Thursday, January 01, 2009

Atheist Believes Africa Needs God

Atheist Matthew Parris writes in "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."

Parris says this is "an observation I've been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God."

"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."

Parris lived in Africa as a child. He says that "the Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world - a directness in their dealings with others - that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall."

"Whenever we entered a territory worked by missionaries, we had to acknowledge that something changed in the faces of the people we passed and spoke to: something in their eyes, the way they approached you direct, man-to-man, without looking down or away."

Read Parris's entire article. it's well-written, gracious, and I believe it is true. While Dawkins/Hitchens/Harris talk about religion as "evil," Parris's account challenges this. Let me give a personal example. Before I became a believer in God and a follower of Jesus I was a not-very-nice-self-centered person. Christianity helped me realize this in the first place, and transform me in the second place to a more other-centered person. I don't think I'm fully selfless. One thing true Christianity teaches you is that one can never claim this sort of thing. As C.S. Lewis once said, "The true Christian's nostrils must be constantly attuned to the inner cesspool."

Isn't that too strong? I consider this insight as relevant as ever in a world where Israel and Hamas are bombing one another and kids are dying and suffering.

Reading the words of Jesus over and over and over for years has convinced me of Jesus' preferential option for the poor. You can't really follow Jesus and not see this. Some years ago I was privileged to be invited by a small group of Christians in my community to begin a soup kitchen to feed the hungry. Today we serve a meal a day, 7 days a week, to 100-200 people at each meal. Nearly all of the many workers in this project are Christians. Some years ago I invited a local atheist to serve with me in the soup kitchen. He wasn't interested. Of course one can't conclude from this that atheists are unconcerned for the poor. Perhaps Matthew Parris would not only approve of our soup kitchen but serve in it as well. But within the noetic framework of evolutionary naturalism (atheism) one he would be hard-pressed to find reasons to do so.