October 2019 - Is Religion not a Thing of the Past?
Isn’t religion a thing of the past?

Whilst our boys were young children we amassed a large collection of VHS videos. These included most of the Disney, and later Pixar, classics: Beauty and the Beast, Dumbo, Lady and the Tramp, Winnie the Pooh, The Aristocats, Toy Story, Monsters Inc., and so on. The collection ran into many dozens. It provided endless hours of enjoyment for children and parents alike!

A decision was made recently that we ought to get rid of these. We no longer watch them, and they were merely taking up space and gathering dust in a cupboard. Our first strategy was to contact Charity Shops, who kindly informed us that VHS was an outdated technology and so they found they could not sell them. Perhaps a few years ago they may have realised some value, but not anymore. Now they were utterly worthless. VHS is a thing of the past.

Perhaps, we thought, they would have some recycle value. If they could be broken down into their constituent parts then surely they could prove useful. Apparently, we discovered, recycling VHS videos is problematic, the combination of magnetic tape and plastic casing making any reprocessing expensive. They were not worth anything for recycling. VHS is a thing of the past.

As a result, we had a large collection of excellent videos, accumulated over many years, and it was utterly worthless. The repeated advice offered to us was ‘take them to the dump’. They were to be counted as no more than rubbish. The passage of time had rendered the collection obsolete, replaced by new technologies and therefore of no value. What were dozens of vintage Disney VHS videos worth? Nothing. Absolutely nothing. They just took up space, forgotten and unused. Time had moved on, and their time had gone; they belonged to a discarded past.

There are those who would try to say the same about the Christian Gospel in particular, and religion in general. Surely the decline of the Church over recent decades, alongside the dramatic growth of those preferring to be known as ‘non-religious’, indicates that Christianity is a thing of the past; that somehow it has been rendered obsolete and without relevance or value. More than this, there have been those who have argued that religion belongs to a pre-scientific, now irrelevant, view of the world. As the countries of the world modernise and education improves, religion will naturally diminish and fade. Religion is, by this thinking, merely a product of scientific ignorance and irrational thinking.
In fact, those who hold such views are very wrong. It turns out that such an argument, strangely persistent in some places, is largely dismissed nowadays by philosophers and sociologists. Ironically, they would dismiss such a dismissal of religion as both old-fashioned and ignorant of the facts.

Let me give you a fact, and then two explanations of the fact.

1. Here is the fact. The church is growing explosively around the world, and it is growing among many young, educated professionals in places like China, Africa, Latin America and, remarkably, Islamic countries. There were more Christians worshipping in China last Sunday than in all of Europe! The Church there, once thought to have been persecuted into extinction, now accounts for over 10% of its entire population. Some of you may have seen the photograph our eldest son, Philip, sent to us from his own local church in China last Christmas which showed a forest of candles at a Christmas service - a huge number of people, and that was just the annex!

2. Here are two explanations of the fact of phenomenal church growth around the world, and how they point to the weakness of a secular view of life. By ‘secular’ I mean the view that the only thing that exists and matters is the “here and now”, and that there is no eternal and no supernatural. The secular view insists that the only meaning in life is found in present time economic prosperity, material comfort and emotional fulfilment.

a. This secular view gives us no moral compass. The secular appeal to scientific reason proves not to be so helpful when we want to call something ‘wrong.’ Most of us think that right and wrong are important. The clearest example to illustrate this is the way eugenics developed in the early 20th century. It was common for old science textbooks to suggest that the way to improve human life was to improve the gene pool by sterilizing, or even by killing the weak and unwanted. It was the horrors of World War II and its death camps that discredited eugenics (and, incidentally, euthanasia - at least for a time). It is hard for us to believe that there was a time when an increasing number of people felt it was socially and economically acceptable to weed out those whose lives were unproductive - the sick, the disabled and so on. The death camps, however, created such an outrage that eugenics, whilst scientifically efficient, was seen to be evil. Please note: the death camps did not appear without a history, but arose out of a secular, materialistic view of life.
The thing is that secularism does not provide us with the moral compass we intuitively feel we need to denounce something as evil.

b. Secondly, secularism not only fails to provide us with a moral compass to distinguish right and wrong, but it also seems to rob us of the things we value most - beauty, love and meaning, for example. Here is an illustration I have given before. Imagine a maternity ward. A young mother has just given birth to her first child. All the expectation, preparation, anticipation of the past 9 months has brought her to this moment. The midwife hands the new-born child to her with the words ‘I have here a little bag of bones and bio-chemical reactions.’ Accurate as the description is, most of us instinctively feel the midwife has missed what is most important - that this is a precious new life, of infinite value to be loved and cherished by her parents.

A strict and consistent secularism regards people as no more than physical animals without souls, and when your loved ones die they simply cease to exist. Moreover, it insists that all our sensations of love and beauty are no more than neurological-chemical events and that right and wrong are no more than convenient constructs of our minds.
For most people, that view runs counter to all our intuitions, and is not a satisfactory account of life.
People believe in God, not because they are emotionally weak, or intellectually deficient, but because it makes sense of life.

    Your minister


P.S. About the VHS videos: Resisting the route to the dump, we put an advert on GumTree offering the collection for free to whoever might wish to collect them. A couple of days later a pleasant young man drove 20 miles to collect them, largely to use ornamentally in designing and decorating a ‘retro style’ room in his house.

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