Archive for August, 2011

A friend has asked me if I could tackle the whole issue of other religions – so here goes. This blog is going to be just an introduction and then over the following weeks I will look at specific religions and what I, as a Christian, believe about them.

So, let’s start at the very beginning with two definitions so that we will all, hopefully, understand what I’m talking about..

Religionthe belief in and worship of a superhuman controlling power , especially a personal God or gods

Culta relatively small group of people having religious beliefs or practices regarded by others as strange or as imposing excessive control over members

Definitions, can of course, be helpful but let’s not hold onto them too tightly. What one person will call a religion another may call a cult. I, for example, don’t like to think of Christianity as a religion or myself as religious. For me, Christianity is far more about relationship than religion and I feel for more spiritual than religious. For me the words religion and religious have negative connotations. For me, all the side of Christianity that has been created by man and the appalling things that have been done in the name of Christianity belong to the religious side of the faith. Christianity for me is more about a movement of people; it’s about the person of Jesus; it’s about our relationship with God. When I think about religion in connection with Christianity I think of things such as Church buildings; bells; candles, robes; guilt; control; darkness and man’s traditions. For me these things are in no way central to Christianity and some have no place whatsoever within it. So definitions can be helpful but please don’t get hung up on them or offended by my use of them.

Within Christianity there are many opinions about other religions. Ask three Christians what they believe about other faiths and you’ll get 5 opinions!! In general Christians fall into one of three camps, though the lines between these camps are a little blurred. Christians will tend to believe in either Pluralsim, Exclusivism or Inclusivism even if they don’t know it!!

Pluralism is the view that there are many, equally valid paths to God. Christianity is only one of these, and is no more superior than the others.

 

Exclusivism is the polar opposite of pluralism, holding that salvation is only through explicit faith in Christ.

 

Inclusivism holds that while Christ is the only way to salvation, people of other faiths may be saved.

 

So, where do I sit? Having said that Christians fall into one of three camps I would have to say that, if I had to choose, I would be in the Exclusivism camp. However, there is part of me that wonders about certain passages in the Bible that suggest that Inclusivism may have some weight.

 

All that is to explain that this series will be written mainly from the point of view of an Exclusivist but with some bending allowed!!

 

If Christianity and more importantly the teachings of the Bible are true then Christianity is true at the expense of other religions being not true. Jesus claims in the book of John that

 

I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me”

 

If this statement is to be understood correctly then it makes Christianity pretty exclusive. Equally in Deuteronomy we read that

 

the LORD is God; besides him there is no other.”

 

These aren’t wishy washy ideas but statements that are meant to be taken as fact! To me the Bible is pretty clear that the God of the Bible is the only God and any other god (note the small g) is a man-made creation. I believe that either the Bible is true and there is one one God – the one portrayed in the Bible or the Bible is not true. I cannot see how you can believe that the teaching of the Bible allows the possibility of other Gods (note capital G) existing. This is not always a popular view in today’s society as the concept of ultimate truth has been thrown out the window and has been replaced with relativism where I can believe one thing my friend can believe the opposite and we can both be right. For me this holds no weight!! When looking at religion either Christianity is true and other religions false, another religion true and all the rest false or all religions false. Two plus two can’t equal four, six, 9.5 and seventy three. Some things can seem opposing and yet both be true, but not in the case of Christianity. Just as when it comes to either He exists or he doesn’t exist – both cannot be true God cannot exist and not exist!

 

Next week we’ll start to look at some major religions and I’ll try and give a Christian view of it’s beliefs.

What If I’ve been hurt by the church?

Posted: August 24, 2011 by Nathan in What If...
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As far as I know there aren’t too many people that have been hurt by the church worldwide. In fact there aren’t that many people that have been hurt by complete individual churches. However, when most people say that they’ve been hurt by the church they really mean they’ve been hurt by a particular individual or small group of individuals within a church. Don’t get me wrong, this doesn’t make the hurt any less real or what these individuals did any less wrong. It does, however, help us to try and think about it with a better perspective. Would you blame a billion people for the actions of an individual? Would you miss out on winning the lottery because the newsagent was rude?

