Posts Tagged ‘christianity’
Regardless of how anti-religion you may be, you have to admit that it does have some advantages.
Christmas, for example. A few days off work for many people across the country to enjoy the company of family and friends you seldom see; to indulge in a festive food and drink feast; to make the most of a rare opportunity to learn the names of neighbours you never speak to as you receive their annual card through the letterbox.
However opposed you may be to religion, without it, there would be no Christmas and we’d probably have to make do with a solitary day off during the New Year’s Day bank holiday.
But while there might not be much wrong with simply taking advantage of an opportunity to hand out gifts and have a good party or two, is it not a bit strange that so many anti-religious folks up and down the country would even want to join in with a time of year that has long been associated with a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ? Especially when bearing in mind that those very people don’t believe in Jesus in the first place?
Christians are often referred to by their most ardent opponents as being people who believe in an imaginary being.
If that’s the case, then it’s a rather weird situation to find so many countries around the world joining in to celebrate the birth of an imaginary being.
And if you believe in the existence of Jesus, but not that he was the Son of God, then have you ever stopped to consider just why his birth was unique enough to warrant a worldwide celebration?
Surely there can’t be just one man in the history of the world who deserves to be singled out and celebrated?
What about Gandhi? Or Mother Teresa? I’d bet that the overwhelming majority of people wouldn’t know the date that either of those inspirational figures were born, nor even the year.
Christians believe that Jesus is God’s son, who came to earth to show us how to live. Non-believers often try to disprove the existence of God, and much of society believes that the answers to life can be found elsewhere – and that we’ve “moved on” from needing God.
Just where we’ve moved on to exactly, and whether it’s for better or for worse is open to debate. Yes, there have been developments over history that have had a positive impact on humanity. The abolition of slavery, for example.
But what about the rapidly increasing culture of individualism and human rights? Not so much in the sense of genuine fairness, but rather in the sense that a person may demand the right both to free speech, and also the right not to be offended – two contradictory views which are demanded by the same person, and at the same time. It’s about them, and them only.
And what of materialism and the pursuit of wealth, which is often considered the ultimate goal for the majority. Life is about achieving a good job with an ever-increasing income, followed by a long prosperous retirement with a nice fat pension. That’s the dream; that’s what is to be aspired to, right?
These are two of the more selfish characteristics of modern Britain, but are values which youngsters are being raised to adopt in a more and more competitive society.
During his time on earth, Jesus taught about loving others, and putting them first. It’s a completely contradictory set of values to those we’re given by our modern society.
Maybe that’s the kind of thing which convinced enough people that he was special enough that his birth be universally celebrated, and for time itself to be marked by his birth.
CS Lewis, an atheist who tried to disprove Christianity and ultimately found too much evidence in support of it actually being true, claimed that Jesus could only have been one of the following three things:
1. a liar who made a claim that he was the Son of God – when he knew full well that he was not
2. a lunatic, who genuinely believed that he was the Son of God, when he actually was not
3. the Son of God, ie he was exactly who he said he was.
A fourth option, some might add, is that he didn’t exist in the first place. History clearly proves that theory wrong. That leaves one of the other options as the only ones that can have any credibility.
So, as you sit down to eat your turkey this Christmas, ask yourself this question: Will you be celebrating the birth of a random historical figure who was either a mad man or a liar? Or will you be celebrating the birth of the most inspirational man in history, a man who was the Son of God?
Personally, I don’t join in with the celebrations of key moments in the Islamic or Hindi calendars, and nor do I hold parties to celebrate the birth of invisible men who didn’t exist. I’d consider myself to be a rather strange individual if I did.
In an increasingly competitive world, Christian values are becoming less and less fashionable in modern society. But to me and to countless millions of other people around the world, Christianity and its values still make sense.
And certainly more sense than joining other non-believers around the country in celebrating the birth of a historical person who we don’t even believe in.
It’s no wonder that so many people get fed up with religion.
Headline news detailing division within denominations is hardly the sort of thing which would attract non-believers to attend church. Instead, all that such public rows will achieve is cause people outside of the church to become even more turned off than ever – and no one should be surprised.
The arguments over church structure, and ongoing political disagreements within the Church of England are doing nothing to represent what Christianity should be about, and that’s the sad result of some of the stories in the news this week.
For anyone who is either unfamiliar with the Christian faith or against it altogether, it would be easy to look at the kind of arguments taking place amongst senior figures in the Church of England and use it as a reference to what Christianity is.
