Ricky Gervais v Stephen Colbert – The Real Answers- An Open Letter

This is a nice little article which provides succinct responses to some of the standard “New Atheist” arguments. No argument or response in itself is likely to change anyone’s mind one way or another, but I hope and pray that articles like this can at least convince some people to open their minds to the possibility that they could be wrong. Every thinking person, whether a believer or not, has a duty to themselves to consider this possibility from time to time.

THE BLOG OF DAVID ROBERTSON

gervias-colbert

This article is now on the Premier Christianity website

Dear Ricky,

Loved your appearance on the Stephen Colbert show – two of my favourite entertainers discussing the most important subject in the world – what’s not to like?!   I would like to answer some of the questions you raise in the clip below.  I have heard you raise them several times before as though they were slam-dunk unanswerable questions.  Let me at least do you the courtesy of assuming that they are genuine questions and not just accusations.

The whole thing resurrected some memories (of which more later)…I’m really sorry that you got that obnoxious tweet about going to hell and the various things that the Tweeter wanted done to you.  Don’t get me wrong, I’m not personally apologising, or apologising on behalf of the church or God, anymore than I expect you to apologise for the numerous tweets I…

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Is That All There Is?

It’s not entirely surprising that our reaction to some artistic works changes with our worldviews. When I first heard this song, twenty or more years ago, I think my first thought was “hmm, a bit old-fashioned,” and then when I listened to the words, I found them sadly sweet, and because my life too felt sadly sweet, it struck a chord and became one of my favourite songs to chill to.

So it has remained on my playlist, but since finding Christ this is one of many songs I wonder about, thinking is it right for me to still connect with this. After all, the twin themes seem to be nihilism and hedonism, neither of which are exactly fruit of the Spirit.

 

Well, I can think of at least two reasons to value this song.

First, if it connected with me, then it will connect with others, and maybe it will help them, comfort them to know that there’s someone who saw things the same way they do. It’s a truth too easily forgotten in our darkest times, that “you are not alone, you’re not the only one who has felt like this.”

Second, a song like this challenges me to think about big questions, and talk about them like I’m about to do right here.

The song is actually based on a short story called “Disillusionment” by the German writer Thomas Mann. You can read it here. It is the story of a man for whom everything in life is a disappointment because nothing in the real world is ever as great, or as awful, as it is in his imagination. It is very dark, and like the song, it ends with the speculation that death itself will be the final, maybe the greatest, disappointment.

When Jerry Leiber and Mike Stoller adapted the story into a song, they added a chorus which suggests that as our imaginations and expectations can only lead to disillusion, we might as well stop worrying and just enjoy empty pleasures. In other words, eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die – a corrupted conflation of verses from two very different passages of scripture (Isaiah 22 and Ecclesiastes 8).

When I listened to this song a few days ago, it brought to mind quite a well known interview that Stephen Fry gave to Gay Byrne early last year. He starts his reply to the question about what he would say to God…

“I’d say, bone cancer in children? What’s that about? How dare you? How dare you create a world to which there is such misery that is not our fault. It’s not right, it’s utterly, utterly evil. Why should I respect a capricious, mean-minded, stupid God who creates a world that is so full of injustice and pain. That’s what I would say.”

There is much to be debated in that answer, and in the rest of Fry’s opinions articulated in that interview and elsewhere. But today I want to focus on how I connected his diatribe with the Peggy Lee recording.

Because in truth, if I could look at this world, and even this universe, in all its beauty and all its horror, with all its grandeur and all its injustice, and if I honestly believed that this is “all there is,” then I would probably do two things. First I would rant at God “if there is one” about how unfair and mean and stupid he is. Second, I would break out the booze and have a ball.

Because really, if that’s all there is, what else is there to do?

Now I can’t give a neat answer to the question “what’s bone cancer in children about?” There are many, many awful things that happen on this Earth. Some are manmade, and others are out of our hands. But let’s just imagine for a minute God creating the universe and making it perfect – perfect in the sense that nothing can go wrong, there can be no evil, no pain and no tears. According to the Bible there is such a place, but it isn’t Earth. Even in Genesis 1, before everything went wrong, Earth and everything in it is not described as perfect, merely “very good.”

