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Christianity’s Positive Contributions: An Atheist Confession

Jan 10, 2009

Christianity is far more than just pie in the sky in the sweet bye and bye. Wherever Christian missionaries and workers have gone, there has been tremendous work in social reform. The Christian Gospel is not just about getting souls into heaven, but bettering conditions on planet earth as well.

Two thousand years of Christianity have involved both: rescuing souls and improving living conditions. This has been amply documented. Back in 1899 James Dennis wrote a three volume study entitled Christian Missions and Social Progress which ran well over 1200 pages.

In it he said this: “Missionary effort has a sociological sphere to fill as well as an evangelistic. It has necessarily to come into contact with corrupt social customs, non-Christian practices, barbaric ideals, and a complex heathen environment. . . . It therefore becomes clear that the mission of Christianity is to transform and elevate man, as well in his associate relationships as in his individual life, and to build up throughout the heathen world a civilisation whose centre is a church of redeemed souls, and whose circumference is only measured by the radiating influences of Christian teaching and practice.”

Somewhat more recently has been the monumental work of Yale historian Kenneth Scott Latourette (1884-1968). He wrote extensively on the history and spread of Christianity around the world, and on its social impact. Perhaps the most important part of his work is his 12-volume history. The first seven volumes, A History of the Expansion of Christianity (1937-45) was a meticulous look at how the Christian faith spread. The set was followed up by a five-volume work, looking at recent Christian missions: Christianity In a Revolutionary Age; A History of Christianity in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries (1958-1969).

For those without the stomach – or time – to digest the 12 volumes, he also penned a two-volume history (A History of Christianity, 1953), and he also wrote a one-volume work, Christianity though the Ages (1965). Other specific studies were written as well. Latourette was arguably our most prolific and exhaustive historian of Christianity. He makes it perfectly clear that Christianity has had a tremendous social, intellectual, political, cultural, educational and artistic impact wherever it was spread.

All this is simply the matter of historical record. Yet when one encounters the works of the new atheists, a completely different picture is presented. Dawkins, Harris, Hitchens et. al., want to convince us that religion in general and Christianity in particular are utterly harmful and disadvantageous. Hitchens can entitle his 2007 book: god is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Their diatribes against religion are as vicious as they are inaccurate.

Thus it was quite surprising to hear an atheist come out recently and actually defend Christianity. He in fact believes that it has done a lot of good, and we would be impoverished if it had not existed. I kid you not.

The atheist in question is Matthew Parris. Writing in the Timesonline last December, his piece began with the provocative title, “As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God”. He starts his article with these words: “Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it’s Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.”

He continues, “It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I’ve been trying to banish all my life, but 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. 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.”

He realises that this is not just about doing good works, but the faith which lies behind the charitable deeds: “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.”

He reminisces about missionaries he has known: “We had friends who were missionaries, and as a child I stayed often with them; I also stayed, alone with my little brother, in a traditional rural African village. In the city we had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. 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.”

And he notes the major worldview differences between Christianity and African tribal beliefs: “Anxiety – fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things – strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won’t take the initiative, won’t take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders. How can I, as someone with a foot in both camps, explain? When the philosophical tourist moves from one world view to another he finds – at the very moment of passing into the new – that he loses the language to describe the landscape to the old. But let me try an example: the answer given by Sir Edmund Hillary to the question: Why climb the mountain? ‘Because it’s there,’ he said.”

He continues, “To the rural African mind, this is an explanation of why one would not climb the mountain. It’s… well, there. Just there. Why interfere? Nothing to be done about it, or with it. Hillary’s further explanation – that nobody else had climbed it – would stand as a second reason for passivity. 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 philosophical/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.”

He concludes by noting the importance of worldviews: “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.”

It is refreshing and surprising to see such candour coming from a confirmed atheist. I suppose what makes Parris so different from his fellow atheists is that he has actually been to other parts of the world and seen the good that Christianity has achieved, while the others tend to stay in their ivory towers.

