Category Archives: Christopher Hitchens

This is not The Truman Show

Jim-Carrey-in-The-Truman--001In chapter 6 of God Is Not Great, Hitchens focuses on the twin issues of believers thinking 1) the entire universe is absorbed with their petty interests, and conversely 2) that they are worthless wretches. His problem with this is that our own self-worth as humans is both exaggerated and diminished by these attitudes. He argues that we are not worth nothing – we are worth something, but we are not worth more than anyone else.

This is not The Truman Show

In his characteristically abrasive manner, Hitchens puts his unwavering finger on an uncomfortable home truth. Over many decades the Western church has slipped towards a man-centred view of the reality. We have rightly observed the great love that God has for his children, but over time we have allowed this truth to skew our perspective. It has slowly led to an unhealthy obsession with ourselves, as if God is running around in the sole attempt to make sure that we have the best life and the most fulfilled egos. It is almost as if some believers think they are on The Truman Show, and that the Creator of all things is solely concerned with their single life.

We have swallowed the lie that we are the centre of the universe. We have come to believe that eventually in this life, we must be fulfilled, we must be vindicated, we must be victorious, we must be visible successful. Solipsism is the belief that the whole world exists only in my mind – that you are all figments of my imagination. Many Christians act in such a way that they seem to believe this – that all their earthly desires and needs must be met. Some believers are so desperate for God to show them, or prove to them a particular issue of guidance or confirm some course of action that they are constantly doubting their Father’s care and desperately seeking signs in nature that will prove his love. A sign that he is out there watching over us.

Yet the reality is that God has a providential rule and care over the entire world. Each of the 9 billion people on the planet is under his watchful care (including a few billion animals and the entire natural world). While as believers we hold onto the truth that in the final analysis everything that happens to us will work out for our good, this is not the same as everyone else being bystanders in a play where we are the movie stars. Each person is of immense worth, each person is a beautiful, precious creation – for we all have the same Father. So, I must agree with much of what Hitchens says in these pages, we are not the centre of the universe.

A Glitch in the System

And yet there are times when we experience something that cannot be explained, that perhaps means nothing to those around us, but speaks powerfully to us. It is like when we used to tune in our TV sets manually (remember the days!) and there would be the white noise as the tuner moved through the frequencies. Then suddenly there appears half a picture and then a moment later, perfect clarity. Then it goes again and the white noise is back. Sometimes things happen in life that make us stop and look. They make us take a second glance. A bush on fire was something common in ancient Israel, but not one that didn’t stop burning. It made Moses stop and look. A bright star appears in the sky, nothing unusual in itself, but one that was not there last night and it makes us wonder what it is signalling. Men traveled far to find the child born at the foot of that star.

Before I left for my last trip to Houston I took a last look up into the night sky for what must have been 3 seconds. In those 3 seconds I saw a shooting star. Was that sent from God? Maybe. Do I need it to be from God in order that I know he loves me? No. Do I wonder if he sent it just for me, to show that he was going with me? Yes, I guess I do. Faith doesn’t need to believe the star was sent just for me. It sees the star and thanks God that whoever else saw that in Scotland at 5.00 am on that Sunday morning, I saw it, and I love Him. True faith doesn’t need props; it thrives in the darkest of nights.

The Unmistakable Smile of God

If that was all there was to it then, like Hitchens, I would be tempted to say that we are lost amid the universe’s white noise. No signal to receive, no hope for any meaningful communication. Our only knowledge of God would be limited to recognising he is big and powerful, if he exists at all (Romans 1.20). But underneath this, the most important question: “Is he friend or foe?” remains unresolved for all time. Unless…God himself decides to answer it.

Over time these system glitches gave us clues to what was coming. Like the tap, tap, tapping of Morse code, if you listened for long enough and were quiet enough you could just make out a message. The message was veiled in human frailty; it took on our contours, our fickle shape. For his own reasons he chose to speak to individuals over many years – in many different ways and very infrequently…but he did speak. And what did he say? I….am….coming….soon.the_truman_show_minimalist_poster_by_tchav-d601oxv

And he did come. One day, the invisible became visible, the eternal became time bound. The weakest of signals suddenly clicked into perfect resolution. Far too perfect for many – the image was not what they were expecting. Suddenly it wasn’t God speaking in intermittent Morse code over millennia, it was God in full surround sound, high definition 3D TV. It was overwhelming for the devoted, scandalous for the power hungry, but beautiful for the hurting. God had come and what did he say? What does he think about us? Are we the centre of the universe or a fleck of interstellar stardust?

The answer is too amazing to be so straightforward. We are not the centre of the universe. There is one who is, he is the one who came to speak God’s heart, to be the Word of God, the True-Man. He told us that we are both more precious than we ever hoped and less important than we ever imagined. God has set a value on us of infinite worth, our lives and destinies have immense importance. But they are corrupt to the core. Without remedy this corruption will ultimately crush our intrinsic worth, but when restored we see the true glory shine through.

