Are we missing the very frontline of faith?

The Australian community is engaged in an extremely active and vigorous debate about the reality of God and I’m not sure the church at large is even aware it is going on.

While we faithful pray in our services and gatherings that God would move in our land, we may be missing the very answer to those prayers. (Try and stay with me my atheist readers, I know your blood pressure just rose at the mention of answered prayer.)

One of the first signs of spiritual revival might well be that people are even thinking about first order issues such as the origins and nature of life, is there supernatural or spiritual reality or only a material universe, and if religious claims are true how do we deal with many apparent contradictions and problems.

These kinds of questions are often and vigorously debated mainly in online forums and often in response to an increasing number of articles in the media addressing these questions from one perspective or another.

I can assure you this was not the case 10 or 20 years ago when most Australians didn’t want to discuss faith at all and where apathy and materialism (in this sense of material gain) seemed far more important.

No doubt many people were coming to or falling from faith but it was not a discussion our nation was having.

Perhaps it has been the more public identification of faith from politicians, or the rise of digital technology or increased education but now we are discussing faith, God, miracles and religion more than ever before.

In recent times I have had two running debates with atheists where we parried back and forth over issues of faith and belief. One was a simple battle of logic, the other a more subtle discussion in the form of a story where we put up in turn the next episode, reflecting our beliefs. Feel free to join in!

This is only possible because I created a forum where this interaction might occur, and was willing to take the time to sincerely engage with someone with radically different views. Not blowing my own trumpet, but making a point. If we are spending a lot of time online, does it have purpose?

I have also commented in mainstream media where articles on religion often attract hundreds of comments with the unbelievers usually outweighing people fo faith two or three to one.

A recent example was the article ‘Not miraculous, just good luck’ written by Sarah Mackenzie in the Sydney Morning Herald on July 16.

It begins like this:

‘Every time you check the news lately it seems that God has performed another miracle. Last month, a four-year-old boy survived a seven-storey fall  from the balcony of a high-rise building in Miami, landing on a palm tree with little more than a scratch. Within hours the press had dubbed him the “miracle boy” with witnesses declaring that they “saw the hand of God” helping the child.

‘We have also supposedly seen God’s handiwork in a spate of recent airline disasters…

‘All this talk of miracles tends to lead religion into dangerous territory. For me, “miracles” are just a reminder of a problem inherent in religious logic. If we are to believe that God really did intervene to save these people from an early death, what does this say about those who die?’

There are 157 comments on this article (so far), some by people responding to previous comments and others defending their earlier comment. That sounds like a dialogue, a discussion, a debate to me.

Maybe it is just the entrenched becoming more entrenched. Or maybe it is a sign that atheists, agnostics, the undecided and believers are asking sincere questions and are willing to listen to sincere answers.

Steve, in commenting on the SMH article, encapsulates this:

‘The reason these issues are reported regularly with the emphasis on religion being illogical is that it highlights the supposed “beyond reproach” attitude of a lot of religious people who are otherwise intelligent logical people. The more these types of articles are published, the more people will realise religion shouldn’t be safe from scrutiny; why shouldn’t we ask reasonable, logical questions of these issues?’

Many of the objections atheists raise to faith or religion are the very same questions we have, if we are honest. And yes, we may answer them differently but isn’t it amazing that people are even thinking about this?!

It is certainly time to lay aside the idea that atheists or the irreligious are the enemy, if that attitude has developed in the church. Better to consider them as people just like us attempting to form answers to the world we find ourselves in. A respectful, heartfelt discussion will benefit us both.

Perhaps churches could encourage teams of intelligent, creative people who would, as a natural part of life (ie not a campaign or project), value internet engagement in these discussions. It would involve discussing  the difficult questions for ourselves, praying for the people at the other end of a computer somewhere and developing a deep respect and love for those of different points of view. It would mean caring enough to comment on challenging articles or postings and being prepared to leave the invisible results in the hands of (yes, I do believe in an) invisible God.

Sounds kind of 21st century Christian, don’t you think? PH 

PS If you travel to my posts from Facebook, I encourage you to comment actually on the blog so a broader audience can be involved. But thanks for reading at all, I’m honoured that you would take the time.

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