In this week’s podcast, I continue my discussion with Andy Bannister, the Director and Lead Apologist for RZIM (Ravi Zacharias International Ministries) Canada. Andy speaks all around the world, has a PhD in Islamic Studies, and authored An Oral-Formulaic Study of the Qur’an.
Now, last week, Andy mentioned that he believes Bill Maher is a lazy Atheist, quite frankly. Or, to be more precise, he is a “Pollyanna Atheist” who wants to hold on to the cuddly things that he likes about Christianity: he wants to think that his life does have purpose; that there is such a thing such as justice and that life has meaning; while all the while he tries to chip away at the foundation of it all which is God, Himself.
In that light, one of the things that Andy often teaches Christians to keep in mind when they are talking with their atheist friends is to look for the moment in the conversation that almost always arises when their atheist friend smuggles in a value judgment. This is what this looks like: As you are discussing life or current events, they say something to the effect of, “wow… that business going on in Iraq – that shouldn’t be allowed.”
This is an open door to ask, “Well, why shouldn’t it? According to atheism, everything is absolute and particles, so there is no particular way that the world ‘should be’. However, if there is a God who designed and created the universe and all things, then there truly is a divine design that would prescribe how things ‘should be’. And, just like if you were to attempt to use a lawnmower to clean a swimming pool, I’d think you’re crazy because a lawnmower isn’t designed to clean a pool; so would it be crazy to go about our human lives against the design and intentionality that God has instilled in us as His creation.”
Then, switching subjects, Andy and I talk about atheistic philosopher and author John Gray. Now, much like Nietzsche, Gray is continually attempting with all his might to be a consistent as he possibly can. In doing so, Gray has concluded that if there is no God, then humans are merely animals. But, just as we have determined within the human species that we are all created equal despite our race or heritage, in Gray’s understanding, all animals are equal. Therefore there is no more value bestowed upon a human than a cockroach.
Now, it might appear that Gray’s conclusions are rather bleak, but what he tries to do is merely describe what our existence is and will be in the absence of God. Some may say it’s depressing, but John would simply say that it’s real, and therefore we need to be very courageous and just grin and bare it in the face of this grim universe.
He’s the kind of guy that I wish Bill Maher would bring onto his show. It would be enlightening for Bill’s viewers to hear from a real, honest and thoughtful atheist, rather than a glammed up, botoxed Hollywood version of atheism that says we can all live peacefully without God.
Gray has sold over 10 million copies of his book, Straw Dogs – which derives its title from a Buddhist tradition of burning straw versions of animals for in sacrifice and parallels Gray’s assertion that we humans are no different: just straw dogs waiting for our ultimate annihilation from the burning up of our sun and universe. (I told you he was bleak)
Now, Gray’s view seems to be in alignment with an ongoing shift in western civilization’s belief system. A recent British poll said that 20 years ago, something like 80% of people thought that mankind were responsible for their own actions. However, nowadays, polls reflect nearly the opposite: that a vast majority of people believe that we are not responsible for our own actions, and experts attribute this shift to John Gray and an adoption of his brand of philosophy. Andy feels that this shift reflects the change in our curriculum over the past 20 years that basically has taken God out of the classroom and teaches that we humans are merely animals and all animals are equal. Over time, this has spawned an attitude of “We simply can’t change things” and hopelessness within our entire culture.
What’s interesting is the more practical repercussions of this shift: There has been a steep downturn in the percentage of eligible citizens showing up to vote at each election, due to the prevalent belief that all politicians are the same and their vote can’t change anything and is meaningless. There is also the increase of unambitious “pajama boys” who behave as if there is no incentive or meaning in striving for achievement since it’s all meaningless. One can only guess what is coming down the pike for our culture in another 20 years with this type of undercurrent (or even blatant teaching) running through our public education system.
On a personal note, I look at western culture’s growing apathy as a huge red flag waving in the wind. I very vividly recall what it was like to be married to my wife as an atheist and then agnostic compared to loving her as a Christian; and the progression from acrimony to apathy was near-deadly for our marriage. Only with an understanding of Christian love and God’s love for His creation did I learn how to live with and love my wife in a healthy and dynamically growing way.
I see a similar attitude in our young people today toward their country as my wife and I had toward one another in my ambivalent days: “What’s the use? What’s the point? Why vote?” And that is more frightening to me than aggressive protesters whom I may in direct disagreement with. I trace this back to an episode of Oprah soon after the L.A. riots in the 1990’s. She had the looters in the audience along with the business owners that were affected by the violence. What was striking was the fact that many of the looters didn’t think that what they had done was wrong. And eventually, a sociologist joined the program and stated that in America’s inner cities, there’s a belief system that says that if you’re not strong enough to hold onto what you own, it can be had by anyone.
