Apologetic Resources

Here are just some of the great resources I’ve found over the years, and here they are in no particular order (compiling this short list here does not necessarily mean I wholly subscribe to all the associated groups or persons’ theology, just that they have some very important things to say that are nevertheless, worthwhile and valuable):

mdaxresdefault (1)John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics at Oxford University, is an internationally renowned speaker on the interface of science, philosophy and religion. He regularly teaches at many academic institutions including the Said Business School, Wycliffe Hall and the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, as well as also being a Senior Fellow with the Trinity Forum. He has written a series of books exploring the relationship between science and Christianity and he has also participated in a number of televised debates with some of the world?s leading atheist thinkers.

 

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Petulant Atheism

“The rather petulant subtitle that Christopher Hitchens has given his (rather petulantly titled) God is Not Great is How Religion Poisons Everything.  

Naturally one would not expect him to have squandered any greater labour of thought on the dust jacket of his book than on the disturbingly bewildered text that careens so drunkenly across its pages – reeling up against a missed logical connection here, steadying itself against a historical error there, stumbling everywhere over all those damned conceptual confusions littering the carpet – but one does still have to wonder how he expects any reflective reader to interpret such a phrase.

Does he really mean precisely everything?  Would that apply, then – confining ourselves to just things Christian – to ancient and medieval hospitals, leper asylums, orphanages, almshouses, and hostels?  To the golden rule, “Love thine enemies,” “Judge not lest ye be judged,” prophetic admonitions against oppressing the poor, and commands to feed and clothe and comfort those in need…

…To the abolitionist movement, the civil rights movement, and contemporary efforts to liberate Sudanese slaves?  And so on and so on?

Surely it cannot be the case that, if only purged of the toxin of faith, these things would be even better than they are; were it not for faith, it seems fairly obvious to me, most of them would have no existence at all.

And since none of these things would seem to fall outside the general category of “everything,” it must be that Hitchins means (assuming he means anything at all) that they fall outside the more specific category of “religion.”

This would, at any rate, be in keeping with one of the rhetorical strategies especially favoured in New Atheist circles:  one labels anything one dislikes – even if it is found in a purely secular setting – “religion” (thus, for example, all the twentieth century totalitarianisms are “political religions” for which secularists need take no responsibility), while simultaneously claiming that everything good, in the arts, morality, or any other sphere – even if it emerges within an entirely religious setting – has only an accidental association with religious belief and is really, in fact, common human property (so, for example, the impulse toward charity will doubtless spring up wherever an “enlightened” society takes root).

By the same token, every injustice that seems to follow from a secularist principle is obviously an abuse of that principle, while any evil that comes wrapped in a cassock is unquestionably an undiluted expression of religion’s very essence.”

David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions, p.219-220

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again to atheists, or the more accurately termed ‘Christian-haters’ (since ‘hate’ and not ‘logic’ or ‘science’ seems to drive the movement – and this will be proved true by the emails I get assuring me I’m the hater just by suggesting this), in the words of Slavoj Zizek,

“If you want to be a true atheist, you have to go through Christianity.”

The failure of the Dawkins-led rat-pack New Atheist movement and its undoing will be in it’s obvious failure to do just that.

By all means critique Christianity.  For heaven’s sake, I do that!  But critique what you know, not a childish cartoon of what you think you know that has obvious reverberations from some sort of early childhood church-based ‘trauma’- such as boredom or arrogance or musty smells or rebellion or revenge for strict parents or a workaholic minister father,  or [….add the grievance….].  And believe me, I really do sympathise with these grievances.  But please, man up!

More to follow.  In the meantime, here’s DBH speaking on the matter.  Some of the comments in the thread prove my point above, but my personal plea is simply to engage in a meaningful way with respect (this is where my “rat-pack” comment comes back to haunt me) – well, boo-hoo, at least I know my own inconsistencies.

Poverty and Wealth: A Psychiatrists assessment

Poor Little Rich Kid 2006

Many of the 1960’s civil rights workers Robert Coles consulted in his psychiatric research came from middle-class families.  Their parents nagged the kids about getting a real job and making something of themselves.  One of them responded to his mother’s concerned prayers over him: ‘I wonder what Jesus said, listening to her prayers!  I felt like writing her back and asking her if Jesus ever held “a regular job” – or ever “found himself”.  Jesus, the migrant preacher, who became so unpopular and disturbing to everyone big and important that He got crucified.

Working with the poor and oppressed, Coles marvelled over how much their lives resembled the lives of the prophets and Jesus himself.  Perhaps that was why they found solace in religion, and why the sophisticated reviews of society so studiously ignored what they had to say about it.  Middle-class churches tend to be sweet, soothing and inoffensive, their worship services predictable and controlled.  Coles himself, a product of the privileged minority began to wonder about his own resistance to the power of a radical gospel.  He could not avoid the discrepancy between the Bible’s teaching on justice and fairness and the lives privileged people tend to live, marked by greed, competition and status.  What was the gospel’s message to the well off?    What was its message to him?  As Coles explored the mind of the privileged ones, he realised he was exploring his own mind.  To his shame, he found within himself many of the same troubling tendencies.