In fact if this world and we human beings had been created perfect we would never have had a choice about how to live. We would only ever be able to make the decision that is right in God’s eyes – because by definition the Creator decides what is right in His creation. We would be robots, programmed not with Asimov’s three laws but with God’s ten commandments. The world would be beautiful and perfect, but our part in it would be meaningless. And if we were somehow given free will but nature held no peril, what purpose would our lives really have?

This outcome would not be so different from the atheist’s alternative. Theirs is a universe where there is no creator and no reason for creation to take place. It just happened, and from that moment on everything that has occurred has been entirely subject to the laws of physics. Every atom of every cell of your body is in its place because of the interaction of fundamental forces and particles. Every thought you have and every action you take is predetermined by those same natural laws. Because “if that’s all there is,” then you, as an individual, have no control over what the laws of physics lead you to do. And ultimately this means that your life, and this entire universe, has no purpose or meaning whatsoever.

Disillusionment.

There is another possibility. This is the possibility that God created the universe with intentional ‘flaws’, and that He created us with free will so that we could choose whether or not to follow His direction; so that we could decide how we wanted to respond to the threats that an ‘imperfect’ world presents; so that we could experience pain and grief and thus understand what joy really means. And all of this gives meaning to our lives. What we do, or even just try to do, matters. What we say and what we think matters, because they really are our thoughts, words and deeds. We have responsibility, and we have purpose.

And yes, there is a place of perfection, described in Revelation 21. A place where a child who died of bone cancer can live again with no tears and no pain. Maybe the broken life will be forgotten, or maybe it will be remembered in a way that heightens the joy of the new life. I don’t know. I don’t really know any details of what heaven and hell will be like. I think their reality is beyond the description of words, even the words of the Bible’s writers, even the “extravagantly rich” words that led Thomas Mann’s protagonist to his unhappy conclusions.

When every other option speaks of futility, I will choose to believe in the one that speaks of hope. And I will try to make good choices when facing the difficulties of this world, and I will try to enjoy the good things it offers, and I will know in my heart that the best is yet to come.

The Gentle Touch

If you gave me a handful of beans I could prove something to you. I could show, you by careful separation and addition of beans, that two plus two does not equal zero.

I could also show you that two plus two does not equal one. Or two. Or three. Or five. Or six.

Need I continue with this illustration? If anyone came to me with their own proposition for the value of two plus two, I could use my handful of beans to prove them wrong. But as long as people kept coming to me with their different ideas, I would spend all my time proving that they were each wrong.

I would much rather show once that two plus two equals four, and then get on with my life, using the simple proven principles to help me in my daily tasks – shopping, time-keeping, cooking and so on. If anyone suggested to me that two plus two equals twelve, well I’d have my evidence for four, and I could show them, and we could discuss any questions they had about it. If they chose to ignore my evidence and refute my conclusions, that would be their right and they would have to live with the consequences.

I was attending a Christian apologetics course this week, and the subject of the session was different worldviews and religions. Much of the discussion that evening took the form “Islam teaches this…”, “Hindus believe this…”, “Muslims practice this…”, it seemed that we could find an endless list of everything that is wrong with every other worldview.

And I couldn’t help thinking “two plus two does not equal zero”, “two plus two does not equal one”…

Then a wise participant spoke about the danger of telling someone what their faith means, and advised that dialogue should start by asking them what it means to them, and then take the discussion from there.

These ideas have been running around my mind and started me looking at issues of evangelism, apologetics and conversion, maybe in a slightly different way than I did previously.

I don’t like to be told I’m wrong. I don’t even like the idea of people thinking I’m wrong. The idea, or the words, will annoy me, depending on the subject maybe even anger me, and will certainly make me very defensive. It doesn’t matter how sound and logical my reasoning is on the matter, I feel under attack, and my response is emotional and flesh-driven. I will fight back, and because my emotions are taking control, I won’t necessarily use the correct or appropriate tactics. The result may be that I weaken my original position through faulty arguments, or I damage my adversary with an over-zealous counterattack and risk losing my integrity.

I’m sure I’m not unique in this respect. I think it’s part of our human nature. It takes true wisdom to see that we’re wrong, real humility to admit it, and immense strength to repent. Sometimes it’s only with the help of the Holy Spirit that we can achieve any of this.

