Sunday, December 28, 2008

Advantage, Christianity

One of the best things about a blog powered by (due acknowledgement coming up) Google's software is the "My Bloglist" on the right-hand side of the blog. At a glance I can see if any of my favourite blogistas have made a new posting. This morning, waking up Down Under to a perfect summer's day, two brilliant columns appear from the far side of the world. In one John Richardson, joining an ongoing, bubbling debate about the disestablishment of the Church of England, shares the luminous wisdom of T. S. Eliot. In the other, noted by Bishop Alan's Blog, and long enough for just a taster to be given here, Matthew Parris, Times columnist and confirmed atheist, gives as near perfect an apologia for 'the difference Jesus makes' as any Christian could! In tennis parlance (the Australian Open is not far away), 'Advantage, Christianity'!

John Richardson, The Ugley Vicar:

Why now would be a very bad time for disestablishment

The disestablishment of the Church of England makes very good theological sense. At the same time, I firmly believe that now would be a very bad time for it, since those who advocate it the loudest do so, I suspect, not for the effect it would have on the Church of England but for the effect it would have on our society. And what they intend, I'm sure, would would be very bad:

"It is in Christianity that our arts have developed; it is in Christianity that the laws of Europe have —until recently — been rooted. It is against a background of Christianity that all our thought has significance. An individual European may not believe that the Christian Faith is true, and yet what he says, and makes, and does, will all spring out of his heritage of Christian culture and depend upon that culture for its meaning. Only a Christian culture could have produced a Voltaire or a Nietzsche [both unbelievers]. I do not believe that the culture of Europe could survive the complete disappearance of the Christian Faith. ... If Christianity goes, the whole of our culture goes. Then you must start painfully again, and you cannot put on a new culture ready made. You must wait for the grass to grow to feed the sheep to give the wool out of which your new coat will be made. You must pass through many centuries of barbarism. We should not live to see the new culture, nor would our great-great-great-grandchildren: and if we did, not one of us would be happy in it."

(T S Eliot, ‘Notes Towards the Definition of Culture’, 1948, in Christianity and Culture, p200)

Matthew Parris, As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God

... Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

I used to avoid this truth by applauding - as you can - the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.

But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing. ...

Parris ends his column in this striking set of paragraphs:

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.

Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted.

And I'm afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.

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