spiritual” or superficially religious people) saying “Islam is a religion of peace” and then blaming Christianity for the Crusades and virtually every other war or tribal conflict since, you know that (a.) that person hasn’t bothered to study either, and (b.) they intend to use this obfuscation to undermine Christian belief and practice, since that is the real target of their obvious misrepresentations.

Neither of these views offers much comfort for the religious people whom the secularists purport to serve. At least the National Secular Society and the Freedom From Religion Foundation are honest about their goals, but the “we’re here to ensure freedom for all” brand of secularism is disingenuous.

If Dawkins-style hostile atheism is a frontal assault on Christian belief, the supposedly supportive version of secularism is an attempt to render Christianity ineffective by making it as bland as possible – with the help of a smiley, faux-concerned appeal to our desire for religious survival.

As the Proverbs put it, “Whoever flatters his neighbour is spreading a net for his feet.” (Prov. 29:5)

So let us not be impressed by the claims of secularists to represent religious freedom. The very name “secular” indicates quite clearly how many figs they actually give for God, Jesus, the Bible, or the values Christians should be standing for. And let us, as this blogger argues, stand up for Christianity in the public space.

Because atheists and secularists sure as hell aren’t going to do it for us.

Solomon’s Wisdom and Gun Control

22 Dec

We celebrate the wisdom of ancient Israel’s king, Solomon, even today. He is known for one judgment in particular, in which he settled a dispute between two prostitutes by having a sword brought to cut a child in two. (SPOILER ALERT: The child lived. See the full story below.)

The Second Amendment Lobby tells us we all need guns for our protection, and that More Guns Equals Less Crime.

But do we? Do they? And does the NRA stand in the place of Solomon?

All I see when we talk about the right to bear arms is a bunch of dead kids.

*******

A Wise Ruling (1 Kings 3:16-28, NIV)

Now two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him.
One of them said, “My lord, this woman and I live in the same house. I had a baby while she was there with me.
The third day after my child was born, this woman also had a baby. We were alone; there was no one in the house but the two of us.
“During the night this woman’s son died because she lay on him.
So she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I your servant was asleep. She put him by her breast and put her dead son by my breast.
The next morning, I got up to nurse my son—and he was dead! But when I looked at him closely in the morning light, I saw that it wasn’t the son I had borne.”
The other woman said, “No! The living one is my son; the dead one is yours.” But the first one insisted, “No! The dead one is yours; the living one is mine.” And so they argued before the king.
The king said, “This one says, ‘My son is alive and your son is dead,’ while that one says, ‘No! Your son is dead and mine is alive.’ ”
Then the king said, “Bring me a sword.” So they brought a sword for the king.
He then gave an order: “Cut the living child in two and give half to one and half to the other.”
The woman whose son was alive was filled with compassion for her son and said to the king, “Please, my lord, give her the living baby! Don’t kill him!” But the other said, “Neither I nor you shall have him. Cut him in two!”
Then the king gave his ruling: “Give the living baby to the first woman. Do not kill him; she is his mother.”
When all Israel heard the verdict the king had given, they held the king in awe, because they saw that he had wisdom from God to administer justice.

So you’ve “studied” religions…

15 Nov

Helpful Truth Of The Day: If you’ve “studied all religions” and can’t see any difference between them, you haven’t actually studied religions.

The Christian gospel is the Bible’s clear and inescapable message that God became man in Jesus Christ, and died to take the punishment for sins that each of us deserve. Jesus then rose again from the dead on the third day, ensuring that those who believe in Him could also be raised to new life after death.

This “substitutionary atonement” (Jesus paying the price for sin in our place) is the distinctive element of the gospel that sets it apart. While other religions may make mention of Jesus, usually incorporating Him into their roll of prophets, no other religion sees Him as God, or as capable of dying to bring us redemption and salvation from sins.

Religions are not all the same, and any believer who has genuinely studied their own religion will know this. While some religions may share similarities in terms of their moral codes, they have entirely different approaches to God. Yet only in Christianity is it the case that faith in Jesus Christ saves us from sin and reconciles us to God. In most other religions, people have to hope that their religious observance and good works are enough to save them.

