Matthew Parris: As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God

Posted by Kendall Harmon

Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it's Malawi, and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity working there. Pump Aid helps rural communities to install a simple pump, letting people keep their village wells sealed and clean. I went to see this work.

It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But travelling 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 world view, and has embarrassed my growing belief that there is no God.

Now a confirmed atheist, I've become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa....

Read the whole article.

Filed under: * Christian Life / Church LifeMissions* Culture-WatchReligion & Culture* International News & CommentaryAfrica

Posted December 27, 2008 at 5:04 pm [Printer Friendly] [Print w/ comments]

1. Laura R. wrote:

A powerful and inspiring article—and, like a Times commenter, I must commend Mr. Parris for being honest enough to report what goes against his own beliefs.  I wouldn’t be surprised, however, if he were on the way to his own conversion (reminds me a bit of the young C.S. Lewis).

December 27, 8:23 pm | [comment link]
2. Karen B. wrote:

Wow.  What a powerful piece!  Of course… I could be a bit biased wink
But I’m glad to see this.

December 27, 9:58 pm | [comment link]
3. Karen B. wrote:

Perhaps slightly off topic, but I believe that Matthew Parris was also “the atheist commenter” in the Times back in 2003 who wrote a powerful oped piece against the election of VGR.  I remember being stunned at the time that this purported atheist seemed to understand clearly what the Bible taught when so many of our own TEC leaders either did not understand, or clearly repudiated the teaching of their own faith.

December 27, 10:14 pm | [comment link]
4. MargaretG wrote:

Thanks you Karen for posting that link. I do not remember reading it at the time, but it is a remarkable post—more poignant for the evident clarity in the struggle of the writer. I highly recommend others reacquaint themselves with it.

December 28, 1:21 am | [comment link]
5. Stephen Noll wrote:

I found myself a bit amused by Mr. Parris’ “discovery.” Let me give a brief reply from someone serving in Africa.

First, it should not be surprising to Mr. Parris or anyone else that a Christians who consider love of neighbor a commandment from God will be involved in works of charity and development. To list just a few of such references, try Luke 10:30ff; John 13:35; Acts 4:34-35; 2 Cor 8:14; 1 Tim 5:3; James 2:16; 1 John 3:17. The sociological fact that Christians are more generous than secularists is pretty well-established. See e.g., Who Really Cares.

Second, Mr. Parris remarks that he did not see any missionaries in the five-star hotels in Malawi. It is true that most missionaries live much closer to the ground than many of the secular NGOs that operate in Africa. However, it may also be that Mr. Parris is missing the fact that it is not the missionaries that are carrying on the lion’s share of development work but African Christians themselves. He does not seem to recognize the independence and vibrancy of the African Church.

Third, for all the talk about the desirability of governments supporting missionaries or faith-based projects, I would have to say: “don’t hold your breath.” The World Bank held a conference in March 2000 with religious representatives in East Africa to see how they could work together for development. So far as I can see, precious little came out of it. As head of a university looking for assistance in educational development, I find myself writing off governmental aid organizations from the start. The Bush Administration’s “faith-based” initiative is the one big exception to this.

Finally, as for the “crushing” African mindset, maybe Mr. Parris should take a look closer to home and be concerned about the UK and its secularist mindset. In Uganda we are putting in a toilet block – after 85 years - alongside our fine theology faculty building dedicated to Bishop Alfred Tucker of Uganda (1890-1911), whose missionary vision included equipping Africans to reach Africans with the gospel. I sometimes joke that this building is a monument to the British stiff upper lip! But the Britain of Alfred Tucker is not the Britain of today (see Theodore Dalrymple on “The Quivering Upper Lip”). I would to God Mr. Parris might reflect further on his experience and see that his atheism is as crushing and dark as the mindset of tribal African religion, and despite a veneer of liberality no more reasonable (Romans 1:21). Short of a revival of Christian faith in Britain among people like him, the likeliest successor will not be secularism but Islam.

December 28, 4:52 am | [comment link]
6. azusa wrote:

Like Richard Dawkins, Matthew Parris was brought up as an Anglican in Africa before being educated at Cambridge University, going on to work for Margaret Thatcher and becoming a Conservative MP. An intelligent political and social commentator with a good grasp of history and how Europe came to be (i.e., through Christendom), he has a lot in common with Andrew Sullivan - including his homosexuality, which has increasingly become the defining characteristic of both men, and may be linked to Parris’s alienation from Christianity, and Sullivan’s own scorn for ‘Christianists’. Interestingly, though, Parris does not think homosexuality is as inevitable as the color of one’s eyes (the ‘essentialist’ claim): he recognizes a certain personal element, at least in behavior.
The ‘Theodore Dalrymple’ (Anthony Daniels) that Professor Noll refers to above is a very interesting character: not a believer but one who often writes and observes as a Christian moralist might.

December 28, 10:25 am | [comment link]
7. montanan wrote:

A remarkable article, as is the one linked in #3 above.  Thanks Kendall and Karen B for posting these.  It is always inspiring to see truth acknowledged, even when one’s ‘worldview’ doesn’t conform.

December 28, 2:49 pm | [comment link]
8. Irenaeus wrote:

I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa

Commendable honesty.

December 29, 2:31 am | [comment link]
9. pilgrim99 wrote:

Am I alone in thinking Stephen Noll’s response somewhat ungracious ?
Matthew Parris has written a piece which has only good to say about Christians. He has done so in a humble way, in fact a present day example of the lost British way bemoaned by Theodore Dalrymple. I too wonder what Parris might say if he applied similar reasoning to the UK. As Laura R mentions, he sounds as if he is in fairly acute danger from a Screwtape viewpoint. It would be a shame to assist the latter.

December 29, 3:30 pm | [comment link]
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