Tag Archive: atheist


bare feet church

i was busy painting my block for the uThando leNkosi wall painting project as part of our 67 minutes and a bit for Mandela Day yesterday when things got a little interesting.

A lady i had just met, assuming i guess, that we were a bunch of christians helping out with this project, decided to break some ice, by turning to those closest to her and asking, ‘What church do you go to?’

My friend Megan, one of my fellow improvisers, who had jumped at the chance to get involved, proudly exclaimed, “i am an enthusiastic atheist!” or something to that effect.

Not wanting to appear completely thrown by that little speed bump, my fellow painter declared, “Well that sounds like fun.” Again, my day-after-the-effect paraphrase. Painting resumed.

wall2

TAKE TWO

A while later Megan had moved on to another part of the wall and my new friend decided to try again and so i started to explain the most recent dynamic of visiting a bunch of churches since returning to Cape Town as opposed to particularly committing to any one. The conversation moved to the fact that she had Catholic roots and what did i feel about the Catholic church? i explained that i believe that the rest of the church has a lot to learn from the Catholic church in terms of holiness and respect and awe for God with the tendency of more modern day churches to adopt more of a Jesus-is-my-buddy approach.

She seemed to resonate with this and said that the one thing she couldn’t stand about a lot of the other churches she had visited was the lack of respect. “I really can’t stand it when people don’t wear shoes for example.”

“I was a pastor for six years in a Vineyard church and i never wore shoes,” i quickly and gently responded.

By way of back-peddling, i guess, she said something about the need for honouring the space and the occasion, like for example, weddings.

“I have conducted three weddings and did each of them barefoot,” i responded.

i went on to explain how i did it intentionally, using the story of Moses and the burning bush and the idea of taking off your sandals, for you are standing on holy ground. The picture of a marriage being something that God sees as holy ground, despite how the world has typically done what it can to reduce the idea to something more me-focused and consumerist.

i can’t remember what happened next, but i don’t remember continuing that conversation and so she very well might have found another part of the wall that needed urgent attention.

barefoot in church

TRUTH OR TRADITION OR BOTH?

For those of us who are part of the church, i believe it is so important to regularly take a step back and look at the things we do [and possibly also the things we like and appreciate about what we do]

Are there things we do which are simply tradition, done because everyone always did them since that time the first person did them, but not necessarily biblical or Godly things? And should we perhaps stop doing some of those?

Are there things we don’t do that might be things that are really good to do according to God and the bible and the history of the church?

Are there some that maybe fall kinda in the middle – fun and good things to do but not particularly called for by God or the Bible and we are free to make a choice as to whether we want to keep doing them or not?

Do we question? Do we critique? Do we regularly test the things we do? What affect might they have on outsiders, on visitors? Do we take time to explain some of the weird stuff and traditions when people are visiting?

Does what happens on a Sunday [if that is when we meet together as church] strengthen, encourage, equip and empower us for the work of being the church for the rest of the week as we work, as we family, as we sport and as we relationship?

If so, let’s keep on with it… happy churching!

pratchettturtl

if you don’t know who Terry Pratchett is, then you should probably administer yourself a slap to the head.

come on… do it… there, you go. much better

Terry Pratchett is a man who i have never met [altho he did email me once] who has kept me thoroughly entertained for, oh since about 1983 when his first Discworld novel, The Colour of Magic, was published and 40 novels later [as well as others not specifically in the discworld universe] he is still one of my absolute favourites.

in fact, my best buddy Reegs, gave me his latest, ‘Rising Steam’ for my birthday and i am still waiting for the right moment to dive into it.

a fictitious world set on a disc which balances carefully on the backs of four elephants who themselves, stand on the back of a giant turtle, A’Tuin, who casually glides through space. part fantasy, part science-fiction, part popular culture, all satirical, Pratchett has managed to create a genre of writing that can’t really effectively be likened to any other. a man called Jasper Fforde comes closest, but even as he is getting better, with his Thursday Next series, i still very much refer to him as “the poor man’s Pratchett” by which i only really mean that he’s not nearly as good.

if you have not yet read one of his novels, you are really missing out.

i just wanted to share some Pratchett quotes with you, which will hopefully give you a glimpse into the genius of the man

ranging from witty, hilarious, so deeply profound, creatively inventive, philosophical to deeply spiritual, Terry Pratchett manages to regularly surprise, taking you from deep laughter to deeply philosophical thought in a moment.

try some of these on for size:

“A good plan isn’t one where someone wins, it’s where nobody thinks they’ve lost.”