Jesus came to do away with that uncertainty and that need for people to feel they have to try to earn salvation. And in raising Him from the dead, God showed that Jesus is the one He had chosen to be the saviour of the world, rather than Mohammed, Buddha, Krishna, or any other religious leader.

Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do know him and have seen him.” (John 14:6,7)

If you want to know God, get to know Jesus!

Keep searching!

Halloween: WWJ really D?

31 Oct

As usual at this time of year, there’s debate on the intertubes about whether Christians should celebrate Halloween. Or indeed Hallowe’en (we are equal-opportunity punctuationists here at CookieSupermarket, within reason).

J. John offers a robust argument against, citing the way Halloween and dressing up as ghouls, witches or mass murderers causes believers to identify with evil.

A few see it as an opportunity to share the gospel (SPOILER ALERT: you’re among my favourites).

Meanwhile a new (to me, at least) argument from a number of probably liberal/emergent/progressive Christians (the kind who love Jesus, but aren’t all that troubled by what the Bible says…?), claiming Hallowe(‘)en’s history as a day on which to celebrate Jesus’ victory over evil by dressing up as demons and thereby mocking their defeat (example here).

Which means it’s probably time we attempted to ascertain what the fully-God, fully-man Himself thinks.

Which may seem an unlikely feat to those who insist that there is just so much that Jesus never spoke on, but hold on a moment: what is this in the Gospel according to Luke, just after the seventy-two evangelists return to Jesus, overjoyed at being able to cast out demons?

“I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you.
HOWEVER, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” (Luke 10:19-20; my emphasis)

That seems clear. And is probably why I’m not writing this while dressed as a witch.

Maybe we need to consult the word of God rather than tradition, if we want to live in the power and light of Christ…?

There’s nothing wrong with divine reward

28 Oct

Dear reader, you may think I’m being too picky or too sensitive to seeing criticism where there is none, but indulge me for a few minutes.

The picture below popped up on my Facebook feed today.

But is it true?

It bears the slogan: “Caring people help others, not because they expect a reward, but because it is natural to show kindness.” It is one of many “positive thoughts” hosted on this blog and Facebook group.

It seems like a lovely thought, on the face of it. What could be better than doing good things for other people without expecting anything in return, and to have that generosity bubble up out of one’s very nature?

But is that what this proverb is getting at?

I have noticed recently that there are increasing numbers of messages sent out over social media which affirm certain desirable and uplifting behaviours, yet which also seem to take a subtle dig at Christian faith and practice. Atheists have all the right views, in other words, and you don’t need any of that God stuff in order to be Mother Teresa.

Atheists claim, “We don’t need God to be good!” They argue that any good they do is far more altruistic than that of the Christian because the Christian’s giving is motivated by hope of reward (bad) or fear of damnation (worse).

But does divine reward undermine charity, or even common decency?

Might the idea of reward in fact produce greater, more enthusiastic generosity?

I see it this way, from experience:

1.) Knowing that God rewards me frees me to be generous.
The Bible says, “A generous man will himself be blessed, for he shares his food with the poor.” (Proverbs 22:9) It also adds that “Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously.” (2 Corinthians 9:6)

Knowing that God is able to provide for me releases me from worrying about how my needs will be met – and hence frees me to be generous. Does this work? I regularly give to support others whilst not having much money myself – even while in need, to the point of having bills to pay and not knowing how I will pay them. God always provides! It’s called living by faith: expecting God to provide for us as we provide for others, according to the promises of His Word such as those quoted above, which are based on the principle that in order to be receivers, we need to be givers first.

2.) Eternal reward frees me from making my life all about me.
There may be ardent atheists who are deeply altruistic, self-sacrificial and giving. More power to ’em. But atheism, with its emphasis on personal autonomy and fundamental philosophical commitment to the evolutionary principle of survival of the fittest, is not a system by which to produce generosity or compassion in those who are not already inclined to be generous or compassionate. How could it? Indeed, it might be argued that most of our financial crises (particularly those involving fat cat bankers) have been precipitated by an atheist-evolutionary worldview: selfish gain replacing the deeply biblical notions of stewardship and accountability. The idea that we can be good without God may seem persuasive at first, but if there is no God, what motive do we have for doing anything other than what feels good or seems convenient?