Comfortable people, he noticed, were apt to have a stunted sense of compassion, more likely to love humanity in general but less likely to love one person in particular.  Did he show compassion?  As a Harvard undergraduate, he recalled with a pang, he had treated the dormitory maid as a lowly servant even while earning As in his ethics course.  What about arrogance?  A physician, he fought the temptation every day; he was, after all, the expert, the healer who had come to help the disadvantaged.  Pride?  He was generous, to be sure, but he had the luxury to be generous.  He had never been in a situation of absolute dependence, the daily state of many poor people. Continue reading

Civilization and Culture

banksy_crucifixion

The distinction between culture and civilization is acute indeed, even I missed it and I was trying to pay attention!

I needed help to see and when I picked up Terry Eagleton’s Reason, Faith and Revolution, by mistake I might add (I was trying to get to another book), I couldn’t put it down and four hours later I heard the distant echo of my wife’s voice getting louder and louder through the haze, “Oh darling (that’s how she always talks to me), you’ve got to go to church, you’re leading, preaching, dancing, c’mon!

But in those four hours, wow!  And I would like to share what I found.

Eagleton is attacking the myths and inherent contradictions in the Western world regarding multiculturalism, democracy, ect.   Which was fascinating in its own right.  But rather than leave the global status on the well known but misunderstood peg known as ‘The Clash of Civilizations’, he dissects this further:

Civilization means universality, autonomy, prosperity, plurality, individuality, rational speculation, and ironic self-doubt.   Culture on the other hand, signifies all those reflective loyalties and allegiances, as apparently built into us as our liver is, in the name of which, people are prepared to kill.  Culture means custom, passion, spontaneity,  unreflective, unironic and a-rational.

Thus the West (by-and-large) has civilization, the non-west (by-and-large) has culture, and as if to hammer home the point in brutal irony, he adds, that colonizing nations are civilizations, while most (former) colonies are cultures!

Whilst these contrasts are not absolute, we can see how transnational corporations, in the business of profit and market domination, whilst being cultureless and unlocalized in themselves must pay tedious attention to how business is traditionally conducted in an alien culture (I’ve seen banks advertising on the TV this very thing showing their profound cultural insights with a very happy family at the centre, but always in the soft glow of a rising/setting sun, and without the rank poverty and economic injustice that will always be just out of screen shot)!

The in-built irony of the West is simple:  Western civilization is by definition a plurality of cultures.  Civilization needs culture of course but the multi-cultural experiment of the West since the end of WWII is a fragile thing indeed.  Thus civilization is precious, but fragile; culture is raw but potent.  Civilizations kill to protect their material interests; cultures kill to defend their identity.  The more pragmatic and materialistic civilization becomes, the more culture is summoned to fulfill the emotional and psychological needs that it cannot handle.

When culture is thus repressed, it returns with a bite because it is more localized, immediate, spontaneous, and a-rational than civilization, it is the aesthetics of a poetic kind of politics.  If ever the Enlightenment spawned anything, it was the starchy rationalist and his infuriatingly unpredictable younger brother, the romanticist.

Religion falls into both these camps, which is one reason for its incredibly enduring strength.  As civilization, it is doctrine, institution, authority, metaphysical speculation, transcendent truth, choirs, and cathedrals.  As culture, it is myth, ritual, savage irrationalism, spontaneous feeling, and the dark gods.  Thus Christianity started as a culture but became a matter of civilization.

Within the framework of the Dawkins-Hitchins debate (the two figure-heads of New Atheism which Eagleton tears plenty of strips off, are humourously referred to in his book as Ditchkins), the continual reference to culture as a way to close down arguments and prevent rational debate/dialogue is is part of the problem.  This appeal to culture becomes a way of absolving oneself from moral responsibility and rational argument.  And this is why Ditchkins is not a culturalist but argues against religion as if every religious person is, nothing but a silly caricature that Dawkins particularly is becoming known for – and that is his undoing because it shows his sloppy approach to history, worldview, religion in general and Christianity in particular.  I don’t like the man very much, but I know God well enough to know he is deeply loved!

The British are going through the cultural mill at the moment.  British culture!  What is it exactly?  British values?  What?  You mean secular capitalist values driven purely by market forces in a faceless multi-national world.  Ooh, yes please!  Culture, in the West now functions (or is trying to) as an alternative to failing (or more accurately, declining) religious faith.

Like religion, culture is a matter of values, intuitive certainties, hallowed traditions, assured identities, shared beliefs, symbolic action and a sense of transcendence.  Thus it is culture, not religion, which is now for many people the heart of a heartless world.  Karl Marx would be thrilled to discover that for some, culture serves as an opium substitute as well!  Culture trumps everything and you can’t even poke fun at it or ask hard questions, such as ‘Why?’  Islamic radicalism is as guilty of this as any other pocket of assumed cultural superiority.

When the English football fans chant “I’m English ’til I die, I’m English ’til I die, I know I am, I’m sure I am, I’m English ’til I die.”  I really do agree with them, but it does sound like they’re trying to convince themselves of this qwerk of birth, or at least, remind others in case they’ve forgotten.  What are the opposing fans supposed to chant in reply?  “We know you are, we know you are!”

But culture trumps everything in a weirdly paradoxical caricature of itself.  If postmodernity is suspicious of foundations in any and everything, it needs to be careful, for in removing the old foundations of our civilization in the West, it is replacing them with its own cultural versions.  In this way, postmoderns are not really hostile to foundations, they’re just hostile to traditional forms of foundation, for they’ve just replaced traditional ones for make-it-up-as-you-go-along cultural ones, and by the way, don’t ask questions, or you’ll get the stare that really says, “Stop being irrational like those religious nutters!”

End of conversation.