The genuine and the counterfeit
One of the congregation in my previous charge lived in a lovely farm steading which had been converted into several dwelling houses. The steading was located in a wooded area on the path that took me on one of my regular walks up Cairnsmore hill outside Newton Stewart. I would occasionally drop-in on my way down the hill.
He was both musically and artistically gifted. In the room he designated as his Music Room, he had not only located his piano but had specially decorated the entire room around one particular painting - ‘A man in armour’ by Rembrandt.
When he first invited me to view the newly-decorated room, my jaw dropped when I saw the Rembrandt hanging on the wall, beautifully set against a newly emulsioned, rich green wall. You see, I thought that painting hung in the Kelvingrove ArtGallery in Glasgow. How on earth did it find its way to Galloway? Should I check the window for blue flashing lights and worry about being charged with involvement in art theft? The explanation was quite simple - my the brother of my host was a very gifted artist and did a steady line in copying ‘Old Masters’. To an untrained eye like mine, what I saw looked very like the real thing.
What I saw on that wall outside Newton Stewart was not the real thing. It might even be described as a forgery, although the term seems somewhat harsh for what was a convincing replica. However, I was reassured that the existence of a copy on this wall did not mean that the original was anywhere other than hanging in Glasgow. Seems quite obvious does it not? The existence of a copy does not call into question the existence of the original. In fact, if you think about it, the reverse is true - you can’t have the copy without the original; you can’t have the counterfeit without the genuine.
This is something that Richard Dawkins (amongst others) struggles to grasp. One of his many arguments against Christianity concerns our denial of other gods. Dawkins ridicules Christians as being atheists when it comes to Zeus or Jupiter or Odin, or any of the other gods of ancient mythology. His ‘reasoning’ is: if you deny the existence of their gods, how can you believe in your own god? Surely, if you dismiss the supernatural deities of other cultures then you undermine credibility in the existence of your own deity?
Curiously, there was a time when the great Christian apologist C.S. Lewis was attracted by the same reasoning. Among the reasons he cites for his early atheism was his study of the Classics. He wrote of this time:
‘Here, especially in Virgil, one was presented with a mass of religious ideas; and all teachers and editors took it for granted from the outset that these religious ideas were sheer illusion …. The impression I got was that religion in general, though utterly false, was a natural growth, a kind of endemic nonsense into which humanity tended to blunder. In the midst of a thousand religions, stood our own, the thousand and first, labelled: true. But on what grounds could I believe this exception?’ (from ‘Surprised by Joy’)
Of course, this teenage rejection of the Christian faith was overturned in the more mature C.S. Lewis when he was converted to Christianity in his early thirties. I expect he saw the flaw in his own teenage argument. Just because one thing proves to be false does not in any way deny the existence of the truth. Just because one picture is a forgery does not call into question the existence of the genuine. Just because one belief in deity proves false does not in any way undermine the credibility of believing in the One true God.
There is a tendency in our day and age to reject the Christian faith with a nod in the direction of the plurality of beliefs. There are many religions and there are many different beliefs and so there can be nothing true, it is assumed. Yet the Christian faith has a unique claim in the person of Jesus Christ. The Christian faith is not an attempt to find God but it is instead the narrative of God coming to find us. Other teachers and religious founders have said things like, ‘This is the truth about life and the universe. This is the way you should go in life.’ By stark contrast Jesus says, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’
Put another way: other religions and no religion tend to say, ‘do this and live like this and you will find enlightenment, or fulfilment, or reach God’. Christianity says nothing of the sort but says, ‘It has already been done in Jesus.’ Other religions tend to offer advice; the Christian faith offers Gospel, good news, that what we need in order to know God has been done for us in Jesus. So trust in Him, follow Him, allow Him to be King of your life.