Parris has actually seen firsthand what Christians have been up to. He can testify to the incredible benefits of practical and biblical Christianity. Too bad the other atheists don’t get out of their offices more often, and see what life is really like. But they would then have to ease up on their militant atheism. One suspects that many of these zealous atheist evangelists would rather cling to their reductionist ideology than allow facts and evidence to actually alter their worldview.

www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/matthew_parris/article5400568.ece

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17 Responses to Christianity’s Positive Contributions: An Atheist Confession

  • A very encouraging thought as we start 2009.
    Stephen White

  • It is a pity that Peter Tatchell (like Matthew Paris, a homosexual atheist) who recently outed the truth, concerning homosexuality and genetics, has not also found it within himself to out the truth, regarding the benefits of Christian influence on society.

    It is interesting to lay Matthew Paris’ views regarding Christian influence alongside the current economic crisis, particularly in Britain where, the Prime Minister, Gordon Brown has declared that he is going to get the unemployed back into work by creating 100 000 new jobs. It is estimated that there could soon be three million people out of work and by 2010 one in 10 unemployed.

    It is interesting because, whilst simultaneously trying to create jobs, Gordon Brown’s government is excluding and discriminating against Christians in the work place, shutting down their businesses and questioning their charitable status:

    www.christian.org.uk/news/20081229/christian-care-home-loses-funding-over-gay-rights/ (Christian care home loses funding over ‘gay rights’)
    www.christian.org.uk/news/20081219/lillian-ladele-ruling-is-overturned-on-appeal/ (Threatening to fire a Christian registrar who asked to be exempt from registering homosexual civil partnerships)
    www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/4177427/Christian-sex-therapist-refused-to-counsel-gay-couples.html (A Christian relationship counsellor who was sacked after he refused to give sex therapy to homosexual couples has lost his case for unlawful discrimination.)
    www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/politics/4109051/Gordon-Brown-to-create-100000-jobs-under-anti-recession-plans.html (Up to 100,000 new jobs are to be created in an attempt to offset unemployment cause by the recession under ‘anti-recession’ plans announced by Gordon Brown)

    Gordon Brown’s comment, “We are not going to stand by and allow nothing to be done when people are facing difficulties,” reminded me of Jonathan Safarti’s contribution: this clip from Yes Prime Minister

    The message of the frescoes from the Sienna town hall, created in very different times to our own, have become all but incomprehensible. www.wga.hu/frames-e.html?/html/l/lorenzet/ambrogio/governme/

    Apologies, Bill, a picture is worth a thousand words.

    David Skinner, UK

  • The Prime Minister, Gordon Brown has declared that he is going to spend billions of pounds in order get the unemployed back into work.

    He said, “I want to show how we will be able, through public investments and public works, to create probably 100,000 additional jobs over the next period of time in our capital investment programme – school hospitals, environmental work and infrastructure, transport,” he said in an interview on Sunday.
    “We are not going to stand by and allow nothing to be done when people are facing difficulties.”
    (shades of Jonathan Safarti’s “Yes Minister” clip).

    When we put Matthew Paris’ “confession” alongside Gordon Brown’s plan to get the institutionalised unemployed, who live off state benefit, back into work, and the present reality of hard working, decent individuals and organisations being forced out of their jobs, by the government, simply because they refuse conform to it Marxist, evolutionary humanist philosophy, we are surely looking at a nation that has gone beyond the point of no return.

    www.telegraph.co.uk/news/uknews/2309730/Christian-policeman-claims-victimisation-over-opposition-to-gay-pride-event.html (Christian policeman ‘victimised’ over opposition to gay pride event)
    www.christian.org.uk/news/20081219/lillian-ladele-ruling-is-overturned-on-appeal/ (Threatening to fire a Christian registrar who asked to be exempt from registering homosexual civil partnerships)
    www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/religion/4177427/Christian-sex-therapist-refused-to-counsel-gay-couples.html (A Christian relationship counsellor who was sacked after he refused to give sex therapy to homosexual couples has lost his case for unlawful discrimination.)
    www.christian.org.uk/news/20081229/christian-care-home-loses-funding-over-gay-rights/ (Christian care home loses funding over ‘gay rights’)
    www.christian.org.uk/news/20080716/blears-faith-groups-can%e2%80%99t-do-social-work-if-they-evangelise/ (Blears: faith groups can’t do social work if they evangelise).