[ Terry Pratchett]

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‘If you don’t turn your life into a story, you just become a part of someone else’s story.’

[Terry Pratchett, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents]

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“No! Please! I’ll tell you whatever you want to know!” the man yelled.

“Really?” said Vimes. “What’s the orbital velocity of the moon?”
“What?”
“Oh, you’d like something simpler?”

[Terry Pratchett, Night Watch]

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pratchett quotes

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My favourite Terry Pratchett character is Death who arrives without warning when somebody offs it, but with complete warning in that he only ever speaks in CAPITAL LETTERS. So Pratchett used that simple premise to let you, the reader, know that someone is about to [or has just] die, even before they realise it themselves.

 “DON’T THINK OF IT AS DYING, said Death. JUST THINK OF IT AS LEAVING EARLY TO AVOID THE RUSH.” 

[Terry Pratchett, Good Omens]

“And what would humans be without love?”
“RARE”, said Death.” 

[Terry Pratchett, Sourcery]

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“The trouble is you can shut your eyes but you can’t shut your mind.”

[Terry Pratchett, Wintersmith]

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“Sometimes I really think people ought to have to pass a proper exam before they’re allowed to be parents. Not just the practical, I mean.”

[Terry Pratchett, Thief of Time]

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“Steal five dollars and you’re a common thief. Steal thousands and you’re either the government or a hero.”

[Terry Pratchett, Going Postal]

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pratchett death

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“It is said that your life flashes before your eyes just before you die. That is true, it’s called Life.”

[Terry Pratchett, The Last Continent]

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“The truth isn’t easily pinned to a page. In the bathtub of history the truth is harder to hold than the soap and much more difficult to find.”

[Terry Pratchett, Sourcery]

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pratchett fire

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“Ankh-Morpork had dallied with many forms of government and had ended up with that form of democracy known as One Man, One Vote. The Patrician was the Man; he had the Vote.”

[Terry Pratchett, Mort]

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“Goodness is about what you do. Not who you pray to.”

[Terry Pratchett, Snuff]

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pratchett crowd

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pratchett boredom

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Terry Pratchett is a self-confessed atheist, but I want to end with the most powerful piece I think he has written, which I have used in a number of preaches in churches and on camps as he really does nail the heart of the gospel, really touching on the premise of WHAT IF THIS STUFF IS TRUE… 

This is from the book titled ‘Carpe Jugulum’ which is a plan on the latin of Carpe Diem [Seize the day] and as it is a story about vampires, is more aptly, ‘Seize the Throat’ and in this passage a young priest from a religion where the god is called Om is walking along with a witch called Granny Weatherwax who is a wily old lady who uses headology [making people believe in the power they think you have but focusing more on herbs and passed down knowledge than actual magic] more than magic to maintain the power people see her as having…

“They walked on in silence. A shower of hail bounced off Granny’s
pointed hat and Oat’s wide brim.

Then Granny said, “It’s no good you trying to make me believe in Om,
though.”

“Om forbid that I should try, Mistress Weatherwax. I haven’t even
given you a pamphlet, have I?”

“No, but you’re trying to make me think, “Oo, what a nice young man,
his god must be something special if nice young men like him helps
old ladies like me,” aren;t you?”

“No.”

“Really? Well it’s not working. People you can believe in,
sometimes, but not gods. And I’ll tell you this Mister Oats…”

He sighed. “Yes?”

She turned to face him, suddenly alive. “it’d be as well for you if
I didn’t believe,” she said, prodding him with a sharp finger. “This
Om…anyone seen him?”

“It is said three thousand people witnessed his manifestation at the
Great Temple when he made the Covenant with the prophet Brutha and
saved him from death by torture on the iron turtle-“

“But I bet that now they’re arguing about what they actually saw,
eh?”

“Well, indeed, yes, there are many opinions-“

“Right. Right. That’s people for you. Now if I’d seen him, really
there, really alive, it’d be in me like a fever. If I thought there
was some god who really did care two hoots about people, and who
watched ’em like a father and cared for ’em like a mother…well,
you wouldn’t catch me saying things like “There are two sides to
every question,” and “We must respect other peoples beliefs.” You
wouldn’t find me just being gen’rally nice in the hope that it’d all
turn out right in the end, not if that flame was burning in me like
an unforgivin’ sword. And I did say burnin’, Mister Oats, cos that’s
what it’d be. You say that your people don’t burn folk and sacrifice
people any more, but that’s what true faith would mean, y’see?
Sacrificin’ your own life, one day at a time, to the flame,
declarin’ the truth of it, workin’ for it, breathin’ the soul of it.
THAT’S religion. Anything else is just…is just bein’ nice. And a
way of keepin’ in touch with the neighbours.

She relaxed slightly, and went on in a quieter voice. “Anyway,
that’s what I’d be, if I really believed. And I don’t think that’s
fashionable right now, ‘cos it seems that if you sees evil now you
have to wring your hands and say, “Oh deary me, we must debate
this.” That’s my two penn’orth, Mister Oats. You be happy to let
things lie. Don’t chase faith, ‘cos you’ll never catch it.” She
added, almost as an aside, “But, perhaps, you can live faithfully.”

Her teeth chattered as a gust of icy wind flapped her wet dress
around her legs.

“You got another book of holy words on you?” she added.

“No,” said Oats, still shocked. He thought: my god, if she ever
finds a religion, what would come out of those mountains and sweep
across the plains?”

[Terry Pratchett, Carpe Jugulum]

So there is Terry Pratchett for you, and if you haven’t yet, i hope this will have encouraged you, even just out of curiosity to go and find a copy of ‘The Colour of Magic’ and give it a chance… i found that around books 6, 7, 8 [Wyrd Sisters, a parody of Macbeth, Pyramids, with the greatest character name ever devised, ‘Yousonofabitch’ the camel*, and Guards, Guards!] he really started blossoming, but it is worth getting the back story of the first few to get into the characters and description of the world.

[*post script – turns out our minds ‘remember’ funny things – the camel’s name was ‘You Bastard’ so i at least got the concept right… and he was also the greatest camel mathematician of his time – other camels in the book went by the names, ‘Evil-Smelling-Bugger, Bloody Stupid and You Vicious Brute]

I leave you with one last piece of piercing Pratchettian wisdom and observance:

pratchett quote

my good friend and distant tag team buddy sean du toit sent me a link to this article titled ‘As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God.’

Very cool article and worth reading the whole thing but here is an excerpt:

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: 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.

You can read the rest of the article here – http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/columnists/matthew_parris/article5400568.ece

is richard dawkins still evolving

i have managed to come into contact with a lot of atheists (and theists turned atheists, and on saturday a guy bouncing between the atheism and agnosticism and even someone who claimed to be an agnostic atheist) this past year and so i have been a slight little bit more interested in the arguments than i previously was (because of the people and not so much the arguments) but i found this article really interesting

http://www.spectator.co.uk/melaniephillips/2543431/is-richard-dawkins-still-evolving.thtml

and there is a screening of the debate between richard dawkins and john lennox happening tues nite at Jubilee centre which is 21 Nelson Road, Observatory (off lower main road) which i may not be able to go to cos of TheatreSports but would really like to see some time and maybe you will be interested in checking it out and letting me know what happens…

so, once we get past the mindless comments of people responding to the blog title and not actually reading it, what am i on about?

