Things must be getting strange when even veteran atheist (he’s been shifted from the new category) Richard Dawkins now advocating a return to religious instruction classes in British schools.
Perhaps it’s just a turn in the evolutionary cog, but Dawkins is now, publicly, advocating comparative religious classes in schools in the UK, and note that word “comparative”.
He’s now firmly in the “all religions are bad, but some are worse than others camp”, putting himself firmly and squarely in the Christianity as good for the culture “quadrant, saying it’s important to know what our Western heritage is built upon.
You can read more of what he said here.
Dawkins even utters the “E” word, and I don’t mean “evolution”:
“It’s tempting to say all religions are bad, and I do say all religions are bad, but it’s a worse temptation to say all religions are equally bad because they’re not.”
Not exactly a Damascus Road experience, but it’s somewhere near it on Google Maps, probably somewhere close to the tennis Arena formerly known as Margaret Court.
Now I kinda like that, and it lines up with Kevin Donnelly’s comments in today’s The Australian pushing back against the claim by Civil Liberties Australia that we are not a Christian country. Donnelly states:
While a commitment to natural justice and liberty owes much to the Enlightenment, as argued by Larry Siedentop in Inventing the Individual, equally influential is the Bible’s statement, “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female: for ye are all one in Christ Jesus.”
At the risk of sounding churlish, such comments from Dawkins and Donnelly (one a non-believer and one a believer) always leave me conflicted.
The culture watcher in me wants the Christian frame to be assented to in our national dialogue, that is for sure. And I enjoy enjoying the fruit of the gospel in a culture that has been quick to sever the fruit from the root. I am always quick to point out to the Christophobes that they are squatting on land that they don’t own.
As Donnelly points out, the Enlightenment took the Christian work of art off the wall, scrubbed out the signature in the corner, and claimed it as its own. It’s a good thing to call out the secular hostility towards Christianity for what it is – a mere Christian heresy parading around as the new solution.
But the evangelist in me is less convinced that the comfort of a Christian foundation is all that helpful. Not if it comes at the expense of a culture that realises what it is missing and returns to the gospel.
Note that. Not a culture that returns to the Christian frame – the cultural fruit of the gospel. But to the gospel itself.
For there is something selfish about the secularist – and the Christian for that matter – who is happy to enjoy the fruit of the gospel, but reject the call of Christ to take up the cross and follow him.
Would evangelicals, who are concerned for the salvation of the lost, trade the comforts they receive within a Christianised culture, for an increase in genuine inquirers who, having looked into the abyss of the post-Christian ethical frame, are compelled to ask the hard questions?
In other words, would you be willing for culture to get harder for evangelism to get easier (relatively speaking of course).
I suspect that for all of our platitudes about that, we might baulk.
Or we might make up an excuse that somehow the Christianised culture – the fruit of the gospel – is a necessary component of our evangelism/apologetic strategy. There is a case for that, no doubt.
But as someone with an evangelistic heart and practice, perhaps there’s some space at least for considering a less cosy, comfortable world, a more brutal experience of post-Christianity to gain ascendancy, in order to drive people from the horror of what that actually is, to Christ.
We’re so far from what pagan Rome was like that we lost sight of how radically liberating the gospel was. Radically troubling, no doubt, but radically liberating for a whole host of people, the likes of whom today have been set free by the Christian foundation we take for granted. The Romantic airbrushing of the pagan brutality of Rome has not helped either.
So the cultural critic in me loves the Christian frame and all it offers in the way of fruit to our gospel-rejecting West. But you can’t saw down the cherry tree and expect cherries to keep growing for long.
So the evangelist in me just wonders what we might gain if we were able to say to people: “Remember those days when charity, humility and liberty were taken for granted? Well here’s why you shouldn’t have taken them for granted.”
I wonder what future I would choose and for what reasons. What about you?