What about soldiers giving their lives for their buddies in combat? Heroic, yes; altruistic, certainly, but you’ll notice that soldiers are generally inculcated during their training with a strong code of ethics and commitment – something that atheism, the Great Negative, outstandingly lacks.

What is there that pulls us towards generosity, in the way that a planet’s gravity pulls a wayward asteroid towards itself, even from afar? What are we being drawn by, or aiming towards, if not God?

Knowing that my life is most significant when set in the context of eternal judgment and its consequences – in this case, reward contingent upon obedience – sets me free at a fundamental level. If this life is all there is, it only means as much as I make it mean to myself, by whatever means seem most attractive to me, and all of that will be swallowed up by nothingness soon enough. Forgive me if I’m not blown away by that as a cast-iron guarantee of any of us Doing The Right Thing For One Another.

If, however, this life is only a brief trailer for a reality that goes on forever on the other side of death, then I can afford to live this life radically, unbounded by self-centred materialism. This life is not all there is, dying with the most toys is not the highest ambition, and my eternal future is secure in Christ, so why hang onto whatever I can get my hands on during my short stay on Earth?

3.) Reward for kindness is kindness.
Forget for a moment (if you’re sympathetic to the atheist position, at least) the idea that God is mean, nasty, a killjoy and a tyrant who is out to get us. What if God wants to be kind to us because He is naturally kind? And the reason He wants us to be kind is because He wants to see more kindness in the world? And that the people He most wants to be kind to are the ones who demonstrate the most of His kind of kindness?

Think of it this way: suppose you and I both work for a multi-million pound (1.5 multi-million dollar) company run by an older man who has no family of his own, but has real family values. His values extend to the point that he treats customers as family, and his staff too. His idea of a good way to run the company is to invite the staff and employees who give the best customer service to stay at his huge ranch, where they enjoy delicious meals in the fresh air, swim in the lake, walk in the beautiful countryside, and sit with him around the fire.

One night at the campfire, he says, “You guys are my heroes. Because you share my values and demonstrate them unfailingly to my customers, you are the people who I want to inherit the company when I am gone.”

Where is the self-seeking in those employees’ treatment of their customers? There is none! They have simply been best at adopting and reflecting the boss’s desires. Essentially, they have made his nature their own, and in so doing, have reaped a reward. The boss wants to share the best that he has to offer with the people who identify most with him.

(That sounds a little like God to me…)

Does the principle of caring for no reward – which secularists have staked out as their own – work?
Who Really Cares is an enlightening book by Prof. Arthur C. Brooks. In it, he investigates, with the benefit of considerable independent research, whether religious or secular people and/or conservatives or liberals are the most charitable. The answers surprised even him: it is Christian religious conservatives who are most inclined to give by way of personal charity. Secular liberals are most likely to support government giving money to those in need, but (some of you may be way ahead of me here) this also leads to lower personal giving amongst secular liberals as they see it as the government’s responsibility to address inequality on their behalf rather than their responsibility to meet the needs of those less well-off.

“I gave at the ballot box,” in other words.

It stands to reason, doesn’t it? If it is the government’s responsibility to give to those in need, you and I don’t need to. And if the government doesn’t live up to its brief to feed the hungry, and instead embarks on making the rich richer, selling off the National Health Service to cronies in business and school meal services to companies that feed children nutrition-free rubbish, well at least we have the right liberal-secular values, right?

Pat yourself on the back; you deserve a Nobel Prize for Nice Thoughts.

If Christians are giving more (and not palming that responsibility off on Government), it must be because something in Christianity prompts them to do so. If secularists are giving less than Christians, it must be because something in secularism causes them to feel inclined to give less, or because there is something they have given up by rejecting Christianity that results in them giving less.