God has smiled upon us, once for all, for all time, the vast love of God was poured out through his Son. This love was most fully demonstrated through the upside down conclusion to his life. Life through death, mercy through sacrifice, restoration through destruction. The Cross is the Rosetta stone to decode the entire history of God’s communication to mankind. Without it the message will always be just white noise, but, with it as our guide, we see the multicoloured messages he has for us, but not just for me, for all of his children.

New Atheism – A Third Way?

Last year I challenged a Christian magazine about an article that claimed that New Atheism was a passing fad and resorted to insulting the people who  follow this philosophical worldview for how they respond to church leaders and ministers. I wrote a response back challenging their use of offensive language and their conclusions about its transiency. It was not published.

I have decided to post my letter below as it seems to me that many in the church  have put this in the “too difficult” box and instead prefer to focus their efforts on those who are more obviously (to outward observers) aware of their need of a Saviour, while resorting to intellectual and philosophical ping pong with the most vocal and vociferous proponents of NA. As someone who is completely immersed in the secular business world I know that it is not too difficult, but it takes time, commitment, transparency, vulnerability and honesty for people to open up to you and invite you to challenge their beliefs. For most of us this means working alongside them in a full-time secular job. Then people will see that we are not wierd, naive or judgemental and will be curious about our beliefs. This happened again to me this week in a precious conversation with an atheist colleague.

Dear church, there is another way to engage with the challenge of New Atheism than head on debate with unknown and often  virtual “enemies”… and  it is happening right now, but it is happening through those outside the sphere of professional church leadership. Will you listen to, affirm, support and empower your people to follow a Third Way?

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Hi there,
 
I’ve been a subscriber for what must be 10 years now. I have to say however, that I was really disappointed by the latest issue in regards to the article on New Atheism. While I liked the author’s analysis of the different groups impacted by atheistic thinking I was disturbed by the way he spoke about the proponents of new atheism. I know how disrespectful many of them are (you only have to follow Ricky Gervais on twitter to find out), however, calling them names is extremely counterproductive. Will this terminology endorse us to unbelievers or turn them away?
 
The whole system of the new atheists is based upon them trying to construct a false dichotomy between the rational, logical, intelligent, fair atheists and the irrational, ignorant, wishful thinking believers. By resorting to name calling we only reinforce this false polarisation and strengthen their hand.
 
I have written and spoken about how I see a third way for breaking this dichotomy – most recently for the Scottish Baptist Lay Preachers (http://www.sblpa.co.uk/?p=6181)  and also a sermon in April at my home church in Dundee (https://martynlink.wordpress.com/2012/04/16/running-on-empty/). I put the challenge to the church that rather than seeing the secular humanists and militant atheists as the enemy, perhaps we should see the hand of God refining his people through them? I have also written a review of Christopher Hitchen’s memoir Hitch-22 highlighting many of the things I genuinely respected about the guy (https://martynlink.wordpress.com/2011/11/29/looking-for-wilberforce-and-finding-hitchens/) and am blogging my way through his God Is Not Great.
 
My basic premise is this – the more we see the New Atheists as enemies to be fought against, the more we reinforce their straw man. I am passionately committed to living my life as a model for a different way of engagement. Yes we need to engage and confront their strongholds directly, but we must seek the higher ground, and be willing to give them credit for deconstructing some of our woolly thinking and shoddy illustrations.
 
I do not accept his statement that we cannot be seen as being “smart, educated and hold views that contradict New Atheism” – by engaging as an equal in the workplace they cannot so easily dismiss me as they would if I worked for the church or a theological or academic institution. During my 10+ years in the workplace I have made many friends who are strong atheists. My passion is to be a living challenge to their neat compartmentalisation – a fair, intelligent, reasonable person, who they can totally relate to on a professional level, while at the same time believing different presuppositions to them. I want to be impossible for them to easily dismiss.
 
Finally, I completely disagree with his conclusions, at least in the UK (I cannot speak for Australia). New Atheism is not a passing fad, it has strengthened the arm of thousands of nominal atheists who now have credibility for their rejection of Christianity. I live and breathe amongst these people every day and see how it has changed them, given them a new confidence, made them bolder to decry religion in whatever form. The effects, certainly in the UK, will remain in the minds and thought patterns of the thousands of young adults who imbibe this teaching unconsciously. It will reveal itself in the way of life that these people now live and will live for the rest of their lives (unless they are graciously saved), and the way they bring up their future children in an increasingly aggressive anti-Christian society. This is the challenge we face – how do we thrive and not just survive as a persecuted people of God?
 
Again, I send this not as a critic, but as a friend. I’ve appreciated your ministry over many years as it has helped me mature in the faith. Take this as an appeal from a brother in the common cause of the kingdom.
 
Every blessing,
Martyn

Goodbye Christopher Hitchens

Today we lost Christopher Hitchens, a man who loved life and loved words. I recently wrote a reflection on his memoirs Hitch-22 and am currently half way through blogging his book God Is Not Great. I started out not wanting to like this anti-God atheist, but the more I read of him and the more I got to know the person through his writings, the more I was drawn to him. I think that if things had been different, in another day, in another time we might just have been friends…

Here is my collection of articles on his writing:

Hitch-22: Looking for Wilberforce and findings Hitchens

God Is Not Great: