Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Can there be good without God? an honest atheist response

Last week I was in a team of Christian theists, debating a team of atheists at Flinders University. The question was Can there be good without God? (Here is what I said and here are some reflections on the nature of a debate).

I realised over the weekend that I probably left my conclusion at home.  Here it is, part of an Easter sermon from 2009 – from an article, written for the UK Independent newspaper, by a man called Matthew Parris.  Titled As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God.

The article tells the story, of how Matthew grew up in Africa, became a journalist, declared himself an atheist and became a well known gay rights activist.

In 2008, he was invited back to Africa by a charity.  This is what he wrote: 

“travelling in Malawi refreshed …[a]… belief … I’ve been trying to banish all my life …. 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. Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced …. [that] In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.”

Parris goes on to say how he used to accept Christian involvement in Africa only because it was practical.  Shame about the God stuff, the wierd Christian beliefs in things like resurrection.

Because at least Christians were doing something practical and useful. Let them carry on because they care for sick and teach people to read and write.

But, says Parris, he can no longer avoid the facts.  When you travel across Africa, says Parris, you I’m quoting again.

“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 …  but more open … It would suit me to believe that their honesty, diligence and optimism in their work was unconnected with personal faith. [Yet t]heir work was … influenced by a conception of man’s place in the Universe that Christianity had taught.

Posted by steve at 08:58 AM

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

resourcing Trinity Sunday worship: creationary ideas

A creationary: a space to be creative with the lectionary. For more resources go here.

Thinking about Trinity Sunday this week and began hunting the blog archive

Posted by steve at 09:25 AM

Monday, June 13, 2011

ophans hit by another Christchurch shake

With a long weekend here in South Australia, team Taylor hit the Barossa. Today found us wine tasting at Langmeil. Which included meeting the Orphan Bank Shiraz, which has an amazing story. Over 100 year old vines were due to be demolished for a sub-division. Enter Langmeil wines, who embarked on a project to save each one – each dug up and moved.

I used to be involved in transplanting young apricot trees. So I have some idea of what’s involved – the slow cutting of roots through the autumn and winter, the uprooting with as much soil as possible, the careful transporting, the hope that all the work yields new buds in spring.

It was a wonderful story. Yet like any metaphor, it has it’s downside. As we tasted, yet another series of earthquakes were hitting Christhchurch. No lives lost, but more damage, more buildings collapsing, more trauma, more schools closing. The photo here is of shops directly across from where we used to live.

As I drove home, I reflected on the metaphor of transplanting. Once planted, an essential step is the compacting of soil, pressing dirt down hard. The aim is to minimise root movement, aware that any shaking in the new soil makes it harder for roots to regrow and for transplanting to occur. For us, team Taylor, it feels like every quake gives not just Christchurch, but us a shake as well. It takes our hearts back to our city, opens us up to grieving friends and family. It makes our transplant so much harder.

I realise it feels indulgent to complain, when we at least on this side of the Tasman we are safe and dry. Indulgent or not, it still doesn’t change the fact that transplanting is hard work, and harder when the earth keeps shaking.

Please pray for Christchurch tonight.

Posted by steve at 07:44 PM

Saturday, June 11, 2011

my book of the month: The German Mujahid

The German Mujahid is beautifully written by Algerian author, Boualem Sansal.

Three of our globals more difficult conversations are engaged – the Holocaust, Islamic fundamentalism, and multi-culturalism in the West. The carrier of these conversations are two immigrant brothers, who discover that their father, brutally killed in his Algerian village by Islamic fundamentalists, was himself a SS officer at Auschwitz. The use of narrative, mixed with diary entries are used to explore the unfolding complexities of contemporary life and what it might mean to speak for peace in cultures of intolerance.

The writing is superb, a searing portrayal. The characters are believable, unfolding in their complexity. (If I was being critical, I’d comment on the male-centric nature of the book, in which the voices of woman are very much pushed to the margins.)

While this book leaves you worldly wiser, it also leaves you none the wiser as to how then to live in cultures of intolerance. The worlds of Hitler and Islam fundamentalism are penned so strongly, that any green shoots of resistance and hope simply struggle for life.