Could it be that the sure hope of eternal reward, backed by Almighty God and demonstrated in the sacrificial death and consequent reward-resurrection of Jesus Christ, is the ultimate motivation for compassion and charity? And that we can’t do without God after all, if we truly want to see more people caring?

Keep searching!

Lies, John R. Lott, and the US Gun Lobby

19 Dec

I have already blogged before – albeit incredibly briefly – about gun control in the US. This shocking article reveals the depth of the lies upon which the gun rights lobby in America bases its claims.

John R. Lott is a very influential figure in American politics. His data on gun rights and their effects on crime form the basis of huge numbers of policy decisions, most of which have encouraged and enabled more people to have access to firearms. This in spite of the escalating levels of gun violence, deaths and school massacres on US soil. Yet the article cited above shows beyond all doubt that Lott’s “data” are not only deeply flawed, but essentially fabricated. Lott even went so far as to create a “sockpuppet” – a false internet identity by the name of Mary Rosh – who praised his achievements in glowing terms on internet discussion boards. As the article points out, this is not the behaviour of somebody whose data are unimpeachable.

Real evil is amongst us. There is no limit to how far some people will go to present their arguments as truth for the sake of personal gain or to preserve their own brand of “freedom”. In Lott’s case, he enables the gun rights lobby to stand up to its critics by putting lies in their mouths that appear persuasive, influencing even Christians who defend possessing weapons in the face of growing gun violence on the basis of Lott’s statistics.

It is the same in other fields too. My friend Dr. Christina Hellmich exposes in her book Al-Qaeda: From Global Network to Local Franchise how much of the West’s policy towards Islamist terrorism was based on the work of people who were not experts in their fields and who had invented their qualifications. In the case of both Lott and the gun rights lobby and the War on Terror, the flawed “research” has been debunked, yet their claims stubbornly persist and continue to manipulate public policy.

What is the answer? The Bible says, “You shall not give false testimony.” [1] Very often we interpret that to mean simply “Don’t lie”, but in this context, the word “testimony” has special import. In context the verse is applicable to making a statement in court. It means to bear false witness; to stand up in the public forum in which truth is both expected and demanded and to declare as truth something that is not true. And in our politically charged modern world, there is no shortage of people who are prepared to lie in order to get what they want.

Paul tells us: “The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness,” [2] and it is true. We have, by and large, rejected God from society, and in so doing have enabled those who suppress truth to take the field. What other consequence can there be when we insist that God and the Bible are no longer relevant or desirable, and the dog-eat-dog rationale of the materialist-evolutionists undergirds the thinking of those who have an axe to grind or a gain to make?

And in all this it is the innocent who suffer. Real children die, and real families grieve, because of the lies that people like John R. Lott promote. If we want justice, peace and safety for our children, then surely we as a society need to learn to love truth.

Notes
[1] Exodus 20:16
[2] Romans 1:18

“Spirituality” does not mean “morality” or “wisdom”

9 Dec

“I’m spiritual, not religious.” That’s what people say today when they want to make out that they are taking care of their inner man or inner woman. “I take deep, spiritual things seriously,” they want to tell you. Along with, “I think of myself as a good person,” and “I feel I have access to God, and am sure I will go to be part of the Great Light in the sky when I die.”

It sounds great, doesn’t it? The problem is, it’s a crock. And here’s why.

“Spirituality”, as most people mean it, is divorced from “organised religion”. “No churchgoing for me, thank you!” “I don’t want to give up on the idea of there being Something Out There, but nobody had better tell me what to do!”

An example occurred just today. A Facebook friend (as distinct from a real-world friend) who describes herself as “spiritual” regularly posts cheering thoughts for the day about how to live a more god-centred, conscious and considerate lifestyle. But today she posted a picture featuring a “hilarious Christmas drinking game”.

I didn’t consider this suitable for the young people who would be viewing it, and I said so, appealing to her to consider that alcohol abuse leads to all kinds of negative consequences for young people. Earlier this year, this British teenager had three heart attacks and ended up in a coma after downing ten Jagerbombs (shots of Jagermeister spirit in an energy drink) at a nightclub. The fact that it was the caffeine that did most of the damage is beside the point – it was a lack of common sense around alcohol that put her in the situation.