if you haven’t read my other blog about the christians choosing to become atheist (https://brettfish.wordpress.com/2010/09/13/a-theist-walks-into-an-atheist-bigbang-its-a-steel-atheist) i would suggest you begin there, cos this is a (s)equal of sorts…

so in the context of finding out that one of my church peoples had turned atheist over the varsity holidays, i have been giving this a lot of thort and i came up with this:

both of my friends who became atheist were christian and so they know the deal – they understand what the Christian-perceived Bible-teaching consequences of not being a Christ-follower are. they both know that if they have got this one wrong – and continue to stay in it – that they are in a LOT of trouble.

so, knowing the consequences of not being a Christ-follower, they are actively choosing against that and embracing another belief, and everything that goes with it

therefore, there are no surprises for them – they get that if they’ve got it wrong, it’s death. damnation to be more precise.

so it is an active step made, considering the facts or understanding or belief or perception or whatever, away from that

there are many ‘christians’ on the other hand (and i use a small ‘c’ as i always do to depict people calling themselves ‘christian’ but not necessarily following Christ at all) who think they are ‘in’ and ‘making it’ and ‘on their way to heaven’ and ‘damnation-free’ and so on, but who are one day going to stand before God and be completely surprised when He says, “Depart from Me, I never knew you!” [Matthew 7, towards the end, bible downstairs, me upstairs]

they are doing the stuff, going through the rituals, hanging out at church, maybe listening to the music and watching the (awful) movies, walking what they suppose is the walk, but completely missing the point

and as i have been thinking about this whole situation, i think that i would rather have you actively choose to walk away from Christianity and become an atheist (or something else) than be lulled into a false sense of security, thinking you are a Christ-follower when you clearly (at least to God who sees all) are not

“I never knew you” speaks of relationship, not religious hoops – it’s not about you didn’t do enuff stuff or you didn’t get enough people saved or you didn’t attend enough religious meetings or you didn’t try harder – it’s that you missed the primary number 1 key aspect of being a follower of Jesus which is loving God with all your heart and soul and mind (closely followed by ‘and loving your neighbour as yourself’ – matthew 22)

i would, obviously, rather have you follow Jesus with me. after all He claimed to be “the Way and the Truth and the Life” and said that “No-one comes to the Father except through Me” [john 14.6] and that is what i believe and am chasing (and being challenged a lot lately that i need to be more focused on the remaining in Him and building relationship with Him than all the other stuff i get caught up in, so that all the other stuff can flow out of being in a strong place with Him) and would love for you to be a part of

but if you’re not. if you choose to walk away. and pursue something else (because please don’t walk away from Christ-following and just sit around apathetically and believe nothing!) then i would much rather have you do that, than call yourself a ‘christian’ while completely not believing in any of it, or living any of it, but just miserably continuing to live out some kind of sick meaningless pointless waste-of-time facade.

what’s it gonna be?

‘a theist believes in at least one god, but denies the existence of many gods’ [the skeptic’s dictionary]

whereas an atheist denies the existence of god completely

and ‘at heist’ is just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but that’s not important now…

a theist and an atheist – so vastly different and yet the difference between them is nothing… or ‘a space’ to be more precise…

[disclaimer: oh and by the way, this is one of those blogs that is more for me than for you – i am writing to think my thorts out loud, to process them, to do it publically in case anyone else is thinking/wrestling/engaging about the same kind of stuff, but i am not looking for answers, so please keep those to yourself – i am not asking you to solve anything – i am merely trying to process what is going on in my head, and maybe cause you to think a little]

i have worked as a pastory type guy at the stellenbosch vineyard church for almost 6 years now – in that time i have seen two christian guys become atheists – it’s kinda weird that to go from a theist to an atheist you have to lose the gap as opposed to creating one – it feels like it should be the other way around…

so if you were to be an outside evaluator of my work you would see that i started out with two christians and finished up with two atheists – i don’t think i’d score that well in pastoring school… and i know that i didn’t change them (i hope i didn’t change them) but it happened under my watch so to speak [which is ridiculous cos i don’t have a watch, except on my cellphone but to say it happened under my cellphone gets very confusing because it’s not that big a phone] and i didn’t have the answers or the proof or the experience to stop it from happening and so a part of me feels like it may as well have been my doing