Posted by steve at 11:56 AM

Friday, June 10, 2011

can there be good without God? some personal debate reflections

I have posted a few days ago my response in the Flinders debate – can there be good without God? I am still reflecting on some of the questions generated for me by the debate, which have kept me thinking and to which I want to pick up.

In the meantime, here are some general reflections.

1. The limitations of a debate. I find it difficult to simultaneously listen carefully and generate a response. So the temptation was to become flippant or search for a cheap soundbite to fill the air. Perhaps I’m a male (only do 1 thing at at time!) but it seems to me that the arguments of another deserve better and while a debate allows you to face the argument, I remain ambivalent about it’s potential to enable real dialogue.

2. It is hard to debate when you feel you are being caricatured. For example – when the multiple ways the church has understood atonement is reduced to “God kills his son”; when slavery in the Bible is equated to slavery in Africa; when the 39 books of the Old Testament, so diverse in genre and context, sacred to three religions, are reduced to “the angry God of the Old Testament.” But then perhaps I did the same to them – for example in my paragraph

“Do unto others alongside the “Darwinian” survival of the fittest of a Daniel Dennett. “Love your enemies” alongside Fran De Waal’s animal “empathy”. ”Greater love has no-one” alongside Sam Harris objective moral “wellbeing”

ie reducing three authors to a soundbite. Hence my 3rd point…

3. Are some ideas better engaged on paper than on a platform. For me, one of the most helpful resources in thinking through good and God was Miroslav Volf. His book Exclusion & Embrace is a reflection on justice, from a man who grew up in the Balkans, including the experience of torture. It is a close and critical read of leaders in modern and post-modern intellectual debate. Yet when I returned to it in preparation, I found it almost impossible to reduce to a few minutes. I might not be skilled enough. Or is that some discussion is simply better on paper than on a platform?

4. About 80 attended the debate. At the end, someone mentioned that their neighbour was one of 2000 attending a local pyschic fare that same weekend. An irony perhaps, a smallish crowd at a University arguing ideas, while many more in our culture are very comfortable with the idea that there is more to life than facts and intellectual debate?

Posted by steve at 10:55 AM

Thursday, June 09, 2011

once was lost but now am found: an ode to ecumenism

Confessions of a lost blue cup

Last week, I got lost. Someone kindly took me from Catholic World, transported me to Kitchen World and washed me.

Then, sadly, strangely, I was placed in a (Kitchen world) cupboard!

I wept for my owner in Catholic World. Alas, she heard me not.

Later, someone else opened the cupboard in Kitchen World. Seeing my attractive blue colouring, having no knowledge of my rightful owner, seeing no marks of possession on my pretty blue bottom, they filled me with coffee and took me to a new place, the broad and spacious halls of Uniting World.

Later, a third person collected me from a desk in Uniting World. Dirty, they decided to take me to Kitchen World. Suddenly a door in Catholic world opened. A cry was heard, “That’s our cup.”

Immediately, promptly, I was returned to Catholic world. I was lost (not stolen by Steve Taylor).

But now am found.

(For another ode to ecumenism, see I am a stealer of Catholic bread).

Posted by steve at 08:49 PM

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

can there be good without God? here’s what I said

On Tuesday I was part of a team of 3, debating a team of 3 atheists, at Flinders University, between 3 -5 pm. According to one promotional flyer, “Come and watch a fantastic exchange on one of the most important questions ..The Atheist Foundation of Australia will be debating some of the State’s finest Christian thinkers.” (Finest! LOL)

Updated: entire debate, including all questions, is online here.

Each side had 10 minutes per speaker. Each side was then invited to ask one question per speaker. General questions were then invited for 45 minutes, followed by closing arguments of 10 minutes maximum. Here’s what I said in my 10 minutes. Tomorrow I’ll post a few post-debate reflections.

Can there be good without God? My interest is ethical. How should we live if God is good; How would we live if good and God are separated? (more…)

Posted by steve at 11:33 AM

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

If you’re a Christian and you support violence, you need to find a new name for yourself

Some great soundbites:

  • If you’re a Christian and you support violence, you need to find a new name for yourself.
  • Ghandi is so Christian he’s a Hindu.
  • It’s in the book you hold when you yell at gay people.
  • Nonviolence is Jesus trademark.
  • It’s like joining greenpeace and hating whales.
Posted by steve at 11:34 AM

Monday, June 06, 2011

Can there be good without God?