Needless to say, my expressions of concern fell on deaf ears: “My family and friends know this is all just a joke.”

Where is spirituality here? How spiritual are we being if we still think fun and games come from a bottle? Doesn’t “spirituality” teach us to find contentment in things that are truly fulfilling, rather than reaching for an easy chemical fix? Apparently not.

And here’s where spirituality comes up short as a system of values. The Bible and the Gospel of Jesus Christ give us not only spiritual life, but also morality, by teaching us what is right and wrong, and wisdom, by showing us how to live in ways that do not lead ourselves or others into trouble. Spirituality, with its undertone of liberal morality and “anything goes as long as you’re not hurting anyone” values, has none of this. As long as nobody gets hurt – that you can see, anyway – what you’re doing is all right.

Never mind the children and young people who might see a post like that shared by my Facebook friend and think it’s a great idea. Never mind that one of them could end up in hospital, or in a drunk-driving wreck, or the victim of a sexual assault they cannot prove in a court of law because they were too wasted either to fight it off at the time or to remember what happened afterwards. Tragedies only just happen, right? I mean, they are never the responsibility of anybody who planted the idea in that young person’s head, or of the individuals who together make up a society that has lost its way morally. We can’t actually be leading anybody into temptation, can we?

But they are. And we can. And this is what the Bible teaches:

“Be careful, however, that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block to the weak… Therefore, if what I eat causes my brother to fall into sin, I will never eat meat again, so that I will not cause him to fall.” (1 Corinthians 8:9,10)

So you can carry on fooling yourself that spirituality – thinking of yourself as godly while not allowing your godliness to affect your actions – is enough if you wish. But to see the Kingdom of God established; to see people lifted out of their misery and distress; to build a society that does not condemn people to suffer the consequences of actions they should have been equipped not to choose in the first place, we need something more.

And that means repenting of our sins and living the way God says to instead of how we want. We need to stop telling ourselves God’s all right with us, and instead come through faith in Jesus Christ to get ourselves right with God. And then we can start exemplifying what is right to those around us.

The weakness of atheist brainwashing

1 Mar

Are you being brainwashed?

That’s the question I want to ask you at the beginning of this article.

Atheists are quick to accuse Christianity of brainwashing and Christians of being brainwashed. And they aren’t merely suggesting that some Christian sects engage in brainwashing, or that some Christians have been subjected to undue influence through mental and emotional manipulation. If some secularists are to be believed, all organised religion involves brainwashing.

Is this true?

On the basis of over thirty years of experience of many dozens of different churches and many thousands of individual Christians, I very much doubt it.

But rather than make the case that Christians are not brainwashed, which others have surely done very well elsewhere, why don’t we ask ourselves whether there is perhaps a certain element of brainwashing to secularists’ arguments against Christianity?

How does the boot fit when it is on the other foot?

I found a great example this morning. This picture popped up in my Facebook feed:

But is it true?


But is it true?

The photo is a collage contrasting ornate, heavily gilded Catholic churches and cathedrals with a picture of a severely emaciated African boy who is clearly on the brink of death by starvation. Alongside it, the caption: “We simply cannot afford to feed this person”.

The message is clear: according to the creator of the collage, the Catholic church possesses vast wealth, on which it sits, twiddling its thumbs, whilst people in Africa starve to death. Apparently the Catholic church does not care about starving children and is not lifting a finger to help them.

Or does it? A quick visit to Wikipedia found this:

The Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of education and medical services in the world. In 2010, the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers said that the Church manages 26% of health care facilities in the world, including hospitals, clinics, orphanages, pharmacies and centres for those with leprosy.

The Church is also actively engaged in international aid and development through organisations such as Catholic Relief Services, Caritas International, Aid to the Church in Need, refugee advocacy groups such as the Jesuit Refugee Service and community aid groups such as the Saint Vincent de Paul Society.