[there are others who have been a part of our community in these last years who have moved away from God or christianity or both and that disturbs me as well, but to become an atheist is a step towards something, rather than just a step away from something, which is a lot easier to do]

so it does bother me in an i-failed kind of way to some kind of extent – i have something, my faith, my relationship with God, the purpose that gives me life – that is most-of-the-time so incredibly absolutely whole-heartedly real to me and even tho i don’t always understand it or have a complete explanational grasp of it, it is the very core of my being – and i have been unable to communicate or demonstrate or pass that on to these two guys in an adequate enuff way that had them going ‘this-is-real-this-is-for-me’ and that has to bug me, to frustrate me, to dishearten me. it has to. because i obviously believe that what i believe is truth and within that also lies the believed consequence for someone who doesn’t believe that (both when they die but even hugely now) and that should cause me great concern, and does…

but it’s not going to cripple me. it’s not going to knock me off my horse (and not just cos unlike mr terblanche i don’t actually have a horse, i have a rocking horse, but it’s a metaphorical one, and purely for aesthetics). i think i’ll be okay.

really? and why is that you may ask? [or i may go ahead and ask for you] – Because Jesus was okay with it!

there is a passage in luke i think it is (maybe john) where Jesus preaches a bit of a tough message and a whole bunch of His followers find it too strong a message and so they leave… and He lets them. and then turns to His disciples and asks them, “What about you? Are you also going to leave?” to which Peter replies, “Where shall we go? Only You have the words of Truth.” [And for me, that is a lot of the bottom line – i have struggles with some aspects of christianity, i don’t understand a lot of the Bible and how God works or doesn’t seem to work sometimes, but i have identified Jesus as having the words of Truth, it is in my gut and i cannot shake it and have not come close to hearing any other kind of more believable truth anywhere else]

then there is the story of the rich young ruler and one of the most powerful phrases in the Bible to me because when you read the story of Jesus you get the idea that in His interaction with the man, He knows from the beginning that it’s not going to be successful in terms of gaining another follower – and yet there is this phrase – ‘Jesus looked at him and loved him.’ And the rich young ruler walks away from Jesus disappointed and empty-handed, because the cost of following Jesus (all your stuff, I want you, and everything else you have made more important than Me in your life) is too much for him. And Jesus lets him go.

i don’t doubt for a second that the moment any one of those original followers or the rich young ruler had a change of heart and recognised Who Jesus really was and returned to Him and asked once again to be allowed to follow, that He would have instantly and with much joy received them back.

but He wasn’t going to chase them down to have them ‘follow’ Him for the sake of having extra followers… He wanted those who followed Him to be genuine. to believe (and even in the way of the father of the demon-possessed kid who, when Jesus challenged him, responded with, ‘I do believe – help me overcome my unbelief!” – that’s often my cry in certain areas of my faith at least). not to not have doubts, but to overcome their doubts (which is faith! – it doesn’t mean you don’t doubt, it just means the doubt doesn’t knock you down and leave you there)

and so i haven’t given up on these guys. i hope we will remain friends. i will pray for them. i will chat to them anytime they want to chat, and listen to them on their journey and hope that they will listen to me on mine. i won’t try and convert them (or unconvert them? reconvert?) but i hope we’ll still get to hang and play Settlers and whatever else comes along.

i do hope they will continue to challenge their beliefs now that they have walked away from one set. and not just settle for another because it is convenient. continue to wrestle guys, continue to question, hopefully continue to seek because God does say if you seek Me you will find Me and seeking meaning in the world always leads you to God at some stage. always. because He is the way and the Truth and the Life – it doesn’t take you believing it to make it true.

an atheist denies the existence of god completely

a theist believes in at least one god, but denies the existence of many gods

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