Summary: In Christianity we have God revealed to us in a way that none other can claim, as a God who gives up his own life to bring all people back to himself.
This is a series based on and heavily dependent on Timothy Keller’s Best Seller "The Reason For God" for which I’m deeply grateful. It uses much of his argument though with various additions by myself.
I guess we’re all aware of the Atheists’ conference held in Melbourne in February. You may even have seen Richard Dawkins on the TV in one of his many appearances, putting forward his dogmatic, almost religious, views on the irrelevance of religion. The way he talks you might think this is something new that he’s presenting but of course atheism’s been around for a long time. I guess the 20th century was the age of atheism at it’s strongest. Various atheist regimes came to power: the communists of Russia and China being the most obvious. But by the end of the 20th century it seemed like the cause was lost. Atheism hadn’t provided the solutions to people’s needs. The communist regimes had failed to stop people practising their religion and in fact people were saying that atheism was dead.
But clearly it wasn’t. Richard Dawkins and his friends are back as strong as ever, proclaiming Christianity and other religions as a waste of time and energy. And he’s had no shortage of supporters. The media has given him plenty of coverage. Those who have always opposed Christianity are thrilled to have someone as high profile as him promoting their cause. The sceptics are out in force. And what’s interesting is that we’ve heard very few voices critiquing his message.
Well one of the things we’re going to be doing over the next few months as we move through this new series “From Doubt to Belief” is to examine some of the major objections to Christian faith, many of them raised by Dawkins, in fact. I imagine that some of the questions that we’ll look at will be ones that some of you have asked from time to time - perhaps are even still asking. And even if you haven’t asked them, you can be fairly sure that your friends and colleagues have.
If you’re as old as me you’ll have grown up in Australia when Churchgoing was the norm; when the census figures showed the vast majority of people in Australia belonged to one of the major Christian Churches. Sadly now the statistics have gone way down. It’s now estimated that around 8% of the population will be worshipping in a church today. When I was growing up people inherited their faith. If your parents were CofE that’s what you were. If they were Catholic you were Catholic. And you didn’t need to even think about it.
Not so any more. Now most people [probably including some of your children] see themselves as non-religious secular humanists. Those who continue to worship, particularly among the young, are more and more joining high commitment churches where a life changing conversion is expected. Belief is now something you choose.
So what we find is a world that at the same time is becoming more secular and more religious all at once. Doubt and belief are equally on the rise. The problem is that the two sides of this divide tend to polarise, to take up the attack against the other. So you get comments like: “These religious nuts are trying to thrust their beliefs down our throats.” “They can’t see that times are changed.” “They want to spoil our enjoyment of life.” On the other hand Christians might complain that the others are giving people a false sense of security; are using relativism to justify permissiveness; are ignoring the clear evidence of a creator; are ruining the morals of a generation.
Well none of that is very helpful is it? Name calling never helped anyone. And it’s no longer sufficient to hold a set of beliefs simply because you inherited them. Christian faith has never been blind faith. It’s always been a faith based on evidence. So let’s think through the issues that intelligent people like Richard Dawkins raise as creating doubt about the truth of Christianity. Sometimes it’s as you struggle with the objections to faith that your faith is strengthened and you’re able to explain it to others.
So today we start with the question that stops so many people in Australia today from following Christianity: “Surely there can’t be just one true religion”. We have two major problems in addressing that question. The first is the ‘discovery’ of historians in the 20th century that truth is often relative. History is generally told by the victors and therefore is often only a half truth. This scepticism about truth has now spread to almost every part of life except, perhaps, science, though even there, there’s often a healthy scepticism about new discoveries.
The second is the multicultural world we live in. We’re surrounded by very nice people who belong to a range of religions. But we also see in our world a whole lot of not very nice people who think that their religion is the only one that’s true and who think they should force their religion on others by force. It’s been suggested that one of the main barriers to world peace at the moment is the existence of major religions who all think they’re right. And of course that’s true isn’t it? As soon as a religion tells its followers that it’s the only one that’s true, they begin to feel superior to everyone else. And if they’re told that they’re more connected to God when they carry out the observances of their religion it makes it easy to think of others as being less deserving of God’s love. And so this downward spiral continues until the religious person thinks it’s OK to kill the others if it might make them turn to the true religion. It happened in the crusades. It happened to the Jews in Europe. It’s happening with Islam at the moment.