Hardly the work of an organisation more interested in the gold on its spires than in feeding the starving, wouldn’t you say? In fact, here’s a picture of a girl getting water from a borehole that was made possible by British Catholic charity CAFOD (The CAtholic Aid FOunDation – geddit?):

Some secularists can't see this well.


Some objectors to Christian faith
can’t see this well.

If you look at news reporting of any major disaster in developing countries, you will soon find that churches and Christians, including the Catholic church, are quick to respond with lifesaving assistance. Very often it is Christian organisations that respond first to crisis situations and remain long after the TV cameras have moved on to other places, and after politicians have stopped making headline-grabbing promises.

While some may still claim that the Catholic church should still sell its remaining treasures and give the proceeds to the poor, it is not doing nothing, as the picture implies. I understand that some of the church’s critics are legitimately concerned with genuine instances of excess and waste on the part of a minority of Christian people. A great many Christians are concerned about that kind of greed too – indeed, it’s one of the sins from which Jesus came to deliver us.

Yet the reality of the church’s work in this world is a far cry from armchair “preaching” by haters. Do Catholics care? Does one’s faith make a difference to one’s compassion? How many hospitals or feeding stations are owned and operated in this world’s poorest countries by General Motors? General Electric? Time Warner? The communist party? The City of New York?

So what of brainwashing?

The image above was posted on a Facebook page entitled (please excuse the expletive; I’m only quoting) “Holy Shit“. The group’s URL includes the description “Free Thinkers”. At the time of writing, Holy Sh[you know the rest] has 22,000 followers, while the image itself had almost 200 likes and had been shared to people’s Facebook walls over 100 times within 13 hours of publication. Of course this is only one of thousands of such groups which exist to lambast the church for its failures – whether real or perceived.

It’s deeply ironic that such a baseless, blinkered, and frankly libellous accusation should be spoonfed to social media users in the name of free thought.

Nevertheless, that’s where much anti-Christian sentiment is at, at least for the man in the street (or the adolescent on the smartphone): Think of a negative about Christian faith or practice. Don’t ask yourself whether or not it is really true. Turn it into a generalisation. Repeat it wherever and whenever possible. Don’t apologise when contradicted by reality. For bonus points: Now tell yourself that it is Christians are brainwashed. Return to repeating the previous generalisation when the sting of being corrected has faded and you can cling to it comfortably once again.

Militant atheists and other secularists usually pride themselves on being the ones in possession of the facts. Science, evidence, rationality and truth are all supposed to be their forte.

However, when they repeat, with wearying regularity, accusations such as the one in the picture above – many of which can be quickly debunked with a few minutes’ googling – they are being neither scientific (since they do not investigate to see whether the hypothesis is true), nor basing their beliefs on evidence (almost by default, since they refuse to look at anything that might contradict their position), nor rational (since they are seeking to comfort their own distorted views rather than being objective), nor truthful (since they are repeating propositions that are demonstrably false, or at least making out that propositions that are only true in part are true in all cases).

They are, however, spreading untruths in order to foist their prejudices upon others.

And that, by anybody’s definition, is brainwashing.

The Atheist Monument: A Shrine to Dishonesty?

5 Jul

On Saturday 29th June, 2013, a group known as “American Atheists” set up a monument bench outside a Florida courthouse in a bid to compete with another monument featuring the Ten Commandments.

The bench carried the following text, penned originally by prominent American atheist, Madalyn Murray O’Hair:

“An atheist believes that a hospital
should be built instead of a church.
An atheist believes that deed must
be done instead of prayer said.
An atheist strives for involvement in life
and not escape into death.
He wants disease conquered,
poverty vanished, war eliminated.”

Many Christians – and indeed theists of other religions – will be concerned by the accommodation of such antireligious statements in the public space. Yet I wonder if it is atheists who have more to be concerned about. For the statements that supposedly represent the atheist way of life (and the supposed superiority of its claims to truthfulness and the moral high ground) are not only unrepresentative of many atheists, their implications are completely unrepresentative of many Christians too.