    David Skinner, UK

  • Wow, that was a mind blowing article! Praise God!! I will print this out, read it, and re-read it to remind myself of the reality of God.

    Tony Trinh

  • I wonder Bill if you could send this to the arrogant, rude and bitter lapsed Catholic Catherine Deveny of THE AGE. She is always having a crack at Christians, and always seems to be making negative comments in her column. As George Fox founder of the Quakers said “There is one who know thy condition, even Christ Jesus”, and I believe the condition of her heart would rebel against the honest acceptance of Parris’s assessment.

    Wayne Pelling

  • I see from David Skinner’s informative post that the Gay-stapo is hard at work in the UK: fighting to abolish Judeo-Christianity.
    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

  • Though Matthew Parris (even), for whatever motive, has been moved to acknowledge the beneficial influence of Christians, working in Africa, he, like all practising homosexuals, suffers from DMS (double minded syndrome). Here, he is attempting to “out” Tintin, but he does not have the courage, as yet, to “out” Jesus Christ. But I am sure, with time and the growing confidence of the homosexual legions, this abomination will also come.

    entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article5461005.ece

    As Stephen Noll says, Matthew Paris follows a world view that is just as paralysing as African tribalism.

    www.anglican-mainstream.net/2008/12/28/stephen-noll-responds-to-matthew-parris-on-africa/

    Obviously Parris does not see homosexuality as enslaving as any enslavement of the black African. Forgetting all that he might have considered regarding the beneficial effects of Christianity, he is relentlessly pushing the agenda of the LBBT History month:

    www.lgbthistorymonth.org.uk/

    Driven by a demonic spirit Matthew Parris would have our children identified not by gender but their sexual preferences. Only a perverse and desperately wicked character would attempt to read sexual impulses in all and any book written for children, from Telly Tubbies and Noddy to Harry Potter.

    We are men and women, boys and girls. A man and his masculinity are made even more identifiable by being contiguous with femininity. Its called complementarity, just as the colour green becomes even greener when placed against red. The homosexual because he is not juxtaposed to femininity allows his masculinity to atrophy and die. Likewise we only have to look at lesbians to see the dried husks of what were once women.

    Returning to Stephen Noll’s last comment, ”Short of a revival of Christian faith in Britain among people like him, (Parris) the likeliest successor will not be secularism but Islam.”

    www.christian.org.uk/news/20090112/reverend%e2%80%99s-radio-show-axed-over-muslim-row/

    David Skinner, UK

  • At the heart of the Christian world view is the command found in Matthew 22 to love the Lord your God with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind and to love our neighbour as ourself. ‘All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments The Christian faith therefore exhorts us to put others first . Love is a one way street, away from ourselves.

    By contrast Tony Blair and Gordon Brown’s labour government, of twelve years now, has been driven by envy and covetousness.

    When Mr Blair was swept into power in 1997 there was practically nothing that the labour party could do in a mood of rebelliousness or refusal to accept the ways and values of a run-down, spiritually impoverished way of life, for which the British people shouldn’t have felt some degree of sympathy or, at any rate, understanding. His government was seen as the spearhead of progress, flattered and paid for by his admiring backers, an elite who would happily and audaciously carry the torch of progress into the glorious future opening before them.

