Christ and Contemporary Values
I noticed two contrasting articles in the newspapers recently. The first was by Andrew Brown and it was about Richard Dawkins, sometime persecutor of Christians and leader of aggressive atheism in the land. You may have seen him on TV treating Christianity with contempt and making extreme criticisms of anyone who believes in God. He never offered up a balanced evaluation of Christianity throughout its centuries and as it is in the world today. He just ridiculed very selective and extreme examples of the wilder and nuttier fringes of faith and used these to dismiss Christianity as a whole. For a scientist this was a very unscientific way of proceeding. A few of you may have read some of his books which are commentaries on the theory of evolution and which reject any notion of a Creator.
Andrew Brown says: “...the Richard Dawkins website offers followers the chance to join the ‘Reason Circle’, which, like Dante’s Hell, is arranged in concentric circles. For $85 a month, you get discounts on his merchandise, and the chance to meet ‘Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science personalities’. Obviously that’s not enough to meet the man himself. For that you pay $210 a month — or $5,000 a year — for the chance to attend an event where he will speak. When you compare this to the going rate for other charismatic preachers, it does seem on the high side. The Pentecostal evangelist Morris Cerullo, for example, charges only $30 a month to become a member of ‘God’s Victorious Army’, which is bringing ‘healing and deliverance to the world’. And from Cerullo you get free DVDs, not just discounts. But the $85 a month just touches the hem of rationality. After the neophyte passes through the successively more expensive ‘Darwin Circle’ and then the ‘Evolution Circle’, he attains the innermost circle, where for $100,000 a year or more he gets to have a private breakfast or lunch with Richard Dawkins, and a reserved table at an invitation-only circle event with ‘Richard’ as well as ‘all the benefits listed above’, so he still gets a discount on his Richard Dawkins T-shirt saying ‘Religion — together we can find a cure.’ The website suggests that donations of up to $500,000 a year will be accepted for the privilege of eating with him once a year: at this level of contribution you become a member of something called ‘The Magic of Reality Circle’. I don’t think any irony is intended. At this point it is obvious to everyone except the participants that what we have here is a religion without the good bits.”
The second article that I noticed was entitled “Samantha is busking in heaven” and went on to say “Parents pay tribute as their budding singer daughter dies after epileptic seizure”. This was about a 19 year old girl from Bonhill near Dumbarton and described her thus: “Samantha worked hard at her job with bank Santander but her real passion was performing and she studied music at West College in Greenock as well as busking in Glasgow city centre”. The headline may have been an invention of the newspaper. However I have heard many such comments as a parish minister when someone in a family has died. “God needed a centre half and so He took Big Wullie”. “Senga will be up there partying in heaven giving it laldy”. Folk religion is all inclusive and continues any possible future existence with the same lifestyle which the departed person lived. It goes no further. On one hand it witnesses to the human condition and our tendency to think that life does indeed survive our physical demise. The very large majority of earth’s 7 billion people hold that basic view – that default position. People like Richard Dawkins belong to a small minority in the western world particularly.
Christianity does not agree with Richard Dawkins that there is no God, of course, but it also disputes the claim that heaven is a simple continuation of life as it is lived here and especially that is is an eternal karaoke session, pop concert or football match. St Paul was asked the obvious question. “What happens to us when we die?”, He offered his best insight in 1 Corinthians 15. “Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. The key word is “changed”. Paul uses the image of planting a seed to show the extent of the change. The seed does not look much when buried in the ground and yet it germinates and becomes something beautiful, a flower, a shrub, a bush, a tree, a field of wheat, or corn. Christian imagery has often suggest the change to be like the butterfly emerging from the chrysalis. And indeed that is an image close to the resurrection appearances of our Lord Jesus.
The Bible suggests continuity of identity between this life and the next. There is the scary spiritualist incident in 1 Samuel 28 in which the witch of Endor tried to conjure up the spirit of the prophet Samuel for King Saul as he desperately tried to evade his ensuing demise. Such spiritualism was forbidden to the people of God. Then the woman asked, “Whom shall I bring up for you?” “Bring up Samuel,” he said. When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out ...“I see a ghostly figure coming up out of the earth.” “What does he look like?” he asked.“An old man wearing a robe is coming up,” she said. Then Saul knew it was Samuel,,,Samuel said to Saul, “Why have you disturbed me?” “I am in great distress,” Saul said...God has departed from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams.” In Mark 9 we read After six days Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There he was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Elijah and Moses were clearly recognisable. The resurrection appearances of Jesus suggest that He was still recognisable as Jesus though He was in a transformed state. The two whom He met on the road to Emmaus also recognised him but only when he broke the evening’s meal’s bread in front of them. The Book of Revelation’s fantastic imagery is balanced by an account of faithful Christians as continuing persons and personalities now transformed and worshipping in the new dynamic existence of heaven unrestrained by having to drag a physical body around against earth’s gravity.
Chapter 5 includes this: “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. Therefore,“they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.
We should not underestimate the influence and indeed the success of the modern aggressive atheistic movement in the land. Richard Dawkins may have become a cult leader, a false idol and a contradiction of his own scientific rationalism but he has changed attitudes towards Christianity in the public domain, in government, in universities and in schools as well as in society at large. He sent some of his books to Members of Parliament as part of the campaign to reduce Christianity’s influence in the public life of the nation. There has been a subtle and unsubtle marginalisation of Christianity and it is really only because Queen Elizabeth is such a confessing Christian that national events still retain a Christian setting.
The status of faith and of belief in an invisible Maker and Saviour are now diminished as everything is decided by on the basis on claimed verifiable evidence and by computerisation and by data accumulation especially. Christianity is no longer held to be true. It is a personal opinion only and should be kept private. This is the ethos of many state schools. The SNP government conducts itself and its policies within this value system. There is no appeal to God or to Christian history heard in Scotland any more. The churches appear weak and frightened, cowed by political correctness into denying their own origins and purpose and proclamation. Psalm 127 Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the guards stand watch in vain.
We should remember however that there was no-one more marginalised than Jesus. Crucifixion was the ultimate rejection. Yet Jesus triumphed and is loved and acknowledged by more of humanity today than ever. The first Christians suffered for three centuries from social ostracisation and persecution. Yet Christianity triumphed to become the largest identifiable social grouping in today’s world. The 16th Century reformers were few at the beginning and yet Protestant Christianity led and inspired what has become western civilisation. At University in the nineteen seventies we were told that the Church of Scotland would be non-existent by 2007. Today we hear that the revised date in 2060.
Undeniably however, today we are in a struggle for Christ, for His truth and teaching, for His work and example, for his death and resurrection. But we are free to follow Him and stand up for him. We are free to gather for worship. We will always be able to pray no matter our circumstances because prayer is an affair of our innermost being. Contemporary values are against us, the nation’s politics are against us, the media is largely against us, popular culture is against us, atheists and secularists are very much against us. But the example of Richard Dawkins – a person so up himself – becoming himself a god and usurping the claims of Christ encourages us because when human beings choose the lesser to worship they make idols for themselves and these idols fail dramatically. We may not wish to be falsely triumphalistic but we can rejoice in the love of Our Risen Lord for us and return that love with our life devotion.