Let’s look at O’Hair’s statements line by line:

1. “An atheist believes that a hospital should be built instead of a church.”
There are several problems with this statement. Firstly, one might point out that in most Western countries, the responsibility of building hospitals these days lies with government departments and/or health care organisations. The building of hospitals is not an activity to which either atheists or theists can singlehandedly lay claim. Furthermore, one might far more reasonably attribute the construction of buildings which house activities that have the potential to do harm to society to atheism – or at least to godlessness, if not to the kind of intellectual, systematic atheism presumably championed by devotees of O’Hair. Pubs, night clubs, table-dancing clubs, drug dens, porn cinemas and brothels are all run by people who display little evidence of adherence to the Gospel. Meanwhile, a very good reason why Christians seek to build churches is that a church serves as a sanctuary from the world, into which people who have been hurt by the outworking of present-day atheism (sexual liberation and its devaluation of love, sex and relationships; divorce and family breakdown; materialism; uninvolved parenting) may come and find relief, restoration and new hope.

Building churches therefore fulfills needs – needs which the ousting of God, morals and the Gospel from the public space by outspoken atheists has ironically served only to exacerbate.

The implication that Christians are not interested in building hospitals only appears more ill-founded when one takes a look at both history and the nature of church and Christianity today. Given that atheists are obsessed with the notion that they are possessed of all truth and rationality by virtue of their devotion to science, it seems bizarre that they are so quick to turn a blind eye to facts as presented by history or observable phenomena of the present day.

Christians have always been at the forefront of medicine and health care. Many of the first hospitals grew from the care of invalids and the dying by nuns and monks. These devoted religious men and women were often the only people who had the faith to brave deadly plagues to succour the dying. Numerous scientists responsible for significant breakthroughs in medical science were either theists or committed Christians, including Louis Pasteur, who discovered penicillin; Edward Jenner, who pioneered the smallpox vaccine, and Francis Collins, who sequenced the human genome.

It is not only medical pioneers who are often people of faith. A great many Christians work in medicine and health care, and see this service to man as part of their service to God. A church I used to attend is located next door to a large hospital, and many of its staff attend services. In 35 years I have met countless Christians doctors and nurses, and still more Christians who fulfilled every conceivable role in health care and therapy, from hospital porters to midwives, general practitioners, speech therapists, physiotherapists, a professor of haematology and even a brain surgeon. To suggest, therefore, that Christians would rather build churches than hospitals is simply insulting to the many believers who have given their lives to helping people get back to health.

The truth becomes all the more apparent when one looks overseas. Christian missionaries have been responsible for introducing medicine to less-developed countries, a tradition which continues today. Mercy Ships is one such organisation: operating on a budget of some £4 million (US$6.4 million) per year, it takes medical care to some of the world’s most disadvantaged people in Africa, providing life-changing operations and giving training to local medical personnel. Many doctors and nurses give up their time, unpaid, to serve on Mercy Ships and bring healing to people who would otherwise never have access to treatment.

Sceptics may say that Christian organisations are only baiting the vulnerable, that there is always a hook attached to the line of religious conversion. Clearly these sceptics know little of true compassion. Mercy Ships’ mission statement could speak for many:

“Mercy Ships is an international faith-based organisation with a mission to increase access to health care throughout the world… As a Christian charity, Mercy Ships freely serves the poor without regard to race, gender or religion.”

And Mercy Ships is not alone. I could point to many churches which actively support medical missions or deal with the fallout of disease and poverty. I am beginning to lose count of the number of churches I know which have an active commitment to supporting facilities such as Aids orphanages in Africa, or the numbers of people I know who have give up holiday time or taken time out from their careers to go on short- and long-term placements to places such as Kenya, South Africa, China, Romania, in order to work with orphans, street kids or the handicapped. The overwhelming majority either pay their own way or do their own fundraising amongst other Christians. One young man I know is a qualified hospital/ER nurse who is currently spending a period of years operating a mobile clinic on a motorboat on Lake Tanganyika.

So do Christians believe that a church should be build instead of a hospital? The evidence suggests they are keen to build both, recognising that it is important to care for man’s physical needs as well as his spiritual needs.