Far more useful would be to completely ignore the sort of issues that have gained publicity over recent days – such as the debate over women bishops – and explore what being a Christian, a follower of Jesus, is really about. (A book like CS Lewis’s Mere Christianity is as good as any if you are someone who truly wishes to understand the faith)
One story that hasn’t had quite so much coverage is that of an interview involving Fabrice Muamba, broadcast on Premier Radio on Monday.
Many people will be aware that Muamba was the Premier League footballer who collapsed during a match last season, and whose heart stopped for 78 minutes.
During the interview, Muamba spoke of his faith generally, and a miracle recovery which he believes God to have had a hand in. He spoke of his intentions to carry out the plans that he believes God has for his life – to testify what God has done in his own life, and to share the gospel and tell others of how God can work in their lives too.
It’d be nice if that was a message which was more often communicated by the church, rather than bitter arguments over the particular structure of the church that each of its members want in place.
There are plenty of other people out there like Fabrice Muamba, each of whom have their own testimonies.
It’s important that testimonies like that of Muamba and others are heard far more loudly than the unhelpful church squabbles that continue to gain more coverage than they deserve, and which provide a thoroughly inaccurate and unhelpful view of what the Christian faith is all about.
Having missed out on a Euro 2012 place after struggling with injuries over the final months of the season, England striker Darren Bent recently expressed how his faith in God helps him to cope much more easily with such disappointments.
Bent is not the only footballer to believe in God, but his comments further highlight that no matter what one’s personal situation may be, there is still a need for God.
It never ceases to surprise me how many people can completely reject the possibility of Christianity being true when there is co much diversity amongst its believers.
Whatever criteria is used, there are people who believe in the God of the bible. Whether rich or poor, well educated or uneducated, scientific or non-scientific, the world’s Christian population consists of men, women and children of all ages and all nationalities, whether living in the developed world or the developing world – even if Christianity is in direct conflict with the state religion of the nation in which they live.
Christianity never goes away, and it never becomes a faith which is shared only by one very specific group of people, or for one particular nation or period in history.
On its own, none of the above is enough to prove conclusively that Christianity is true, of course. But if nothing else, surely it should be enough to prompt non-believers to raise questions of why so many people of differing backgrounds and upbringings end up with the a faith in the same God.
In an increasingly secular nation it may not be fashionable to believe in God, and it’s certainly an easier option to go along with what the rest of society has deemed to be true.
However, one of the biggest problems in taking that approach is that many of the people you can end up being influenced by have probably never genuinely questioned anything, either.
It’s much easier to take on board a popular view without thinking, but to borrow one of Obi Wan Kenobi’s sayings in Star Wars: Who’s more foolish, the fool or the fool who follows him?
Many millions of people over the world have, independently of each other, asked their own questions which have ultimately resulted in a genuine faith in God.
If you’re reading this and are curious about why that is, maybe it’s time to start asking some questions of your own.
What’s your view of Christianity? Is it a positive view, or one which provokes mostly negative thoughts? Perhaps you see it as a faith which involves living in a way which takes away a freedom to do things?
If that thought has gone through your mind, then a further question to ask is this: what image do you have when you think of the word ‘freedom’?
Is it mainly of a freedom to do or say whatever you want, whenever you want? Or rather a freedom from enslavement to someone or something?
When associating Christianity and freedom, many people think in the negative; that it is a faith which restricts freedom by enforcing a set of laws and restrictions that limit what we can and can’t do.
But when the Bible does speak of freedom, it is intended to be a positive – and a freedom from the things harmful to us, or which serve us no benefit. We’re invited to be free from things which cause pain to ourselves, and to those around us.
Only from a belief in God can our hearts be truly changed, and only through faith that our desires change and result in a turning away from the harmful or sinful things which serve us no true benefit.
It’s a freedom which is anything but negative. And it is freely available to anyone who wants it.
Preliminary findings of a government report into the freedoms of Christians in the UK were released this morning.
The inquiry, overseen by Christians in Parliament was undertaken in response to the difficulties Christians in the UK face in being able to live out their faith, and also because of a series of high-profile cases which have seen Christians subjected to police action due to objections from those who simply don’t share the same beliefs.
The government and the police both come under attack in the findings due to their lack of understanding in dealing with issues of a religious nature, particularly where complaints of being insulted are used against Christians simply due to a disagreement in beliefs.
Whilst Section 5 of the 1986 Public Order Act still gives police powers to act if someone feels insulted, the report suggests that the bar has been set too low over when this clause is used. As mentioned in a blog post on religious tolerance earlier this month, a government review is currently in progress over the wording of Section 5, due to a series of cases where it has been wrongly used to prosecute.
