Tuesday, January 08, 2013

Christians say Atheists are right

I've spoken in the past, and I'm due to do so again later this term, about the subject:

How Atheists Are Right
 1. CHRISTIANITY ASKS A QUESTION

The basic thought here is that there is a god that some people don't believe in. And some of the people who don't believe in this god are very vocal about the god they don't believe in. The late Christopher Hitchins was a particularly strong example of this, with a flare for brilliance with language.

The existence of God would be a bad thing. It would be like living in North Korea. 
This is god as Kim Jung Il - who as it happens died in the same week as Hitchins in late 2011. A god of power and supervision and invigilation and suspicion.
A Christians hears of the god being described - or invites the question:
Can tell me about the god you don't believe in?

And almost always has to say: I don't believe in that god either.

The Atheist is Right. But the conversation is not over. We've talked at cross purposes. Hitchins and co. decided they're atheists (anti-theists) for a god that not very many people (if any) really believe in. We're each using the word "GOD" differently. This isn't just about playing word games - the gods of Islam, Hinduism, and Christianity simply aren't the same and its both patronising and ignorant to say they are.

At its worst you hear it said that the religions are like blind people touching an elephant, each getting different parts of the picture... or different paths up a mountain. In these stories the all knowing atheist who sits relativising everyone else's position claims to be able to see where everyone else is blind. Imagining everyone can be right is all very John Lennon.. all very unrealistic.

In our day to day language, God is a homonym for various things. Wikipedia notes:
"a river bank, a savings bank, a bank of switches, and a bank shot in pool share a common spelling and pronunciation, but differ in meaning"
And of course, atheist has a broad meaning - the First and Second Century Christians were known as 'the atheists' because they didn't believe in the Greek and Roman gods. We're all atheists to certain gods, and we're all theists to others - even if our 'god' is less personal and more a value.

So, what do you mean by 'god' - and why should I care...

A simple reason for caring is that if true a lot rests on the claims of Christianity - what's the harm in investigating. Sometimes people appeal to Pascal's Wager to say that you may as well bet on Christianity on the off chance that it's true. That everyone doesn't do so exposes that we're not neutrals in this debate. Logic would say believe but we act against that...

2. CHRISTIANITY OFFERS A DIFFERENT DEFINITION

My first move isn't believe, but consider the evidence (which from my point of view isn't just evidence but divine revelation...).

I want to appeal to two kinds of evidence to support the Christian claim to the existence of God... Which God? When a Christian says GOD they mean who you know when you know Jesus. Jesus whose purpose is to introduce his Father. (Luke 10) God who is firstly Father, who sent his Son into the world in the power of the Holy Spirit. Not power, but a person - a person who is universally acknowledged to have been good and kind and innocent, and who was nonetheless executed and then it was claimed resurrected. There is a story to consider, to read.

Firstly, there is emotional evidence.
Secondly, there is historical evidence.

3. CHRISTIANITY MAKES EMOTIONAL SENSE

By emotional evidence I mean that inconsolable longing we have for community, for answers, for hope, for love... but why? We live in a society where two comedian's just started an Atheists Church - with the form of a church meeting but none of the content. The very nice atheist Alain de Botton published 'Religion for Atheists' advocating this and many similar approaches. People still go to Carol Services at Christmas. There is something in us that feels like there should be something more. Despite the protests from Nietzsche to Hitchins 'god' hasn't gone away... the church is growing in the UK and much more globally, and we long for more.

And atheism isn't working... it's all well and good to send out an atheist bus telling people to stop worrying and enjoy their life, but most people don't have the option of enjoyment. Life is harder than that. And kick back and enjoy life is no good answer to suffering people.

4. CHRISTIANITY HAS HISTORICAL BASIS

By historical evidence I mean that there really are eyewitness documents that tell us about Jesus - both from the Bible and other sources.. John Dickson writes:
Jesus is described by Josephus as a mere "wise man" and "doer of strange deeds", expressions that no Christian propagandist would have employed. Those responsible for his execution are "men of the highest standing among us." It strains belief to think of a Christian penning such a thing; so too with the concluding comment that "the tribe of Christians, named after him, has still not disappeared to this day," which sounds like the author believed Christianity was on its way out. How wrong Josephus was! Taken together, the non-Christian references "provide us with certainty" about Jesus's life and death, insists Professor Christopher Tuckett of Oxford University (certainly no friend of Christian apologetics), and "render highly implausible any far-fetched theories that even Jesus's very existence was a Christian invention." This is the consensus of non-religious experts today and no amount of sceptical huffing and puffing can change that. There are, of course, some forceful arguments against Christian belief - the problem of miracles or alternative religions, the existence of evil and suffering, the scandal of hell, just to name a few. These require grown-up responses from thoughtful believers. These belong to the real heavyweight contest.
Which brings us full circle, perhaps when it comes to the anti-theists the real issue is that Christian belief comes with some challenging subjects and the Christian answers don't seem palatable, or good answers haven't been given. Maybe the issue is that despite the warmth of the invitation in Christianity we're no different to the people in the days Jesus walked around the streets of Palestine... some loved him and received him... and some hated him, plotted against him, and rejected him because his free invitation to relationship with God undermined the way they wanted to live, the power structures of their worldviews, the place they held in society.

5. CHRISTIANITY MAKES AN INVITATION

Our invitation, is to see for yourself. Consider the questions you have, and consider Jesus. Read Luke's Gospel which is a kind of biography of Jesus, biased because it intends to inform us and lead us to be convinced about who Jesus is, but nonetheless good history that seeks to persuade us precisely because what Luke uncovered is such good news.