And do atheists set out to build hospitals? Maybe some do, but atheism is generally both a cover and a pretext for people to do their own thing, to serve self-interest. The Christian Gospel, with its message of caring for those who are poor, needy and downtrodden, has within itself the seeds of the very social change that the atheists claim only non-believers can achieve.

It is clear that if we genuinely want to see more hospitals built in places that are way off the Western health services’ map, you can bet on Christians to get the job done. And in order for that to take place, we need infrastructure: the capacity to send and support; organised forums of committed, believing people who put others before themselves and who will both inspire people to go to the assistance of those in need and support them financially once they get there. Thus if atheists truly want to see more hospitals built, they had better pray that Christians build more churches.

More articles about the Atheist Monument to follow…

Of church, community and monopoly

1 May

One of the arguments frequently used by atheists in their attempts to undermine the truth and distinctiveness of Christianity is that we Christians don’t have a monopoly on [insert half-understood view of a cherished Christian belief, characteristic or practice here].

Apparently we don’t have a monopoly on decency, on good citizenship, or on love. I can’t think of many Christians I know who claim that we do have a monopoly on the milk of human kindness, yet I think we should be pointing out that one of the hallmarks of our faith is that it makes us grow those characteristics in increasing measure, and often in ways which the world cannot match. Besides, we possess other very real distinctives such as holiness, godliness, redemption and transformation into Christ’s likeness, attributes for which atheists don’t even have a vocabulary, much less a rival claim.

Yet many of us believers are increasingly being swayed by this kind of criticism, to the point that we are forgetting what makes us distinct, what makes us salt and light in a dark world. Liberal Christians are quick to fall for this kind of deception, and where liberal Christians lead, those of us in the evangelical church who don’t know who we are in Christ may quickly follow.

The pearl of ignorance that plopped onto my screen this week was formed from the idea that Christians don’t have a monopoly on community. It followed a forum discussion of a BBC News article on an “atheist church“. Again, it is true in one sense that we don’t have a monopoly on community – you can see community taking place in any pub, sports team or special interest group in the land – but what followed truly astounded me, for some of those contributing to the discussion were convinced that God is among these atheists in their atheist “church” – and any other grouping of generally like-minded people – just as much as He is among committed Christians in a real church. One contributor was asked if that meant that God was also present amongst a gathering of Satanists. Her response? A firm and unequivocal “Yes.”

Surely being Christians must bring something else besides togetherness, or else what is there to differentiate us from atheists or any other group?

We really have to start questioning what kind of faith we are of if we claim that there is little to no difference between a gathering of pleasant but deeply anti-Christian people and a gathering of people who are there to worship and revere God.

If God is amongst Satanists, was He also present and blessing the sense of community felt by all of those fine, athletic and committed young German men and women who gathered to sing rousing patriotic songs, heard Adolf Hitler preach his message of hatred, and then put their hands to the locks on the doors of the gas chambers, or who marched young teenage boys in their thousands out onto the battlefield, never to return?

Is God amongst Islamic terrorists as they shout “Allahu Akbar!” (God is great!) and then strap on suicide bombs, before going out to shred the flesh from unsuspecting people’s bones in a high street or a station?

Is God so weak, so diluted in our thinking, that He cares not what we think of Him, as long as we’re having fun? And if people are being transformed by their experience of community, but not into the likeness of Jesus Christ, then what are they being transformed into? And how can that be good for us – in the sense of ultimate good; the kind that results from genuine salvation – since it would only be transformation into man’s image rather than God’s?

The truth is that Jesus says, “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:20) It is God’s special promise that He is willing and available to dwell amongst His people. He makes no such guarantees for those who hate Him.

When we gather as Christians, we should make sure that God is amongst us, if He was truly amongst us in the first place, for He says that He has judgment in store for those who honour God with their lips, but whose hearts are actually far from Him. (Isaiah 29:13) Many of us have adopted a faith that makes excuses for our sins: we go to church and claim to love Jesus, but it’s business as usual all week whilst we continue to do what we please rather than allowing God to bring us to repentance.

If we lose or forfeit our godliness – whether in our godly lives or in the presence of God with us – what would be left to show that we know Him?

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