Friday, 24 October 2008

More thoughts on the (allegedly) deadly buses

The bus campaign which I posted about the other day has drawn a fair bit of comment from my friends. One of them has drawn my attention to the original source of the campaign (thanks Chris). So here's some more thoughts (a bit higgledy-piggledy I'm afraid):

I've never before heard of the group that maintain the website the writer quotes. On the other hand, I'm all too familiar with the message they're giving out. This, I'm afraid, is where I'm likely to offend some of you, quite possibly those on both sides of the debate.

Whatever their views on the truth or otherwise of Christianity, I suspect that one thing most people would agree on is that the way the website quoted presents the Christian message is not exactly attractive (not to mention that if they can afford bus adverts I'd hope they could spend a little more on web design!). The "repent or go to hell!" style of evangelism just doesn't work in the twenty-first century (if it ever did). If anything, it's counter-productive, and contributes to the popular negative image of Christianity presented by American creationists and other extremists.

In the past, more people grew up within the church, attended sunday school and would, I think, have accepted a moral code that today we aren't so familiar with. As a result, they would have understood the concept of 'sin' and have been more able to accept being called 'sinners' and told they were in need of forgiveness in a way people today don't. Today the prevailing moral code is much freer, things which our grandparents would have condemned we accept without question. We don't like someone else telling us we've done something wrong, judging our actions. But sometimes we need to be told. But as behavioural specialists tell us, simply shouting at a child that's done something wrong isn't much good. You have to explain to them why it's wrong and why they shouldn't do it. In a way, I think evangelisation is similar. You can't just tell people they're bad, they'll laugh at you or condemn you as bigoted and stuck in the past. You have to make the case for what you're saying, convince people of its credibility with words and deeds.

The Christian message is known as the 'gospel.' That means 'good news.' But I imagine that most people reading that website, like the comment author, would struggle to see where the good is in what they're being told. Like so many people, I think the website authors have got things the wrong way round. Jesus didn't wander around the Galilean countryside shouting "You're going to hell!" If you read the gospels you find he went around helping, healing and treating the underclass of Jewish society with a radical respect and love. And the people responded to that love. They could see he lived by what he said, so when he warned them, using stories and imagery, about the dangers of not giving God priority in their lives they were more willing to listen and accept what he said.

So. The part of the website the writer obviously found most offensive is the claim that people who aren't Christians will go to hell. That is an offensive claim. But I believe in a God of love who is also a God of justice. Recently I was reading a book by C. S. Lewis and was at first surprised when he said that people who go to hell want to be there. But thinking about it, it makes sense. If you reject God's love, you're effectively asking him to leave you alone. And though it saddens him, that's what he does. When Jesus talked about lakes of fire he was using the symbolism and apocalyptic language common at the time rather than (I think) describing literal realities. I don't pretend to know what either heaven or hell is like, but one thing I'm fairly sure about is that hell involves the absence of God. If that's what you want, that's what you'll get. Whether you still want it when you realise what that means is another matter.

Offending people isn't going to make them inclined to believe what you say. There's a balance to be struck between proclaiming what you believe to be the truth and what it's appropriate to say. At least the original posters didn't directly proclaim judgement, even if the website did.

(In her follow-up post she mentions the Alpha advertising campaign I referred to before. I'd be interested to know if she has been on or investigated going on the course, since she obviously doesn't like it. Having been involved in running these courses for the last year I'd have said she's worrying needlessly- the idea is to give people the opportunity to find out about Christianity, discuss it, ask questions, and judge for themselves. No one wants to put anyone under pressure.)

Oh, and while looking for something I'd written in the past I came across this, written by a friend. It's not directly relevant, but this quote interested me:
"Secularism is a faith — it is not the absence of faith. It’s very much connected to atheism, which is not the absence of belief in a God — it’s the firm belief in the absence of any God — big difference. Devout atheists hold the creed “There is no God”. Devout secularists hold the creed “There is no God, and no Religion that thinks he does exist has any place in our society”."

2 comments:

  1. You know how weird it is getting half way through reading a quote, and then realising you're reading yourself. Thanks for the miniscule ego trip of being quoted.

    And talking of Christis, if you have a moment, they're looking for articles by Weds lunchtime, so you could always get one out of this whole bus-ad thing.

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  2. It's in the news again: http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2009/jan/06/atheist-bus-campaign-nationwide and http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk/7818980.stm . I do wish Christian Voice could remember that God gave them a sense of humour for a reason, and take the same attitude as the Methodist spokesman who thanked Dawkins for encouraging a "continued interest in God."
    And surely there are better uses for that money?

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