Labour’s 2010 Equalities Act also comes under fire in the report for failing “to deal with the tensions between different strands of equality policy”, while the courts have been accused of creating a “hierarchy of rights” in their decisions of some cases.
Amongst a number of recommendations was the restructuring of the Equality and Human Rights Commission in order to better represent religious beliefs.
Opponents of Christianity may not agree with aspects of the report, entitled ‘Clearing the Ground’, though if it is a step towards ensuring that Christians are as free to voice their beliefs as other groups, then it is to be welcomed.
A number of articles have appeared in the media recently which have reported on instances where people voicing religious views have found themselves the subject of attention from various authorities.
You don’t have to look far in order to find opinions expressed by Christians that have resulted in complaints being made.
Though in many cases, the complaints have not been because the comments have involved direct or personal abuse, nor spoken in a threatening manner. The views in question have merely been a different view or belief not shared by the complainant.
Less than two weeks ago, there was the story of a Christian charity in Bath who had been told by the Advertising Standards Agency that they were not permitted to use the phrase ‘God heals’ on any of their material.
And by the weekend, the news of a High Court ruling forbidding the saying of prayers before local council meetings in Bideford made front page headlines in the national press.
Last month, David Burrowes, a Conservative MP for Enfield Southgate, found himself the target of a social media campaign after voicing his intent to vote against legislation to introduce gay marriage. Within a couple of days of David’s comments, Phillip Dawson, who is treasurer of the local Conservative Association and also a trustee at Christ Church Southgate, set up a Facebook group entitled “Send David Burrowes MP a message on gay marriage” which has been used to gather support amongst others who share Phillip’s differing views to those of his MP.
On an identical issue in October, Adrian Smith found himself removed from his position at the Trafford Housing Trust and placed in a different role within the organisation – with a salary drop of £14,000 – for disagreeing on his Facebook page with the move to legalize gay marriage. He didn’t abuse anyone, and went on to clarify his Christian held beliefs by referencing the Bible’s teaching on marriage. Despite this, he was reported by a colleague who took exception to Adrian having the right to voice his beliefs and the organisation subsequently took action which is currently the subject of a legal challenge.
So much for a tolerant society.
Critics of Christianity, or indeed of any religion, will argue that by opposing gay marriage or other such issues which cause so much controversy, people are denying the right to equality for anyone campaigning in support of them.
But it has come to a point where it’s becoming more and more difficult to disagree on any issue, and the right to even have a different belief on such matters is itself coming under attack.
Taking the subject of gay marriage, the Bible, the teachings of which the Christian faith is based on, states that marriage is for one man and one woman. Those who don’t believe that are entirely free to disagree. The same people are also free to campaign for it to be legalised, if they feel so strongly about it, but there has to be respect for anyone who has strongly held beliefs that differ to their own.
It’s at that point where tolerance in the UK is breaking down and highlights the problem with understanding the difference between tolerance and disagreement.
Being tolerant of people who have different beliefs and who live their lives in a different way is entirely right. From a Christian perspective, the Bible instructs everyone to be treated with love regardless of whether we agree with everything that person might think or do.
However, that doesn’t and shouldn’t ever result in everyone being expected to support any viewpoint that may be popular in society or conform to a belief that simply isn’t shared. And it shouldn’t be the case that voicing a view which may be unpopular amongst a majority can lead to someone finding themselves subjected to personal attacks, or even arrest.
There have been some encouraging things said by Conservatives which would help to address some of the issues which have led to the disputes referred to.
Earlier this week, Conservative peer Baroness Warsi spoke out of the “intolerant” nature of the “militant secularisation” which is present in Britain, and of the importance in allowing people the right to religious identity.
At Westminster, Eric Pickles, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, vowed to overturn the High Court ruling on the holding of prayers in council meetings by introducing a change in law within a week. He clarified that no-one is forced to sit through prayers, although that was true in the case of Bideford council, with the complainant on that occasion claiming that he was “too embarrassed” to leave.
In a further move, a review of a controversial section of the 1986 Public Order Act is underway, with the government considering the removal of the word ‘insulting’ under Section 5 of the Act, something which has led to a number of cases where people have been arrested due to another individual not agreeing with a comment made.
These are all welcome moves but in a society which supposedly preaches tolerance and equality, there shouldn’t need to be so many measures to protect free speech and differences of opinion. It could even be argued that the measures are only required in order to protect against some of the very people who themselves fight for tolerance.