Tomorrow I am at Flinders University, in a team of Christians debating a team from the atheist Foundation. The topic – Can there be good without God? The other team are flying in from interstate (is this Atheist foundation taking prosletyzing seriously), and the largest lecture theatre on campus has been booked. I’m still not quite sure how I got involved, and I have grave misgivings about the forum of a debate to do much more than allow sloganeering.

But for the sake of taking a risk, tonight I will probably be up late reading (Miroslav Volf, Exclusion & Embrace, Rodney Stark, Discovering God: The Origins of the Great Religions and the Evolution of Belief, David Bentley Hart, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies) and thinking.

And who knows what tomorrow will bring?

Posted by steve at 06:12 PM

ministry study at Uniting College

Our new B.Min at Uniting College really excites me. It got a complete retooling last year. It’s made a focus on integration for ministry. It’s opened up the definition of ministry, to train not just for ministry within the church, but for chaplaincy, youth and pioneering. It has four streams – Bible, leadership, mission, formation and discipleship. This ensures a bringing together of the head and the heart, the world and the church and with huge flexibility to suit individualised learning paths. (Here’s the brochure)

Bachelor of Ministry – Promotional Video from Craig Mitchell on Vimeo.

Posted by steve at 11:21 AM

Sunday, June 05, 2011

some new church tensions I can’t resolve

1. If team Taylor are part of starting something fresh expression wise in the Southern suburbs, then it would be great to have a few local folk to be part of it (especially given we’re still pretty disconnected migrants). But folk we talk with who want something new could also be used quite profitably to prop up some existing struggling causes. Shouldn’t we just do that? (Or might some new models actually provide some new options that become helpful for existing causes?)

2. Personally, I have a demanding day job. So do lots of other folk. So the idea of “spare-time” church makes sense of current realities. But would “spare-time church” be lifegiving? Or would it simply end up a bunch of tired folk gathered tiredly? (But doesn’t that sound like a good few established churches anyhow)?

3. Given that I am quite well-known in terms of Fresh Expressions, how to start something that has lots of permission to experiment, risk and fail?

Posted by steve at 09:47 PM

Friday, June 03, 2011

at one with water: a theology for church as fully human

Colin Gunton, On Being the Church: Essays on the Christian Community has a wonderful chapter on the church. It includes an exploration of church as fully human. His argument is that if Christ is fully human, fully divine, then to be the body of Christ includes the invitation to explore being fully human.

Walking through Perth streets earlier this week, I noticed a billboard, a sign on a car advertising a business.

at one with water

And some things clicked for me. A danger of mission is the fear of syncretism, of becoming the same as the culture. The sign “At one with water” got me thinking about swimming – in water, yet still truely, uniquely, human.

At one with water.
Immersed yet distinct.
Playful yet expecting wisdom.
A way of being church. Not to gather but scatter to be playfully,
earth on heaven

Earlier this year I wrote a number of posts about church as scattered (here and here). The goal was missional life. The “At one with water” slogan expands my thinking. The goal of church scattered is fully human life. If so, the church gathered needs to includes the resourcing of life as fully human.

Which becomes a challenging question. In what ways does our worship fully humanise, acknowledge all of being human, in order that church scattered might be fully human?

A post made all the more appropriate because the day I walked happened to be Ascension Day, in which the church celebrates the return of Jesus, human body and all, to the Triune God. (for more of an Ascension Day theology see here; while for some creative ascension day worship, see here).

Posted by steve at 02:49 PM

Thursday, June 02, 2011

being practically useful to a church in mission

On Wednesday I was part of a group in which it was stated a number of times that some of my input had been practical, useful, to a church in mission. The reference was to a session I did in September 2010, to a group of church leaders, titled Inspiration outside our walls: Being church in the city. In the talk I explored three church:city questions and then offered ten practical mission possibilities to city churches. I mention in simply because if one person found it useful back then, others might find it useful now – (here).

Posted by steve at 11:32 PM