Good God, it works!
A Professor at one of the great English Universities became a Christian late in life and subsequently wrote a book with the above title. C S Lewis, also a late convert to Christianity recorded his story in the book “Surprised by Joy”. Christians, almost alone in the world of faith, sing and almost always it is personal and reflects the nature and content of their faith. Supreme in the realm of Christian music is the Messiah, by Handel and who can listen to that music and not know something of the nature of man’s relationship with God.
Man is incurably religious and only a small minority are really indifferent or truly agnostic or atheist. Yet mankind’s greatest tragedies and triumphs are most often founded on religion in one form or another. Throughout history we have slaughtered each other in the name of faith in some form of deity and the variety of faith based organisations seems endless – where do we find the truth?
When we take faith out of the equation we create monsters – Hegel, teaching at a small University in Germany and never to more than a handful of students evolved the idea of a closed, self contained Universe where humanity evolves physically and socially within a series of cycles that sees mankind evolving into ever higher forms of social and political life. Marxism was the result and the great leaders that founded their empires on such ideas in the Soviet Union and China as well as National Socialism in Nazi Germany, created political regimes that perhaps killed more people than any other system in the long history of mankind on earth.
But even systems that seem to put God at the centre, like the radical Islamists, seem to create societies that are cruel and homophobic in the extreme. The images coming out of the new Sultanate in Iraq and Syria are not pretty, the attacks on women and girls and against all forms of modern education in North Africa are just as radical and extreme.
Then along comes Christmas or “Xmas” and you have to fight your way though a whole mountain of simplistic, shallow “Christianity” which bears little resemblance to the real thing. If the religious aspects of Christmas do not overwhelm you, the commercial aspects will probably do it for you. Man sees a good thing and decides that this is a great opportunity to throw a party and celebrate; who cares if no one at the party really knows what it is all about.
I grew up in a family where religion played little or no role. Although my father came from a long line of Baptists and we can trace our family back to the early Christians in Scotland over a thousand years ago, we never attended Church or practiced any sort of religion at home. When I was just 18 years old I stumbled over Christianity and found faith. It was a life changing experience and like C S Lewis and fellow English academic, I found myself surprised by the real experience of a living faith in God through Christ.
I have now been an active, practicing Christian for 57 years and often wonder why something so simple, so universal and real in life does not sweep the world and assume ascendency. I shared my faith with an outstanding economist and friend in Europe, Jacques Bellay and he roared with laughter and said “Eddie, you should be in a glass case in a museum”. He was French and they are perhaps the most godless people on earth.
In Africa that is not our problem. Agnosticism and atheism are virtually unknown. In fact if you expressed such views most people would dismiss them as being nonsensical – of course God exists, they would think, we see that every day in all our lives, everywhere. So Africa is a religious haven and in Zimbabwe today I would estimate that over 80 per cent of our population would claim to be “Christian”. Churches are packed to the doors and the one vocation that seems impervious to the machinations of our economy is being a Pastor in one of our new Mega Churches.
But increasingly I am driven back onto the fundamental principles of life on this tiny, lonely planet floating in an endless Universe. What is the life force that makes us living, thinking, acting human beings? Where does it come from and does it preexist and carry on after we die? Like electricity running through a wire, we use it every day, it’s part of our lives and we often take it for granted, but we have no idea as to what it really is, only that it does “stuff” in machines and appliances (and human beings) when turned on.
Then there are the consequences of our world view. If we think that the Universe is a closed system, self generating and evolving over time, then mankind is just another feature of this marvelous system and there is no basis on which we can hold to any fundamental principles or moral anchors. Everything is relative and nothing is prescriptive. If we agree, anything goes. If we are evolving through time then it’s possible to think of higher and lower forms of life – the one more “advanced” than the other.
In this amorphous sea of relativism and evolution there can be no fundamental moral or legal principles and our approach to the value and worth of human kind would be totally subjective. Racism would be OK, Hitler was right, the Aryans are more advanced and all forms of “inferior” humanity should be wiped out, the holocaust involving 6 million people of Jewish extraction and many more millions of Gypsies, mentally and physically limited people, was not a crime against humanity, but a justifiable act to rid the world of undesirables.
If on the other hand our world view includes a Universe that is open to a Higher Being who is outside of time and space and justifies the description of “God”, then a whole raft of consequences follow. How can we “know” that being, what does he stand for and what are the consequences of disobedience? Christianity has all the answers to those questions and the application of those principles to life on earth, while not yielding an earthly paradise, does bring freedom, human progress, human rights, dignity and value to human life in all its forms as well as equality between all the many different types and categories of the human species.
All religions claim this for themselves. But when I look at the consequences of the application of their version of the truth, I see many radical shortcomings. The Biblical injunction that we “shall know them by the fruit of their lives” seems to me to be eternally true. Islam with its discrimination against women and girls, it’s totally subjective application of its law and their freedom to interpret the law in their own way to the detriment of all others, just seems to rule it out as any system of true truth.
One could say the same of all other varieties of religious belief – judged by their fruits they fail the test of veracity. That is not Christian arrogance, it’s simply an observation based on historical and other facts about the life of humanity on planet earth. We are all free to hold to whatever opinions that we are committed to but we must also learn to judge those views and beliefs by the consequences.
Bulawayo, 26th December 2014