But then that kind of tolerance is, of course, only ever one-sided.
There was an article posted on the Telegraph blog on Monday which highlighted the growing threat of religious freedom of speech in Britain.
It focuses on a decision last week by the Advertisement Standards Agency (ASA) to ban Christian organization Healing on the Streets, Bath from stating on its website or in printed leaflets that God heals.
The decision came after a complaint was made by an individual who was unhappy with the wording.
It is yet another example of how easily offended people of Britain are becoming when anything Christian related is said that they disagree with, and how little it is taking for a growing number of people to feel the need to make their complaint known to authorities who really shouldn’t have to deal with such petty concerns.
As one of the comments added to the Telegraph’s article points out, it could open the floodgates for a wave of similar complaints, should enough members of the public feel the need to push such trivial matters where simple disagreement is involved.
For example, how many movie trailers over the years have casually boasted to be the best movie of the year? Whatever such claims are based on, it goes without saying that not everyone will agree and that there will be some people who pay to watch the movie in question based on the promotional trailer only to be seriously unimpressed.
Adverts boasting of being the best product or best service are also permitted by advertising guidelines, provided that such claims can be substantiated.
So what is so offensive when a Christian charity include references to their beliefs in printed materials?
The complaint included a number of factors amongst which was that the “advertiser misleadingly implied that they could heal the conditions referred to” and that they were “irresponsible, because they provided false hope” to those suffering from the conditions specified on the leaflet.
Given the increasing number of complaints made in the UK by people who disagree with Christians proclaiming their beliefs publicly, which has led to several arrests, very few of which have ever led to further action being taken, it is more important than ever that organisations such as Healing on the Streets are wise in how they describe anything intended for a public audience.
As has been suggested, simply altering the statement in order to have read “We believe that God heals” may have prevented the complaint from being upheld.
But when there is a strongly held conviction that what is being said is true, why should there have to be any compromise?
In my own church, I’ve known of many people to have experienced healing after being prayed for, including some from long term illnesses or injuries. Not everyone does receive healing after prayer though, and it is one a mystery as to why that is the case. Though of those who do, the testimonies have often been too powerful to ignore.
But even amongst Christians who have the faith that praying for the sick can lead to healing, the practice is one which is taught to be carried out responsibly, and if medication is involved, the person should never be encouraged to stop taking it and it should only ever be a medical professional who advises on any changes in medication requirements.
All of this seems to have been made clear by Healing on the Streets, as the ASA themselves acknowledged, and it’s therefore difficult to understand how they have acted irresponsibly in what was said on the material they produced.
During a speech to an audience at Christ Church Oxford only seven weeks ago, David Cameron described Britain as a Christian country, adding that “we should not be afraid to say so”.
Sadly, it seems that while plenty can be used in adverts which would be considered to be strongly at odds with Christian beliefs, those responsible for regulating the nation’s advertisements don’t appear to share the Prime Minister’s sentiments when a complaint is made about a Christian charity stating a Christian belief.
So much for Cameron’s Christian country.
The concept of infinity is one I sometimes struggle with, and find it quite difficult to accept that there’s anyone who can completely get their head around it without experiencing at least a little brain-ache.It’s more easily understood in terms of mathematics, in knowing that certain calculations are going to result in an answer involving decimal places which will continue forever.
For example, it’s impossible to perfectly divide ten into three. To three decimal places, the answer is 3.333. But for increased accuracy, an additional ’3′ could be added to the figure, which could in theory be repeated forever. The number would become more accurate but still not perfect.
Infinity becomes an altogether more difficult idea to think of when applying the concept to time.
Try to imagine that there was no start to time, that it goes on and on and never, ever ends. That something has always been there.
Some scientists believe that the universe is infinite and has always existed. Others that it was formed by the Big Bang, an explosion which is quite literally believed to have led to the creation of everything. The religious argument is that God, however you may think of God, was the creator.
The issue with any of those theories is what it was that preceded each of them. To say that God has always existed is a failure to answer how God came into existence and taking that statement by itself, it is easy to understand why those sceptical of Christianity, or any other religion, demand an answer to that question before being willing to move on.
A similar question could be asked of the scientific or atheistic stance however, and to whatever chemical or biological process was believed to have formed the universe. Whatever conditions that are believed to have been present at that time must have originated from something, somehow.
Depending on what you believe regarding the formation of the universe, either things originated by themselves over time, from nothing whatsoever, or it was put into place by a creator.
