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.
Between the celebrations of Christmas and Epiphany, The Times published a remarkable article by atheist Matthew Parris. Parris was born in Johannesburg, and as a boy lived throughout Africa, leaving to attend Cambridge. He became a Member of Parliament in 1979 and later an English journalist.
Traveling in Malawi refreshed another belief, too: one I've been trying to banish all my life, but an observation I've been unable to avoid since my African childhood. It confounds my ideological beliefs, stubbornly refuses to fit my worldview, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.
I used to avoid this truth by applauding -- as you can -- the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It's a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.
What is most remarkable about Parris’s piece is that he does not stop here. With precision, he details how the universal Truth of Christianity lifts the tribe above the limitations of materialism and provides the universal Truth essential to sustain peace, progress, and shared dignity.
There's long been a fashion among Western academic sociologists for placing tribal value systems within a ring fence, beyond critiques founded in our own culture: "theirs" and therefore best for "them"; authentic and of intrinsically equal worth to ours.
I don't follow this. 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.
During a time when many secular theorists predict the inevitable abandonment of faith, Parris ends with the following endorsement:
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.
To which we say Amen, not only for the people of Africa, but for the people of America as well. In fact, during this period of economic disillusionment, Matthew Parris’ article could not have been better timed. Thanks for the belated Christmas gift, Mr. Parris.
Matthew Parris. "Epiphany." tothesource (January 7, 2009).
This article reprinted with permission from tothesource.
Tothesource is a forum for integrating thinking and action within a moral framework that takes into account our contemporary situation. We will report the insights of cultural experts to the specific issues we face believing these sources will embolden people to greater faith and action.
Born 7th August 1949 in Johannesburg, Matthew Parris was educated in Britain and Africa, graduating from Clare College, Cambridge and going on to study International Relations at Yale. Elected Member of Parliament for West Derbyshire in 1979, he gave up his seat in 1986 to become presenter of LWT's Weekend World, a political interview programme. A keen runner, he has competed several times in the London Marathon, achieving two hours thirty-two minutes. Parris was awarded the London Press Club's Edgar Wallace Outstanding Reporter of the Year Award in 1990, the British Press Awards Columnist of the Year for 1991 and 1993 and the `What the Papers Say' Columnist of the Year for 1992. In 1994 he won the national newspaper category in the annual media awards given by the Institute for the Study of Drug Dependency.
Copyright © 2009 tothesource
Not all articles published on CERC are the objects of official Church teaching, but these are supplied to provide supplementary information.