Whenever we enter into relationship with others we put ourselves in a place of vulnerability. If we are married it is our spouse that is likely to cause us more pain than anyone else. If we have children they are likely to cause us a different by still real and intense pain. Those we love the most and those that love us the most have the likelihood to cause us the most pain. Churches are meant to be places of security, love, care, intimacy, peace and trust. However, churches are made up of people, albeit Christian people. Now, people think that Christians are meant to be almost perfect. Let’s face it many Christians portray themselves that way. Christians should be better people than non-Christians, there is no question about it. Christians have a purpose, a calling, a God who instructs and a Holy Spirit that guide. Christian have been shown through Jesus and the Bible the way they should live and have been put into churches to help them along. However, Christians are still erring human beings with more faults than you can shake a stick at. Let’s be realistic a compulsive liar who becomes a Christian will still be a compulsive liar from one day to the next. Becoming a Christian doesn’t make to perfect overnight. The compulsive liar may double his efforts not to lie once he has become a Christian but he will still struggle with it for years and may never overcome the temptation to continue lying.

Christians are not perfect. The Bible tells us that if we claim we have no sin the truth is not in us and we deceive ourselves. If you join a church and enter into relationship with people there they will let you down, they will hurt you, they will fall short of your expectations and let’s be really honest you will do the same to them. I guess the reason that many people feel hurt, let down, disappointed by the church is that our expectations of Christians is higher than they should be. We expect Christians to be loving, caring, kind, compassionate, trustworthy, honest, patient and selfless. Not only that but we expect that of them 24 hours a day 7 days a week 52 weeks a year. So when a Christian has an off day and every Christian does it is a big shock to the system. We feel doubly let down. Also there are people in churches who not only are not nice and loving and caring they are downright horrible, spiteful, hurtful and abusive. I’d like to tell you that these people are just wolves in sheep’s clothing, they’re not Christians but just pose as Christians to give Christians a bad name. Unfortunately, I can’t. Although there are people like this who go along to church, say the right things, do the right things and act as if they were Christians but in they’re hearts are far from it, there are also Christians who are far far far from what God would want them to be. Churches, like most big organisations are full of a wide range of people, the good, the bad and the ugly.

Jesus knew that His followers would not be anywhere near perfect. In the account of Jesus’ life that Saint Matthew wrote we read…

Then Peter came and said to Him (Jesus), “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.

Jesus knew that we would continue to hurt each other. In this passage both seven and seventy are seen as perfect numbers so when Jesus say seven times seventy the implication is that we forgive our brother as many times as is necessary. I’m not trying to use this passage to say, get over it, forgive and bounce back. All I’m trying to show is that Jesus know that his church wouldn’t be this perfect community of believers who did nothing wrong. He knew that we would be needing to continually forgive each other because we would continually hurt each other. When people are in relationship together hurts happen – FACT! This is not an excuse – we should try and live together in unity, causing no hurt and being loving, caring, selfless individuals as much as we possibly can. However, we ALL make mistakes, we ALL have off-days, we ALL have things we struggle with, we are ALL tempted to do wrong, we are ALL human.

Now, here’s the thing… do we let our hurts, grievances, fall-outs and feuds keep us from what God has in store for us? Do we let these things get in the way of seeking the truth? Do we stop believing because we’ve been hurt? Do we give up the riches that God has for us because we’ve had a tiff with someone? Only you can answer these questions. However, I urge you to seriously think about them. Think about them in the light that one person or a small group don’t represent the whole church. Think about them in the light of Jesus being the only perfect person – he will never hurt you or let you down. Think about them remembering that people are flawed, faulty and very imperfect, but also think about them knowing that you are also flawed, faulty and very imperfect – but that God loves you just the way you are.

What If Christianity is no more than a myth?

Posted: August 17, 2011 by Nathan in What If...

Imagine, if you will, a trip to the Grand Canyon. You arrive and spend a week exploring one of the greatest sites on the planet. You see it from the air as you arrive, you walk down into it and spend the night at the bottom. You visit the North, South and West rims. You visit the gift shops and buy your souvenirs. You see the canyon at sunrise and sunset and every time in between. Finally you head for home. When you arrive home you’re told that the Grand Canyon doesn’t exist. Imagine how you would feel. Imagine your unbelief of what you are being told. You’ve been there, experienced it and now you’re being told that all of that was untrue.

