Even a blind man or a baby (can see it)…
January 8, 2009
If, as some
believe, we are spiritually blind without Jesus, then this article in the Times
written by an atheist is proof positive that people need the Lord, and that
there is an increasing awareness of this need. We are now into 2009, and there
is much to be done for life. You may recall that at the end of 2008, I began
having dreams and revelations of the role of the Church, The Body of Christ in
the battle for life. The cartoon below the Times article is a picture of what is
in my heart. In 2 Chronicles God says "if My people who are called by My Name,
will humble themselves and pray, and turn from their wicked ways, and seek My
face, then I will hear from Heaven and heal their land." We need a healing. This
atheist is seeing something that we who are called by God's Name must boldly
proclaim. Let the message be clear, it is up to us to do something. Happy New
From The Times
As an atheist,
I truly believe Africa needs God
not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem - the crushing
passivity of the people's mindset
Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as
Nyasaland. Today it's Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small
British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a
simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to
see this work.
It inspired me,
renewing my flagging faith in development charities. 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.
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.
used to avoid this truth by applauding - as you can - the practical work of
mission churches in Africa. It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of
the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the
sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of
secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be
better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate
missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.
this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is
also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and
which I cannot help observing.
First, then, the observation. We had friends who were missionaries, and as a
child I stayed often with them; I also stayed, alone with my little brother, in
a traditional rural African village. In the city we had working for us Africans
who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always
different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared
to have liberated and relaxed them. 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. They stood tall.
24, travelling by land across the continent reinforced this impression. From
Algiers to Niger, Nigeria, Cameroon and the Central African Republic, then right
through the Congo to Rwanda, Tanzania and Kenya, four student friends and I
drove our old Land Rover to Nairobi.
slept under the stars, so it was important as we reached the more populated and
lawless parts of the sub-Sahara that every day we find somewhere safe by
nightfall. Often near a mission.
Whenever we entered a territory worked by missionaries, we had to acknowledge
that something changed in the faces of the people we passed and spoke to:
something in their eyes, the way they approached you direct, man-to-man, without
looking down or away. They had not become more deferential towards strangers -
in some ways less so - but more open.
time in Malawi it was the same. I met no missionaries. You do not encounter
missionaries in the lobbies of expensive hotels discussing development strategy
documents, as you do with the big NGOs. But instead I noticed that a handful of
the most impressive African members of the Pump Aid team (largely from Zimbabwe)
were, privately, strong Christians. "Privately" because the charity is entirely
secular and I never heard any of its team so much as mention religion while
working in the villages. But I picked up the Christian references in our
conversations. One, I saw, was studying a devotional textbook in the car. One,
on Sunday, went off to church at dawn for a two-hour service.
would suit me to believe that their honesty, diligence and optimism in their
work was unconnected with personal faith. Their work was secular, but surely
affected by what they were. What they were was, in turn, influenced by a
conception of man's place in the Universe that Christianity had taught.
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.
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.
can I, as someone with a foot in both camps, explain? When the philosophical
tourist moves from one world view to another he finds - at the very moment of
passing into the new - that he loses the language to describe the landscape to
the old. But let me try an example: the answer given by Sir Edmund Hillary to
the question: Why climb the mountain? "Because it's there," he said.
the rural African mind, this is an explanation of why one would not climb the
mountain. It's... well, there. Just there. Why interfere? Nothing to be done
about it, or with it. Hillary's further explanation - that nobody else had
climbed it - would stand as a second reason for passivity.
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 philosphical/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.
Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not
kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that
accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system
must first be supplanted.
I'm afraid it has to be supplanted by another. 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.