Whenever we encounter somebody whose beliefs differ from ours, we have to remember this part of our common nature. We have to understand that Newton’s third law of motion can apply to ideas too – to every action there is always an equal and opposite reaction.

And this doesn’t just apply to the difference between a theist and an atheist. It could be between a monotheist and a pantheist, a Christian and a Muslim, a Methodist and a Catholic, or two Baptists who disagree on a single line of scripture. We’re talking about the meaning and purpose of our lives. Nothing could be more important. The most minor criticism could feel like an assault on the very foundations of our faith.

Nobody – no human being – is going to convince me that I’m wrong and they’re right by telling me so. And I’m not going to convince anyone else by that method.

Nobody is going to shatter my faith by explaining how I’m wrong; nor can I achieve the same result in someone else.

It’s not my job to convince anyone, that’s where the Holy Spirit will do His work. My duty is to give an account of my faith, explain the truth of how I’ve come to the understanding that two plus two equals four. And if I live according to my faith, then my hope is that my words and my life will be a testimony, and will open a mind to a possibility, or strengthen the faith of a fellow believer.

It’s valuable to know how other belief systems operate, and it’s definitely worth understanding for yourself how they fail to live up to God’s truth in Christ. For the sake of peace it’s worth talking to anyone who has ears to hear, no matter where they stand on matters of faith.

But I don’t see the value of engaging in a war of words, as if any argument you make will be the one that nobody has formulated in the last two thousand years – will be the one that stops the Muslim, the atheist, the Scientologist, the Hindu or the Jew in their tracks and convinces them of the folly of their ways. No, sorry but it just isn’t going to be that easy.

Focus on what you know and believe. Understand what God has said to you, and keep seeking Him. Let your actions be evidence of His truth. Confront opposition not with hard words, mocking and inflammatory; but gently, compassionately and patiently.

Be wise in the way you act towards outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Colossians 4:5-6

Unprovable God

I enjoy reading articles on ChurchLeaders.com. I don’t always agree with them, indeed there have been a few that I would question strongly, but in general they are helpful in getting me to look at my faith and my life in ways I wouldn’t otherwise.

I was very excited when I saw that a recent article was titled “Why God Does Not Want To Be Proven.” I was excited because I’ve been feeling so frustrated recently when reading the public comments attached to various news stories related to Christianity. I’m sure I’m not alone in this. Take the recent announcement of the new Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby. The constant flow of mocking comments from atheists can be disheartening. Many will refer to the ‘victory’ of science over faith. Of course, nobody has ever proved that God does not exist, but they can counter that with similar tales of Flying Spaghetti Monsters etc. How I wish that I could just prove to them what I know of God.

Well, Matt Appling’s article makes some good points, and some not so good. I’ll let you make your own judgements on it. But as I read it, a clear message came to me, which wasn’t actually mentioned in the article, so I’ll state it here:

God doesn’t want to be proven because He loves us.

I’d better explain. I find one of the most persuasive arguments for why God allows people to do evil things, is that He loves us enough to give us the choice of whether to follow Him or not. I believe strongly that if we didn’t have that freedom – if God really was the Almighty Puppet Master – that there would be no purpose to our lives. It is only by having an option of doing wrong, that doing right has any merit, and can bring us real joy.

In a similar way, if God was to make Himself known to the world in a way that would convince the most hardened atheist – whether it be by regally floating above our heads, or by reversing time like Superman – then there would suddenly be no room for faith, and the choice of believing in Christ and serving Him as our Lord and Master would lose most of its meaning.

There’s a big part of me that wishes it were so in any case, so billions of people could see the wonderful glory of God for themselves and become part of His family. But that’s not the way He has chosen to work His plan in these days. There was a time when He was intervening regularly with the Israelites (for example, Exodus 12). There was a time when He walked among us as a Man (John 1:14-18). And since then His Spirit has moved among us, connecting to those of us who reach for Him (John 14:15-18).

He will come again, and He will be unmistakeable (Matthew 24:29-31). The proof I want atheists to see is also evident all around us right now (Romans 1:18-23).

