Practically Speaking

Kyle and her husband moved to Brookfield in 1986. She became active in local politics and started blogging in 2004. Her focus is primarily on local issues but often includes state and national topics, too. Kyle looks at things from the taxpayers' perspective in a creative, yet down to earth way, addressing them from a practical point of view.

A must read article, atheist says, "Africa needs God"

Bigger picture, Charity, Culture, Religion, Truth

For the second time in a few weeks, another atheist acknowledges God as an important factor in helping people. The first time was in an email I received from an atheist in California concerning my Are you naughty, nice? Stingy, generous? blog on giving. In that blog I concluded "the real litmus test on giving is religion." My atheist emailer then replied, "Never thought I'd say this, but thank God for religion then, if it makes Conservatives altruistic."

Today, I received an email newsletter from my missionary cousin*. He included this article from Times reporter Matthew Parris with the question, "If you've EVER wondered, does it really matter, do missionaries really have an impact, does the Gospel change lives at the heart level, PLEASE read, As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God, Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa's biggest problem - the crushing passivity of the people's mindset."

I did read it. It was quite remarkable. Writer Matthew Parris opens with: (My emphasis)

Before Christmas I returned, after 45 years, to the country that as a boy I knew as Nyasaland. Today it's Malawi, [Africa] and The Times Christmas Appeal includes a small British charity [Pump Aid--for clean water] working there...

It inspired me, renewing my flagging faith in development charities. But traveling 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: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people's hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good.

He used to chalk up the good work of missionaries as, "if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith."

But this doesn't fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.

First, then, the observation... In the city we had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world - a directness in their dealings with others - that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.


Whenever we entered a territory worked by missionaries, we had to acknowledge that something changed in the faces of the people we passed and spoke to: something in their eyes, the way they approached you direct, man-to-man, without looking down or away...

I believe their confidence came from knowing they were forgiven, God was working in their lives, and ultimately, they had a place in eternity with God. 

This time in Malawi it was the same. I met no missionaries. You do not encounter missionaries in the lobbies of expensive hotels discussing development strategy documents, as you do with the big NGOs. But instead I noticed that a handful of the most impressive African members of the Pump Aid team (largely from Zimbabwe) were, privately, strong Christians...

It would suit me to believe that their [the African Christian's] honesty, diligence and optimism in their work was unconnected with personal faith. Their work was secular, but surely affected by what they were. What they were was, in turn, influenced by a conception of man's place in the Universe that Christianity had taught.


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.


Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God... smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual [passive] framework I've just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.

Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted.

And I'm afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.

Pretty remarkable comments coming from an avowed atheist! Writer Parris stumbled on a truth: Christianity elevates and frees a society in a way that just throwing money and education at it cannot.

His observations are also sobering. The United States used to be unquestioningly a Judeo/Christian nation. As our nation refuses to acknowledge God in more and more segments of our society, God will withdraw His hand of blessing, just as He did with the Israelites when they refused to give up idol worship. (His chosen people, the Jews, were carried into captivity as a judgment.)

There are some who will protest the prayer at the Inauguration. Prayer was removed from public schools in 1962. Prayers aren't even allowed at most graduation ceremonies. Some think In God We Trust shouldn't be on our money. All I can say is, be careful what you ask for. 

I hope you take the time to read Parris' complete article. If an atheist can see the benefits of Christianity, maybe it will inspire others. 


* Cousin Matt, producer of The Enemy God movie.

Please, comment content should relate to the subject of the post. Although I try to respond to many, do not interpret my lack of a response as agreement.



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