I guess this is a little of what I feel when I try to imagine Christianity not being true. I’ve believed it, I’ve stepped out in faith, I’ve experienced it, I’ve found it to be true. I’ve tested it and evaluated it. I have seen God at work in my life and in the lives of others. I have felt His presence and seen answers to my prayers. This is all to say that trying to imagine that Christianity is just a Myth is an extremely difficult things for me to do. I know you can discount the experiences of others but when you’ve experienced something it is hard to discount it.

Having said that lets have a look at the bottom line. Belief in God is a leap of faith. However, let’s not confuse that with blind faith. Belief in God is not blind faith. Belief in God is about looking at the available information that you have, evaluating it and then coming to a decision. So belief in God does take faith and therefore isn’t something you can prove. You have to trust that you have based your decisions on correct information, made wise judgements and trusted in something that not only intellectually viable but is also true! So, at the end of the day what if you based your decision on a myth?

Now, I know that this whole subject might just seem like a exercise in covering one’s back but what I’m wanting to convey is that a step of faith isn’t such a major thing. It’s not about diving headlong into a gaping chasm, it’s about taking small steps, carefully exploring and finding out wonderful things along the way. If at the end of the day you decide it’s not true you will have lost nothing, even if you live your whole life as a Christian only to discover it was a myth you will have lost nothing. If Christianity is not true, when you die that is it, no judgement, no hell, just nothing!! Your body, mind, spirit, soul is no more. Whatever you believed makes no difference. We will all find ourselves in the same boat.

But will you look back with huge regrets? Regrets of living your life for something that’s not true? If I were to get to the end of my life and discover somehow that Christianity were not true I would be gutted, but not because of a life wasted. I believe that so much of the teaching of the Bible is the best way to live. Even if you were to take away the bed-rock of the truth of the Bible, if you were to say that God didn’t exist I would argue that much of the teaching of the Bible, even being man created, gave us the best way to live. Even disregarding the Bible altogether I believe that it is…

  • better to love than to hate
  • better to pursue peace than war
  • better to give than receive
  • better to put others first than yourself
  • better to faithful than unfaithful or faithless
  • better to be sincere than insincere
  • better to be truthful than to lie
  • better to be selfless rather than be self-seeking
  • better to be polite rather than be rude
  • better to be satisfied rather than be dis-satisfied
  • better to be focussed rather than be aimless
  • better to see the good in people rather than the bad
  • better to be trusting rather than sceptical
  • better to hate injustice rather than embrace it
  • better to work for the good rather than evil
  • better to help rather than to hinder
  • better to build up rather than to destroy
  • better to see people as equal rather than superior or inferior
  • better to provide rather than withhold
  • better to respect rather than disrespect
  • better to persevere rather than give up
  • better to live in unity rather than in discord
  • better to forgive than to hold grudges
  • better to seek forgiveness rather than revenge

I’m sure the list could go on. Surely a life lived by these principles won’t hold too many regrets. If God does not exist a life lived as if he does exist will not be wasted or full of regrets – it will be a life lived along great principles, for others, with passion and with hope. But hey, I truly believe that you’d have an easier task convincing me that the Grand Canyon didn’t exist than convincing me that God didn’t.

What If there is More to Life than This?

Posted: August 10, 2011 by Nathan in What If...

Most of us spend a little of our time being unsatisfied, discontented with our lot.  When we’re were children we wanted to be teenagers, when we reached our teenage years we wanted to be all grown up adults and when we finally reached adulthood we long to be young again. The rise in the cosmetic surgery industry and the multi million dollar cosmetics industry bear witness to the fact that many people don’t like the way they look.  People who are unemployed long to have a job, those in employment long for a better job and those in top jobs long to retire.  It’s a vicious circle to which there is no end. We must remember that when it comes to the rat race, even if you win, you’re still a rat!!