What went on before that is an incredibly difficult concept to even attempt to imagine, but does result in both those with a faith in God and those who don’t being put in the same boat – neither have any conclusive answers that satisfy the opposite camp.
It’s at this point where faith comes in. Faith in God, or faith in the science to provide the answers. The difficulty with the former is as noted above: Where did God come from?
But the problem in relying on science to provide all of the answers to such of questions are even more numerous. Aside from the issue noted earlier, there have been multiple theories put forward attempting the explain the nature of the cosmos, and no doubt more will follow in the future.
Different scientists, different theories, and no concrete answer.
Additionally, the very nature of science means that any particular theory can be quickly ruled out and disproved at any time in the future, with the discovery of a small piece of additional evidence that contradicts a previously accepted viewpoint.
And that makes it all the easier to believe in the existence of God, but trying to get my head around the infinite existence of God, and where God came from, will continue to cause brain-ache.
At some point though, you have to stop trying to obtain all of the answers.
I read with interest the story of Jamie Murray this week, the owner of a Christian coffee shop in Blackpool, who was threatened with arrest for displaying bible scriptures in his cafe.
The incident occurred after a complaint had been made by someone who had been offended by what they had read, and Lancashire Police subsequently visited Mr Murray, informing him that he was guilty of breaching the Public Order Act of 1986.
It is yet another in a growing list of high profile incidents in which the police have attempted to silence a Christian view on the back of a complaint from a member of the public who simply disagreed with it.
In the last 18 months alone, there have been a number reports of Christians arrested for preaching the bible in the street. Not attacking and personally abusing other members of the public. Not causing any assault. But merely sharing the foundations of strongly held beliefs.
None have led to convictions, and often have resulted in apologies being issued by the police force involved, as was true of the Jamie Murray’s case.
But when will the Police just learn to interpret the law properly in the first place, and stop wasting time and money arresting or threatening to arrest Christians who simply have a different view on a number of issues than other members of society, as the law allows?
If the situation was turned on its head, how often would a Christian believer have any luck if they turned up at their local police station complaining of the offence being caused to them by seeing a crowd of drunkards parading around a city centre? How about if a Christian street preacher was given a mouthful of abuse by a passer by? If the same law applied to everyone, then the latter of those two examples should certainly be expected to result in a similar investigation by police.
Somehow I doubt it would. If disagreeing with someone was a criminal offence, then there’d have to be 60million prison places, and Nick Clegg may be amongst the first to be locked up. If believing in a different set of values ever became a crime, there’d be a similar outcome.
Some of those who do complain should be embarrassed to be doing so. If you’re on the street and don’t like something you hear, walk away. If it’s not directly and deliberately offensive, then it’s simply a difference of opinion so just get on with it. Equally, there are some stories which make you wonder why the police even consider the complaint to be worthy of investigating.
In my experience, Christian cafes are rather pleasant places to visit whatever your faith. But if you’re of the more sensitive type, instead of going through the stress of having to involve the local constabulary, why not just go to Starbucks in the first place?
Still, it’s encouraging to know that crime in Blackpool is at such a low level that police need incidents like the one above in order to keep themselves busy.
The subject of Christian baptism has come up recently amongst family and work colleagues.
Firstly because a colleague of mine was due to attend a baptism of his godson. Knowing that I was a Christian, he asked me about it because he was finding the whole event to be confusing. He’d never heard of an adult getting baptized before, nor of someone getting baptized twice, and wanted to know what it was all about.
Around a month later, my younger sister herself got baptized. There was less confusion for that one.
As a Christian, baptism is something which is familiar because it is written about in the Bible. While different denominations have differing strengths of conviction about the practice, it is clear that it is something Christian’s are called to do. Ideally it is to take place soon after becoming a Christian, although not everyone does it immediately.
To put it simply, baptism is an outward gesture of an internal state of the heart. On becoming a Christian, past sins are forgiven and you are choosing to live your life based on the Biblical teachings of Jesus.
Baptism is an illustration of this. The submerging in water represents being washed clean and starting anew. Nothing physical happens during the brief moment at which you are under water, apart from that you’ll get wet.
There’s also nothing special about the water itself. In the Bible, Baptism generally took place on the banks of the sea. At the church I attend, we hired a local swimming pool and baptisms of a number of people belonging to the church took place there, something which proved another source of bemusement amongst my colleague, who responded with the suggestion that we “must have needed a lot of holy water!”
It can be done wherever there is water. But the most important thing remains the initial decision of the individual in choosing to become a Christian and to follow Christ.