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Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Atheist: Africa Needs Christ More Than Financial Aid

Reprinted by permission of The Christian Post

By Ethan Cole
Christian Post Reporter
Tue, Dec. 30 2008 04:40 PM EST

The problems in Africa cannot be solved with aid money alone, but Africans need to know God, contends an atheist journalist and former politician.

Religion offers change to the hearts and minds of people – something aid cannot do, argues Matthew Parris, a former conservative British member of parliament, in a column for U.K.-based The Times.

“Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts,” writes Parris, who was born in Johannesburg, South Africa, but now lives in England. “These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do.”

He went on to say, “In Africa, Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”

His seeming epiphany of the positive effects of Christianity on Africa came after a trip to Malawi before Christmas. There, he met with a small British charity that works to install pumps on wells in rural villages to keep the water sealed and clean.

Although the charity, Pump Aid, is secular, he noticed that the most impressive staff members were privately “strong” Christians. While he recalls how none of the charity team members spoke about religion, he says he saw one studying a devotional textbook in the car and another leaving for church at dawn on a Sunday.

“It would suit me to believe that their honesty, diligence and optimism in their work were unconnected with personal faith,” Parris admits. “Their work was secular, but surely affected by what they were … influenced by a conception of man’s place in the Universe that Christianity has taught.”

Meeting the Christians working with Pump Aid also triggered his memories of missionaries and Christians he met as a boy growing up in Africa.

He recalls how the African converts to Christianity that he met as a boy “were always different.” Their new religion did not confine them, but seemed to liberate and relax them, Parris says.

“There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world – a directness in their dealings with others – that seemed to be missing in traditional African life,” he recalls. “They stood tall.”

Christianity, he adds, also helps Africans break free from the communal and superstitious mindset that suppresses individuality. Parris criticizes the “rural-traditional mindset” for feeding into the “‘big man’ and gangster politics” in African cities that teach “exaggerated respect” for a “swaggering leader” that has no room for opposition.

But Christianity – post-Reformation and post-Luther – teaches a “direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God” that eliminates mediation by the group or any other human being, Parris notes. It offers a framework of social life for those who want to “cast off a crushing tribal groupthink.”

“That is why and how it liberates,” Parris states.

He concludes by arguing that for Africa to be competitive with other global leaders in the 21st century, it must not only think that materials or knowledge is all it needs for development and change.

“A whole belief system must first be supplanted,” the atheist journalist contends.

He warns that removing Christian evangelism from the “African equation” may “leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.”

Copyright 2008 The Christian Post. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.


cinemaphile85 said...

I'm sure many readers will look at this story as proof that God changes lives, that Christianity really is true, and above all, that even an atheist can recognize it. Call me cynical (gasp!), but I don't necessarily see it that way.

What this article tells me is when you accept the fact that we can't possibly feed every starving mouth or fund every aid organization, the least we can do for desperate people is to tell them that their suffering is only temporary, and to give them hope that the next life will be better. Whether or not there IS a next life, let alone whether you can find it through Christ alone, is irrelevant; it's a comforting thought any way you look at it. We Americans often think stress means "How will I make ends meet?" But we really have no idea. To millions of people in Africa, stress means "How will I survive the day?" When you spend each moment wondering if you'll be able to find food and clean drinking water for your malnourished children, or when you try not to get too attached to your newborn baby because you'll probably end up burying it anyway, the prospect of immortality in paradise is very hard to turn down.

I think someone like Parris, who is from South Africa and has seen firsthand the suffering and desperation these people go through every single day, understands this. And I agree with him that Christianity often does change people for the better, and that salvation is a very liberating idea. But being positively affected by a story does not mean that the story is true, nor does it mean that all the other stories, such as Islam and Hinduism, are false. (I also have issues with the claim that Christianity helps people "break free from the communal and superstitious mindset that suppresses individuality" and that it "offers a framework of social life for those who want to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink," but that's somewhat beside the point.)

I don't want to be too much of a downer on this New Year's Eve, but just wanted to emphasize that hope can be very good yet also very dangerous. Jumping to conclusions about something just because we hope it's true is very dangerous indeed. So let's look at this article for what it means, not for what we want it to mean.

Bob Ellis said...

I agree with you: this article proves nothing.

But as I'm sure you know, I firmly agree with him, based on the changes I've seen in my own life, the lives of many other people, and in whole civilizations across history who have seriously embraced authentic Christianity--while never perfect, all have been changed for the better.

I just think that it's interesting that even an atheist (even if he might still believe it's based on a fantasy) has been able to recognize and acknowledge that changing power.

cinemaphile85 said...

While I'm not an atheist like Mr. Parris, I acknowledge that changing power too, and believe that for the most part, Christianity has been a relatively positive force in the world.

Aside from our differences about whether Christianity is actually true, I think we're in total agreement for once.

Have a safe, healthy, and happy New Year, Bob!! :-)

Bob Ellis said...

You too, cinemaphile85!

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