Many of us live with a “the grass is greener on the other side” mentality. We’re always looking to improve our lives, earn more, look better, be happier, live longer, get married, have children and be the perfect family.  We’re constantly seeking for something else, something better. The words of U2 ring true for many people “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for”.  Our lives seem to be a constant search for something. Happiness? Fulfilment? Money? Contentment? Love? Peace? Success? Fame? Many people are looking for more.  Yet, even when they achieve more, earn more, gain more, find more it tends to be not enough.  John D. Rockefeller the then richest man in the world when asked once, “How much money is enough money?” replied, “Just a little bit more.”  We live in a dissatisfied state even when things are going really well.  We have a nagging feeling that there must be more to life than this, whatever “this” may be at the time.

Life can be great.  We live in a beautiful world full of wonder and grandeur and mystery.  Many of us have great family and friends and most of the time we enjoy living.  However, life can be tough, friends and family die, we lose our job, we get ill and we suffer terribly from all sorts of things. That’s not to mention the people we share our planet with, millions of whom die each year from disease and hunger.  They are born into suffering, they suffer continuously and they die. Surely there has to be more to life than this? If we believe that we began in some sort of explosion and developed from primeval slime, if we are just the evolved state of apes what is there to live for?  If we truly believe that we come from apes we will treat each other as no more than over developed apes.  Surely we as humans are more than that and indeed deserve more than that?

If you truly believed that what we see, what we can prove, what we can touch and feel was all there was to this life, how would you feel?  If there was more to life than this, something to give some meaning and purpose to our lives wouldn’t you want to explore the possibility? If you received a letter saying that you had won the lottery, even though you never entered, wouldn’t you want to do a bit of research to find if it might be true?  However unbelievable the claim wouldn’t it be worth you looking into it, just in case it was true? Millions of people around the world believe there is more to life than what is seen, provable, touchable. Millions of Christians have faith that there is more to life than this.  This faith is not a blind faith, it is a faith that says “I’ve looked at the evidence, I’ve weighed up the information, I have experienced things for myself and now I have decided”.  I am on a journey of faith, a journey of discovery. The more I search, the more I find.  The Bible tells us that if we seek we will find, if we knock on the door of faith it will be opened to us.  Is there more to life than this?  I believe so. Over the coming weeks and months our plan is to unpack this faith a little.  If there is more to life than this, what does it look like, consist of, mean to us?  We’d love for you to join us on this journey of discovery.  Feel free to ask questions and also feel free is disagree.  We’d love to hear what you find useful and what you don’t.  We hope our posts will make you think and be a springboard for you in your search.  Our hope is that you will walk a while with us and see where we all get to. Until the next What If…? Wednesday, keep seeking.

What If Richard Dawkins isn’t as Right as He Thinks He is?

Posted: August 3, 2011 by Nathan in Uncategorized

I don’t have a brain the size of a planet and I’m not even that intellectual. I’m not well educated and I don’t even have a degree so if you’re looking for well thought out counter-argument to Richard Dawkins…look away now!!!

I bow to the greater intelligence of this man but I don’t have to agree with him and, you may be surprised to hear, neither do a great deal of other equally intelligent people. As with many things, those that shout the loudest, get heard the most. It doesn’t mean that those who shout the loudest have the right answers. For every Richard Dawkins there are hundreds of other equally intelligent people who disagree to some extent or other. Do we hear these voices? Let us also not forget that there is a world of difference between intelligence and wisdom.

I love the story a friend of mine used to tell of a guy he took sailing one day. This guy was among the most intellectual people you would be likely to come across. During the course of their sailing trip they discovered they had a small gas leak and this guy took it on himself to seek out the source of the leak. He came back on deck saying that he’d found it. My friend asked him how he knew where it was located and this guy beckoned my friend to follow. He took my friend to the source of the leak and explained that he knew it we coming from this weld in the pipe because every time he lit his lighter and held it to the weld the leaking gas blew the flame out!! My friend quickly removed the lighter from this guy and fixed the leak. It could have ended up far worse!! Intelligence but little wisdom.