Maybe Oprah didn’t know it, but that’s Darwinism!
Or, as Andy remembers, in the 1960’s there was the idea sweeping through our universities that morality was merely a social construct and God was dead. And then, in the 1990’s and early 2000’s, these 1960’s collegians were now heads of business and financial institutions working out this philosophy, and that’s how we got Enron and the mortgage crisis.
Now, hand in hand with all this – as Andy puts it – is the belief that all religions are the same. But the truth is that Christianity is completely unique from all the other religions, faiths and ideologies of the world in regards to our ultimate hope. As Christians, we believe that we will ultimately encounter God and know Him for eternity. The Bible says that Adam and Eve walked with God and knew Him intimately, and we believe that we humans will one day be restored to that relationship with Him.
Contrast this to Islam, which holds that we will not meet God, nor walk with Him, because God is distant and not relational. Instead, the faithful Muslim is promised rivers of wine, beautiful fruit trees and sparkling fountains of water. And for the men, according to many understandings of the Qur’an, dozens of virgins and endless sex. Now, according to Andy, when you think about it, however good the wine might be, however enjoyable the sex or fruit trees might be, there will become a point when you become bored. It may take 1,000 years, but you will eventually get bored because these things cannot satisfy. Then what will you do?
Whereas, according to Christianity, we never will experience boredom because eternity is much more than a nice experience, but rather a relationship with an infinite God. And Christianity is the only religion that offers this. In Islam, the ultimate goal is pleasure, in Buddhism it’s annihilation, in Hinduism it’s the escape from this endless cycle of birth and rebirth, in atheism it’s nothingness. Only Christianity tells you that walking with and dwelling with God is the ultimate destination.
The Bible even talks about this in Ecclesiastes. Solomon, who had hundreds of wives, and engorged himself with every type of pleasure known to man, was eventually led to boredom and apathy. He then understood that life without God has no meaning. Without meaning, there is no purpose; and without purpose, you might as well kill yourself.
Andy enjoys mountain climbing, and he likens life as trying to climb an ice slope. The question is, as you’re climbing the slope of life, what is it that you’re clipped into that will stop you from sliding into oblivion? In today’s world, many might cling to “stuff” to find fulfillment, and if money were no option, then a hedonistic lifestyle would fit the bill. But as Solomon found out, so would anyone else – eventually it’s all in vain. You’d think that we would have learned these lessons from past generations, but I meet guy after guy – high powered executives who seem to have worked hard and have everything they want in life – but who are on their third and fourth marriages. And with few exceptions, they go back to their first wife and can pinpoint where they went wrong at the start.
I’ve heard it said that marriages go through three phases: The Honeymoon Phase, the Disillusionment Phase, and then the Commitment Phase. The trick is making it to the third phase.
Similarly, I see my own relationship with Christ going through the same three phases. In the Disillusionment Phase, I realized that I couldn’t live the perfect Christian life, but I could love God (and my wife, for that matter), which would lead me into the Commitment Phase – not by doing the perfect things, but by loving as God prescribes.
But, just like I see these executives bail on their marriages in the Disillusionment Phase, I see people constantly bailing on Jesus in their own Disillusionment Phase of their Christian journey. They think that because they hit their knees in the throws of an emotional moment that their worries and fears are done with forever, and they tend to abandon their faith before understanding love as God designed it.
Too often, people view Christianity – and love for that matter – as a certain group of feelings. As C.S. Lewis famously wrote, Satan tries to plant the seeds of ideas in our minds that our Christian walks, specifically our prayer lives, only matters if it’s filled with the right feeling. Because if we are convinced of this idea, and find ourselves on our knees praying without experiencing that feeling, then we stop thinking, listening to God and growing.
However, if our Christianity – and our marriages – is based on the certainty (versus emotions) and commitment, then we can discover true love and the life-long enjoyment of love’s Commitment Phase.
And, as Andy says, the crazy thing is that Christianity begins quite oppositely than what we would guess. Before we played a role, God was already in the Commitment Phase with each of us. As the Book of Romans says, that even while we were sinners and enemies of God, He sent His Son, Jesus to die for us and pay our sacrifice with His own blood for our sins. It’s like God is saying, “I’m not asking you to do anything that I haven’t already done for you.” Too many times, people hit their Disillusionment Phase and feel that God is asking too much of them in order to live out a life as a Christ-follower, but God sits there and says, “I’ve already done it all through my Son!”
You see, Christianity is based in truth, not emotion. It’s founded on the objective reality of what God has done through Jesus on the cross. It’s true not because it makes us feel good, but because it is simply fundamentally, TRUE.
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