    Yet how infinitely sad; how, in a macabre sort of way, funny, that the form the insubordination took should be a demand for licence; for the most tenth-rate sort of escapism and self-indulgence ever known! It is of one of those situations a social historian with a sense of humour will find very much to his taste. All is prepared for a marvellous release of socialist creativity; we await the great works of art, the highspirited venturing into new fields of perception and understanding — and what do we get? The resort of any old slobbering debauchee anywhere in the world at any time — the pill, drugs, the condom, abortion and the homosexual narcissists whose only concern is with themselves – with self-absorption. Whilst out to destroy Christian charities, they have no desire to replace them with anything else. Their only charitable concerns are self -serving ones, such as the raising of funds to combat their own self-induced sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS.

    My apologies for making free with the words of Malcom Muggeridge when he was delivering his resignation speech, as rector of Edinburgh University in 1968.

    www.worldinvisible.com/library/mugridge/jred/jredch10.htm
    www.worldinvisible.com/library/mugridge/jred/jredcont.htm

    David Skinner, UK

  • I’m glad you enjoyed the article Bill. Its great isn’t it?
    Catharine Carpenter

  • Thanks Bill, for the summary of Matthew Parris’ fascinating acknowledgement, from an atheist, of God’s heart liberation. It was instructive to see his comparison of native African culture, and their strong fears, in comparison to those Africans who have found the joy of the Lord Jesus.

    Thanks also for the information re Chrisitan historian, Kenneth Latourette. Maybe one day…..

    David Everard

  • David,

    Thank you for the links to Malcolm Muggeridge’s retirement speech – what incisive words!

    Now bookmarked for further study.

    John Angelico

  • Hello David,

    When reading your posts I became concerned that perhaps they are a bit too fixated on the radicalism coming from the homosexual lobby. Mainly because the original article is not actually about Matthew Parris’ sexual orientation, but about what he says as an atheist.

    When I read your response I felt that you overlook/diminish the impact of his recognition of Christianity’s goodness, and the honesty needed to admit that as an atheist, in favour of condemning other aspects of his character/worldview. I might be wrong, but I encourage you to examine whether you are reacting out of anger/defensiveness at the radical left or out of concern to see secularists and atheists set free from moral fog.

    Natasha Sim

  • I must confess John that I had not read this speech in its entirety. Thank you for getting me to do so! It is chilling to think that this was written forty years ago; and how, though those hearing it at the time, especially the moderate and genteel Christians, might have accused Muggeridge of over-dramatisation, the fact is that we have moved way past the barbarism that he predicted.
    It is also interesting to see him use the word “gay” for the last time, before it became horribly perverted in its meaning.

    David Skinner, UK

  • Dear Natasha Sim,

    I ask the same question of myself: am I suffering from OCD – Obsessive Compulsion Disorder? Some even accuse me of “protesting too much”. But it does not alter the fact that the rise of homosexuality in the 21st century is a first order issue, a deconstructing of western civilisation and again in the words of Malcom Muggeridge, it seeps into everything like “black atomic dust.”

    It is great that Matthew Paris, like Balaam, but more recently like Peter Tatchell, is moved to come out with the truth. But my point is that before us Christians start shouting hallelujah, we need to be aware, that quick as a flash, he returns to his vomit. His article, written on December 28th, claiming that as an atheist he truly believes Africa needs God, is completely negated by his article, written barely a week ago, on claiming that Tintin is a homosexual: entertainment.timesonline.co.uk/tol/arts_and_entertainment/books/article5461005.ece

    I flagged up Stephen Noll’s article, www.anglican-mainstream.net/2008/12/28/stephen-noll-responds-to-matthew-parris-on-africa/, in which he said,

