Thursday, February 19, 2009

athiest supports cross-cultural missionaries

When Matthew Parris, British Times Online journalist and atheist traveled to Malawi in late 2008 to visit the small British charity Pump Aid, he returned to the country of his youth and was confronted again with the disturbing phenomenon that doesn't mesh with his belief system...

"...But travelling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I've been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I've been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

"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. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good."

And what of those who insist that Christianity introduced into these cultures is a destructive force? This is an aspect of missions that I've followed with some interest, especially since reading Spirit of the Rainforest. Here are Matthew Parris's observations in that department:

"There's long been a fashion among Western academic sociologists for placing tribal value systems within a ring fence, beyond critiques founded in our own culture: “theirs” and therefore best for “them”; authentic and of intrinsically equal worth to ours.

"I don't follow this. I observe that tribal belief is no more peaceable than ours; and that it suppresses individuality. People think collectively; first in terms of the community, extended family and tribe. This rural-traditional mindset feeds into the “big man” and gangster politics of the African city: the exaggerated respect for a swaggering leader, and the (literal) inability to understand the whole idea of loyal opposition.

"Anxiety - fear of evil spirits, of ancestors, of nature and the wild, of a tribal hierarchy, of quite everyday things - strikes deep into the whole structure of rural African thought. Every man has his place and, call it fear or respect, a great weight grinds down the individual spirit, stunting curiosity. People won't take the initiative, won't take things into their own hands or on their own shoulders.

[...] Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosophical/spiritual framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates."

Read all of As an athiest, I truly believe Africa needs God


Donna said...

This is very interesting and inspiring, Violet!

violet said...

Isn't it!? I was not a little surprised.

Slow'n'Steady said...

Our pastor quoted from this article yesterday. I'm glad you had the link to the full article. Fascinating.

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