I never read ‘agony’ columns in newspapers, but whilst reading the Daily Telegraph the other day (Tuesday, 17th November 2009), my eye was caught by the following headline in Lesley Garner’s LIFECLASS column. It read: “I was brought up a Christian and my life revolves around church, but now I fear I’m losing my faith.”
The letter was from a mature lady called Martha, who feels that she has become two people – ‘one believes in God, the other doesn’t.’ Martha was brought up in a Christian home where any questioning of the faith was discouraged. Since the death of her parents, she has begun to really question her beliefs. She still attends church where she has many friends and she still helps out at Sunday school. She’s finding it very difficult to actually give up her beliefs, but after having read books by writers such as Richard Dawkins, she feels she wants to be able to ‘acknowledge that this world is all there is, and that I need to enjoy it and make the most of the life I have.’ As I read the article, I almost felt that I could weep and dearly wished I could have a chat with (the anonymous) Martha.
Sadly, Lesley Garner’s reply was practically useless. She too was brought up in a Christian family, loves religious art, the language of the King James Bible, carols by candlelight at Christmas (and no doubt lots of other sentimental remnants of her childhood) but didn’t have her children ‘christened’ because she ‘didn’t believe in what would have to be said.’ (1) In other words, she is clearly not a Christian, and her advice is not much use to Martha, or the thousands of ‘Marthas’ out there reading the column.
For many years, we have been living (at least in the UK) in a post Christian culture. But more recently, it seems we are gradually becoming an anti-Christian culture. Many writers, such as Richard Dawkins and Philip Pullman, and many organisations, for example the National Secular Society and the British Humanist Association, are getting more militant in proclaiming their disbelief in God and spewing out their propaganda on an increasingly grand-scale. And huge numbers of nominal Christians (Marthas/Lesleys) who have no real foundation for their faith (other than the odd, warm, sentimental feelings hanging around from childhood) are particularly vulnerable to the constant atheistic drip-feed of such individuals and groups.
It all sounds very bleak does it not? And yet, despite the barren landscape, I believe we should take heart and see the current situation as a challenge. It is in opposition that true Christianity flourishes. But for it to do so, it requires witnesses who are willing to live out their faith, and be ready to stand up and declare what they believe, even if this means running counter to the law of the land. This is already happening in a small way in the UK and other western countries. Are we prepared to continue being true Christians as the heat really begins to get turned up?
1. I should add that I have more admiration for people like this – who refuse to go through religious ceremonies without believing – than those people who will casually perjure their souls before God (for example at Weddings and Christenings) without batting an eyelid.