Atheists, Africa and Jesus

My friend Andrew has just posted a link on his blog to an old article from the Times. It’s an atheist talking about the work of Christians in Africa.

“As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God”

It’s a fascinating read and a very neat insight into how Christ transforms communities.


11 thoughts on “Atheists, Africa and Jesus

  1. dumsum

    “There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world” – that’s definitely not Christianity (unless the African flavour of it is substantially different). But this caught my attention:

    “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.”

    hmmm, now where have I heard that before… oh yes! That’s actual Christianity in a nutshell.

    His solution for “those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink” is to replace it with another crushing tribal groupthink. Nice one. But perhaps the new is actually better than the old? Well, I can’t say because I don’t really know anything about African tribal culture. But what I do know is that while God may be helping Africa, they certainly don’t need him.

    I mean, we certainly didn’t use faith in God to develop sanitary living conditions, abundance of food and water supplies, electricity, etc etc etc… we used our knowledge about the world, namely “science” – which is the complete opposite.

    [sorry for the double post, used bbcode instead of html :O ..]

    1. Anonymous

      Hi dumsum,

      It seems as though your only experience of Christianity is white, middle class Australian. The description “there was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world” is fairly accurate of what the church looks like in the majority world (Africa, Asia and Latin America). Besides the small western church, this is what Christianity looks like today.

      I also think your last paragraph ignores the evidence that early Christianity played a huge role in the development of what we now know as scientific inquiry.


      1. dumsum

        well Islam actually played a bigger, and much earlier role, so I’m not quite sure why you made that point. Unfortunately a lot of the knowledge established by Islamic scholars was, oddly enough, wiped out by Christians in the crusades. The Christian church may have eventually encouraged science but only to an extent – just look at what happened when that science conflicted with established dogma. He says Earth is not the centre of the universe? KILL HIM!!

        The reason for my comments is this: The same thing happens now. He believes in evolution? KILL HIM! Well granted it’s not to this same extremity, but the point is science is *always* ahead of religion. The reason for this is the fact that science uses evidence to formulate conclusions, but religion uses preconceived conclusions to misconstrue whatever evidence they may find – exactly the opposite to that of science. The church then deals with this by reinterpreting their beliefs, which is much more aligned with the scientific method, but they still have it the wrong way around in the first place.

        Unfortunately there remains one conclusion no Christian seems to want to even consider reinterpreting: “God exists”.

      2. Anonymous

        “well Islam actually played a bigger, and much earlier role, so I’m not quite sure why you made that point.”

        Where did Islam get the knowledge from? Well, actually, it came from the Christian countries that the muslim forces invaded in the seventh century. The eastern Mediterranean from the 5th to 7th century under the Christian Byzantine Empire experienced a magnificent cultural and scientific “renaissance” that Islam inherited/plundered when they invaded these lands. This Christian scientific revolution was foundational for later scientific developments that we in the west have benefited from.

        Can I disagree with your second paragraph. Science proposes conclusions based off scientific evidence, sure. But surely Christianity does the same thing. It makes conclusions based off historical evidence, particularly the historical accounts (biblical and non biblical) that point to the resurrection of Jesus.

      3. Anonymous

        PS Recent research has revealed that many of the ‘Islamic scholars’ you suggest were wiped out in the crusades (hyperbole much?) were actually Christian scholars employed by their Muslim overlords.


      4. dumsum

        The knowledge, not the scholars. Though there were probably some 😛

        Al-Khwarizmi, Ibn al-Haytham, Ibn Sina, … these were christians? That is something I’ve never heard and I’ve researched this a lot indeed. Where can I find out about this?

      5. Anonymous

        The Lost History of Christianity by American sociologist/historian Philip Jenkins (publisehed by HarperOne in 2008) is probably the place to start. Jenkins argues that the middle east was the center of Christian knowledge and learning up to the 13th century (ie end of the crusades, which is actually when the Mongols invaded Mesopotamia and destroyed much of the ancient world).

        Jenkins argues that is was the Jacobite or Syriac Christian scholars, doctors, philosophers etc that led Middle Easten intellectual culture for centuries. It was they who often filled the position of court physician for the Caliph, being the intellectual heirs of the Grecco-Roman world that Isalm had destroyed.

        The Lost History of Christianity is a great read; totally worth checking out.

      6. Alison Post author

        Hey Simon

        sorry, I should have forseen that this would snowball into a crazy argument.

        I totally hear you on the poor historical relationship between Christianity and science, but be careful about tarring all Christians with the same brush.

        Matt is right, the christians in the eastern church did a lot of early scientific work, which was reapproporiated later on during the spread of Islam and crushed during the crusades. It wasn’t Christians who stifled scientific discovery, it was more Middle Ages politics – which, of course the church was deeply involved in. Not all Christians have been afraid of science, and this has been true throughout all of the church’s history.

        Be careful about who you criticise. You can’t just make blanket statements about all followers of a religion over a 2000 year period. You have to leave room for the cultural, historical and political differences between the billions of individuals you are talking about.

    2. Alison Post author

      – that’s definitely not Christianity (unless the African flavour of it is substantially different).

      I think that’s actually the point the guy is trying to make. As an atheist, he would normally see Christianity and all other religion as at least unecessary, or even problematic. But the Christianity he has seen in Africa is different, and even valuable for African people.

      You have drawn comparison between tribal religion and Christianity, but the author is calling what he sees, and he claims that these two worldviews are quite different. It’s clear that he sees the African flavour of Christianity as positive for many African communities.

      I don’t think your “Christianity in a nutshell” actually cuts it. It’s true that Christianity may heighten anxiety for some people, but most Christians around the world – remember to include people from outside of the West too! – actually feel liberated by their faith.

      I know you have had a lot of exposure to Christianity online and at uni and New College, but if you really want a true picture of what Christianity is about, you need to see it as something bigger than a Western phenomenon 🙂

      1. Anonymous

        but to be fair to Mr Dum Sum, there are some strains of Christianity that are less than liberating. Perhaps these are the types he has come across, and that is sad.

      2. dumsum

        You are actually entirely correct. The “strains” that I have experienced are indeed “less than liberating”. During my 2 or 3 year fling with christianity I took this to be okay, because that’s what the bible says as well. The churches that I experienced made perfect sense from a biblical perspective. The thing is I read the bible a lot.. perhaps too much? The more I read the more I realised that in general, this whole thing is a complete farce. It was the bible itself that shaped my view of christianity – and is in fact the reason I’m now so vehemently opposed to it.

        If as is being said here, christianity outside the western world is much more liberating, then I applaud them for not following the bible. I sincerely do. I’d donate to that.

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