Richard Dawkins would have us believe that when it comes to God, evolution, Darwinism, science etc. he has it all sown up. After all he does have a reputation to uphold!! It would be difficult for him to come out and change his view on many issues. However although his main belief seems to be…

…all life, all intelligence, all creativity and all ‘design’ anywhere in the universe is the direct or indirect product of Darwinian natural selection…Design cannot precede evolution and therefore cannot underlie the universe.

in 2008 he did say that:

“A serious case could be made for a deistic God.”

Melanie Phillips, as reported in The Spectator magazine, said…

“This was surely remarkable. Here was the arch-apostle of atheism, whose whole case is based on the assertion that believing in a creator of the universe is no different from believing in fairies at the bottom of the garden, saying that a serious case can be made for the idea that the universe was brought into being by some kind of purposeful force. A creator. True, he was not saying he was now a deist; on the contrary, he still didn’t believe in such a purposeful founding intelligence, and he was certainly still saying that belief in the personal God of the Bible was just like believing in fairies. Nevertheless, to acknowledge that ‘a serious case could be made for a deistic god’ is to undermine his previous categorical assertion (above).”

Melanie Phillips goes on to say that…

“Even more jaw-droppingly, Dawkins told me that, rather than believing in God, he was more receptive to the theory that life on earth had indeed been created by a governing intelligence – but one which had resided on another planet. Leave aside the question of where that extra-terrestrial intelligence had itself come from, is it not remarkable that the arch-apostle of reason finds the concept of God more unlikely as an explanation of the universe than the existence and plenipotentiary power of extra-terrestrial little green men?

So it seems he is willing to believe in some things where there is no evidence of existence and yet argues that evidence is all important. He also says that he is in search of truth. However, in watching him take part in various debates it seems he is very free in twisting the truth and making false statements. For someone who, if we believe him, holds the truth in such high regards it is a little strange.

There is no time to go into details here but to me there are many cracks in Dawkins’ arguments against God. For some reason he is very anti-religion and echoes John Lennon in imagining a world with no Religion. A world without 9/11; 7/7; the Crusades; Northern Irish unrest; the Middle East Situation etc. It seems easy to agree with him. However he discounts the other side. What about a world without World Vision; Islamic Aid; Traidcraft; Cafod; Christian Aid; to name just a handful of faith based organizations in a sea of Religious organizations tirelessly working to make lives better.  You can’t say something is wrong because you don’t like it or disagree with it. It’s very easy to look at the negative sides of religions, pick at their faults and therefore discount them. Even taking Christianity there have been many things done in the name of it that are abhorrent. There are things in the Bible that are difficult to come to terms with, things that even Christians don’t like. However, it doesn’t mean that, just because we don’t like what He allows or does, that God doesn’t exist.

What I found interesting in one of the debates I listened to was that Dawkins had the final word as summed up his thinking by saying words to this effect… If you walk into a garden, everything points to there being a gardener. Darwinism shows us that this doesn’t have to be true. Now that sounds like a good point of view. If you walk into a garden there is a possibility that there isn’t a gardener a creator behind the order, complexity and design that you find there, but would you believe it? If I took you to the formal gardens of a Stately home and showed you them and then told you what you were looking at was just derelict land that was left to it’s own devices and this is what nature created – you would think me crazy. Even though you might think it could be even remotely possible you would not believe it, you could not believe it.

Though I personally may not be able to convince you that Richard Dawkins is wrong in his beliefs, I would urge you to acknowledge that there is the possibility of him being wrong. Below you will find just a couple of links to a debates and an article that I hope you’ll find useful in exploring further the subject of “What If Richard Dawkins isn’t as right as he thinks he is?” However, where does that leave us? If Richard Dawkins and all his intelligence can’t disprove God or even put forward a convincing case for His non-existence what are we meant to think.

Now, I’m not suggesting just because someone can’t disprove God it means that He must exist, of course not. I am however saying that it is enough to make you think. Many scientists would have us believe that science has once and for all buried God. I would say that they have tried and will keep on trying. But God is not dead. I would say that if Richard Dawkins is wrong we have a lot of searching still to do.

Are you prepared to search along side us?

The Dawkins-Lennox Debate

“Is Richard Dawkins still evolving?” by Melanie Phillips – Spectator Magazine