I’ll continue to state my case for God, by logic and by my testimony, whenever it can serve a purpose, but I think I’ll have to take a more relaxed approach to the militant and mocking atheists. It’s not my arguments that will change their minds. It’s only their own choice to open their minds to a new possibility and allow the Holy Spirit to work in them that will save them. And if I can help anyone through any part of that process then I will thank God for the privilege of doing so, as I thank Him now for giving me the freedom to choose life in Jesus Christ.

Imagining John Lennon as a Christian

I don’t know everything he said, and of course even less so everything he thought, or how his views and beliefs changed throughout his life, but I think it’s reasonable to say, from my limited knowledge, that John Lennon didn’t consider himself a Christian. he gave quite a strong hint in 1966 when he said:

Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that. I’m right and i will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now; I don’t know which will go first, rock ’n’ roll or Christianity.

But I was thinking about “Imagine” yesterday, and the idea came to me… I wonder whether there would be much negative reaction if one of today’s popular Christian songwriters were to pen these words:

Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people living life in peace

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will be as one

Imagine no possessions
I wonder if you can
No need for greed or hunger
A brotherhood of man
Imagine all the people sharing all the world

You may say I’m a dreamer
But I’m not the only one
I hope some day you’ll join us
And the world will live as one

I’ll grant you that there probably isn’t enough direct reference to God, Jesus or the Holy Spirit in there, but look at the words. I’ve omitted the first verse for obvious reasons, but we’ll return to that later. In the lyric above I can see echoes of so much of what Jesus said during his earthly ministry.

Imagine there’s no countries… I think of Luke 10:25-37, the parable of the good Samaritan, which Jesus tells in answer to the question “Who is my neighbour?”

Nothing to kill or die for… in the sermon on the mount, Matthew 5:43-44, Jesus says

You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.

Also consider the description of the new heaven and new earth in Revelation 21:4

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.

And no religion too… no religion! Yes, read what Jesus had to say about religion, the soulless hypocritical show of tradition and law; the total opposite of the relationship with God, our Father, that Christ exemplifies. You can find his statement on the subject in Matthew 23:1-36. He doesn’t sit on the fence.

Imagine all the people living life in peace…

“Blessed are the peacemakers, For they shall be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)

Imagine no possessions… no need for greed or hunger… in Matthew 6:25-34, Jesus exhorts us not to worry about such things as clothes and food, which we will be provided with if we first seek God. This is straight after He warns us not to serve mammon – money. Also look at His instructions when sending out the apostles to preach the gospel and heal the sick, the simple lifestyle described through Matthew 10:9-10.

I hope some day you’ll join us, And the world will be as one… A brotherhood of man, Imagine all the people sharing all the world… it reminds me of Jesus’ prayer for unity in John 17:20-23:

I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word; that they all may be one, as You, Father, are in Me, and I in You; that they also may be one in Us, that the world may believe that You sent Me. And the glory which You gave Me I have given them, that they may be one just as We are one: I in them, and You in Me; that they may be made perfect in one, and that the world may know that You have sent Me, and have loved them as You have loved Me.

I also think of Paul’s description of the church in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26, which starts:

For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body—whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free—and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.

It seems that the kind of world John Lennon is imagining looks very similar to the one that Jesus pointed to, and that Christians are praying for and working towards.

So what does he have against Christianity? Why is he so convinced that it will go? Maybe the answer is in that first verse, the one I can’t imagine Matt Redman writing…

Imagine there’s no heaven
It’s easy if you try
No hell below us
Above us only sky
Imagine all the people living for today

Lennon is looking for a world where everyone lives for today. In itself I don’t see that as an un-Christian way of living. Jesus taught us not to worry about tomorrow, not to store up treasures on earth. The difference is that Christ tells us to store up treasures in heaven. But Lennon doesn’t want heaven or hell, because (in my opinion) he doesn’t want to face the consequences of those places being real. It’s too difficult to live by the all the rules that have been written down in scripture, and if the consequence of breaking those laws is eternal damnation, well I can understand why that would worry him.

This world view seems to be laid bare in his song “God” in which he finally claims “I just believe in me.” Self-reliance and self-determination are sweet incentives to draw you into atheism, but they are delusions, and truth is rather that “No man is an island entire of itself.”

