Atheist promotes Christianity in Africa

British atheist Matthew Parris says that what Africa needs is Christianity–not just the material help but the spiritual and world-view transformation that conversion brings. From the article As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God | Times Online :

Now 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. . . .

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. . . .

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. . . .

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. . . .

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.

And 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.

I’m curious what Mr. Parris thinks will happen once the West’s Christian belief system is supplanted by the atheism he embraces. Already we have the malign fusion of Nike–the brand name, not the goddess of victory–and mobile phones. Aren’t we moving closer to a similar collectivism, passivity, and unfocused anxiety that he finds paralyzing in animistic Africa?

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  • Manxman

    I especially like his observation about the negative consequences of a tribalism mentality & value system.

    We’ve already been infected with this tribalism disease here in America as exemplified by the “It takes a whole village to raise a child” ideas trying to be implemented in education and in the welfare systems. This tribalist junk is an attempt to try to get around the failure of individuals leading a responsible, disciplined, moral life and push the costs & consequences off on other people in the “village.” We’ll see this “giving back”/responsibility-shifting mentality greatly expanded in the Obama administration.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Aren’t we moving closer to a similar collectivism, passivity, and unfocused anxiety that he finds paralyzing in animistic Africa?
    1 comment so far ↓

    I would say the secular left is involved at base in a return to pre-Christian paganism that spirtualizes the instincts that tend naturally to the violent, hedonistic, and orgiastic. Many contemporary films reflect this.

    What Matthew Parris doesn’t understand is that he and his fellow atheists in the West are living on diminishing Christian capital. He sees how Christianity has had a profound influence on Africa but doesn’t understand that the secular paganism that the West is now heavily involved with could ultimately cause its downfall. The only hope for the West is a resurgence of Christianity, of which in my view we see some signs including in Europe.

    Christians are involved in a very real and fateful cultural war with these pagan secularists. In my view, while remaining at the core forgiving Christians, we need to take the gloves off with these people.

  • Booklover

    Wow. I find the article tremendously uplifting, and will refer to it in my down moments. I wonder why Mr. Parris doesn’t take his own recommendation?

  • http://thejcalebjones.tumblr.com The Jones

    Looks like this is a different type of atheistic view of Christianity. It’s not “Opium for the masses.” It’s more of a “Penicillin for the masses.” He recognizes the effect that Christianity has on a society, the POSITIVE effect.

    Maybe he thinks that since we already have that individualistic, human rights mindset and worldview in America, it’s safe to move away from the false (but useful) view of Christianity and to the more reasonable and rational Atheistic mindset. That’s the only logically consistent view I can come up with.

    Or maybe this is the first journal entry in the author’s conversion.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    I think Jones has it. What Pariris is offering here doesn’t seem to be faith as I would consider it, belief because you actually believe it is true. But sort of a quasi Pragmatic Existentialism. Which is what we seem to be dealing with in the west. “You believe what works for you.”
    I get that a lot here in Utah, and wonder what exactly is working about their faith for them. By them I mean the mormons that feed me this line. They seem to be uptight, overly anxious, and judgmental. They have a low rate of Alcoholism, great, but studies seem to show that is replaced with a high rate of meth addiction and prescription drug abuse. Thank you I will drink my Scotch now.
    Of course the same could be said for many evangelical Christians. Legalism is ugly in any form. But most Evangelicals I meet aren’t telling me they believe because it works for them.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Pragstentialism I think this is the term I am going to use for the phenomenon.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Bror, if pragstentialsm would keep me from a good scotch during cocktail hour with my wife, I shall have no part of it.

  • J

    Is he really promoting Christianity or deism? He clearly believes African superstition and “group think” is bad. So he wants the Africans to act like the Christians he has known, but he gives no indication that he knows the motivation for Christian behavior: forgiveness of sins through Christ. How he wants the Africans to behave could easily be performed by any number of nonChristians.
    What I am missing here?

  • Manxman

    Whether or not this guy fully understands what is going on, he nevertheless gives testimony to the radical change that happens when a person is born again and becomes a new creation by his faith in Jesus Christ. These Africans are no longer pawns to tribalism and their heathen gods, and Parris sees empirical evidence of how the truth of the Bible has altered how they relate to the universe and to other people.

    It’s the same kind of change Martin Luther unleashed when he put the Word of God into the language of the common man.

  • Booklover

    You are right about pragmatism, of course, Bror #5. We should not choose our beliefs according to what works. I like to hear examples of Christianity “working,” though. :-)

    Peter, #7, your sentiment is lovely. I shall have to try the scotch with my dear hubby. He lovingly fixed me a Whiskey 7 which I didn’t care for. He should have known I’ve always hated 7-Up! :-)