    “Finally, as for the ‘crushing’ African mindset, maybe Mr. Parris should take a look closer to home and be concerned about the UK and its secularist mindset..I would to God Mr. Parris might reflect further on his experience and see that his atheism is as crushing and dark as the mindset of tribal African religion, and despite a veneer of liberality no more reasonable (Romans 1:21). Short of a revival of Christian faith in Britain among people like him, the likeliest successor will not be secularism but Islam.”
    Stephen Noll also directed us to read Theodore Dalrymple on “The Quivering Upper Lip”

    Natasha, too right I am angry about the effects of evolutionary humanism/Marxism on our families and on our children in particular. In 1950 Marcuse claimed that it would be a coalition of blacks (militants like Obama), students, feminist women and homosexuals who would lead a Marxist revolution in the west: www.marylandthursdaymeeting.com/Archives/SpecialWebDocuments/Cultural.Marxism.htm

    But my anger is pale and lukewarm compared to the judgement of God that many believe is already being poured out on western civilisation, starting with the economy. God is not mocked, certainly not by Matthew Paris.

    David Skinner, UK

  • Hello David,

    It is right for you to be angry at what secularism and humanism do to society. But I’m concerned about whether your anger is truly directed at that. Calling ‘all practising homosexuals’ doubleminded and Parris wicked and perverse seems to attack the person/people rather than the ideology. Although you have a gifting for debate and reasoning, gifts exercised to service personal offense will not accomplish God’s will, and so I hope that you do not intend to attack individuals. That is only my personal impression, but I hope that you will take it up with God if it is the case.

    Natasha Sim

  • Thanks so much for this article Bill. What a wonderful testimony. I have a close relative who mistakenly believes that most of the worlds problems are because of Missionaries who go ‘interferring in other peoples lives’.

    This article is all the more precious because as you say, it comes from the pen of an athiest rather than one of our own. But then as the Word says “When a mans ways please the Lord, He makes even his enemies to be at peace with him.”

    I’ll get a copy of the article to share, in the hope that ‘the truth will set you free’ and he too will know the peace that passes beyond understanding. Thanks again for such an awesome article and resource.

    Michelle Shave

  • This writer is also gay, but he has no time for churchian compromisers who claim that the Bible doesn’t teach against homosexual behaviour. See No, God would not have approved of gay bishops, 9 August 2003:

    Certainly it is true that Jesus departed from conventional Judaic teaching in the emphasis He put on forgiveness, but neither the story (for example) of the woman taken in adultery, nor the parable of the prodigal son suggest that He countenanced a continuation of the sins of either. What these stories teach is that repentance is acceptable to God however late it comes, and that the virtuous should not behave in a vindictive manner towards sinners. That is a very different thing from a shoulder-shrugging chuckle of “different strokes for different folks”.

    When the row over the appointment of gay bishops first blew up I expected, being gay, to join the side of the Christian modernisers. But try as I do to summon up enthusiasm for my natural allies; sorry as I feel for homosexuals struggling to reconcile their sexuality with their membership of the Church; and strive though I have to feel indignant at the conservative evangelicals, passion fails me. I know why.

    “Inclusive”, “moderate” or “sensible” Christianity is inching its way up a philosophical cul-de-sac. The Church stands for revealed truth and divine inspiration or it stands for nothing. Belief grounded in everyday experience alone is not belief. The attempt, sustained since the Reformation, to establish the truth of Christianity on the rock of human observation of our own natures and of the world around us runs right against what the Bible teaches from the moment Moses beheld a burning bush in the Egyptian desert to the point when Jesus rises from the dead in His sepulchre. Stripped of the supernatural, the Church is on a losing wicket.

    Even as a ten-year-old boy in Miss Silk’s Scripture class, when I heard the account of how the parting of the Red Sea could actually be explained by freak tides, and that the story of the loaves and fishes really taught us how Jesus set an example by sharing His disciples’ picnic (so everybody else shared theirs), I thought: “Don’t be silly Miss Silk! If Jesus couldn’t do miracles, why should we listen? If the bush was just burning naturally, then Moses was fooled.”

    Jonathan Sarfati, Brisbane

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