The fact is that it is too difficult to live by God’s laws, and be “righteous” by ourselves. We can all look at our lives and see so many reasons why we don’t deserve to go to heaven. And that’s because we simply don’t. We’ve disobeyed the eternal, omnipotent ruler of the universe so many times and that makes us deserving of eternal punishment.

But God loves us and understands our weakness, our imperfection, our inability to live up to His standard. So He’s given us an escape route, another chance, he offers us salvation in the form of Jesus Christ, sent not only to show us the perfect example of how to live, but in His death to take the punishment that would otherwise be ours. Accept Jesus as your Lord, and your Saviour, and you are clothed in His righteousness, accepted by God.

You don’t have to imagine no heaven and no hell. You can live for today without fear of tomorrow. You can live in peace, in a brotherhood of man, eliminating greed and hunger. You can do it without nationalism or xenophobia, and without religion. All you need is love – God is love. (1 John 4:16)

A Final Word…

While I was researching the notion that “Imagine” is an atheist anthem for the purpose of this blog post, I came across the following article which runs along very similar lines to my own, but with (mostly) different scriptural references. You might be interested to read the opinion of a Professor of Theology and Public Issues and compare it to mine – I’m never likely to be a professor of anything!

http://www.odt.co.nz/opinion/opinion/141124/faith-and-reason-imagine-really-atheist

Belief and Understanding

I don’t know the preacher’s name but he said something last Sunday that I want to share with you because its truth struck me so forcefully. I won’t be as eloquent as he was but I’ll do my best to get his point across.

“I’m not here to explain God to you,” he said, “because I’m not able. God is too marvellous, too amazing and too mysterious. But He can explain himself. If you believe in Him then He will help you understand. But if you try to understand before you believe then you are putting a barrier between you and Him.”

I know it’s easy to scoff at people of faith who can’t explain why God would do this or allow that. But if you just for a minute accept the possibility of a Creator, then you have to immediately see how far beyond our intellect and understanding He must be. And hence how small and lacking we are in comparison. How futile it is to try sometimes, like an insect trying to figure out what a human being is all about.

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts,
neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.
“As the heavens are higher than the earth,
so are my ways higher than your ways
and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (Isaiah 55:8, 9 NIV)

Of course we want to understand, but let’s start from a position of humility, first understanding our limitations and His sovereignty.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom,
and knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10 NIV)

There is so much to learn, but there is one truth to hold in your heart, one blessing in God’s word that will transform your life and release you from all kinds of shackles.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (John 3:16 NIV)

Believe, and then be amazed and delighted by the new understanding you are given.

Foolish Talk

The fool has said in his heart,
“There is no God.”

Both Psalm 14 and Psalm 53 begin with this blunt statement, and I’m just going to explain very briefly today why I believe completely in this fundamental truth.

I would (and did) acknowledge God’s existence before accepting Christ as my Lord and Saviour. But even if you can’t go as far as accepting that there is a God, how can you possibly, with certainty, believe that there isn’t?

I have always had an inquiring mind, a logical and questioning mind. And I trust scientific methods and evidence. I use rational thought processes to inform and interpret my reading of the Bible, and my understanding of God. I believe that God gave me – and mankind as a whole – the desire to understand His universe.

And here is my ultimate logical reason not to dismiss God: If He exists, as Christianity understands Him, then He is the Creator of the universe. By definition, the Creator is not a part of the creation, so God exists outside of time and space, and the laws that control them.

So when an otherwise brilliant mind like Professor Stephen Hawking jumps to the conclusion that the laws of physics, and specifically gravity, can explain everything, and that this means God is no longer required as a first cause, I have to wonder at how closed that mind is.

Just as a builder can enter and walk around a house he has constructed, so God can, and does, enter His creation to interact with its elements – including us. But the builder is not a part of that house, and the rules, the materials and the construction of that house do not apply to the builder. Even more evidently, the laws of the universe do not apply to God, so to try to understand Him, explain Him, or reject Him using those laws is futile – and foolish.

In the words of Paul, in Romans 1, verse 22:

Professing to be wise, they became fools.

Science is a wonderful way to explore, examine and explain the workings of the universe. But if a scientist believes that his discipline can explain the totality of creation, then he is deluded. There is a difference between science and omniscience. The difference is omni – everything.