Category: Articles

Destruction of life on an unimaginable scale

PHILIPPA TAYLOR looks at the staggering numbers behind 50 years of the Abortion Act in the UK

The Abortion Act reached its 50th anniversary in late October. In these last 50 years almost nine million unborn babies have been aborted in England, Scotland and Wales. That figure has, of course, also impacted the lives of nine million women, some of whom are celebrating this anniversary of the Act but many of whom will instead remember and regret their abortion(s) and the harm each one brings to both mother and child.

This 50th anniversary … has been a time for commemoration of nine million unborn children who have silently disappeared

While I strongly believe there are two victims for every abortion, for now I deliberately focus on the unborn victims, not the women, and the almost incomprehensible scale of destruction of innocent lives. Nine million lives lost is a truly staggering figure.

  • It is more than all the students currently at schools in England
  • It is more than the population of Austria 
  • It is more than the population of New York City
  • It is more than the combined population of the 22 largest cities in the UK after London
  • It is more than 10 per cent of the entire UK population

Incredibly, that number of lives lost is higher than the combined populations of Scotland and Wales.

Let’s break the figures down a bit more.

On current abortion rates, every year we lose more lives than could fill three London Olympic Stadiums (approximately 200,000 per year).

Every month we lose the equivalent of 11 Titanics (over 16,000 per month, since 1992).

We lose many more than the number of people who died in the 9/11 attacks every week in England, Wales and Scotland (3840 per week).

And every day the number of unborn babies who are aborted would completely fill an Airbus A380 (approximately 550 per day).

These are illustrations of the numbers of lives lost. Imagine the difference in England, Scotland and Wales if those were all alive today? Which brings me to Northern Ireland where, in a poignant and striking contrast, there are an estimated 100,000 people who are alive today because they do not have the 1967 Abortion Act, but have a different law.

In other words, one in 10 people aged under 50 in Northern Ireland are alive today because of the more restrictive law on abortion that exists there. This number could fill Northern Ireland’s national football stadium five times over. Each one a precious, valuable human being who is alive today, but would have never have had the chance of life if they lived elsewhere in the UK.

An anniversary is a time for stopping to remember something either very special, or very sad. It is either a celebration, such as of a marriage or a special birthday, or it is a time to commemorate a tragic event, such as a death.

I for one know which this 50th anniversary has signified: nine million innocent lives lost. For me it has been a time for commemoration of nine million unborn children who have silently disappeared.

At the Christian Medical Fellowship, we prepared a short video to mark the anniversary. Please take a minute or two to stop and remember, by watching this video.

Philippa Taylor is Head of Public Policy at Christian Medical Fellowship. She has an MA in Bioethics from St Mary’s University College and a background in policy work on bioethics and family issues.

Our society needs to come to grips with and understand the love of God | The Scotsman

|  By David Robertson  |


The Prime Minister was mocked for saying that ‘Brexit means Brexit’. Such truisms are surely too simplistic for the sophisticated British electorate? The First Minister announced at the Glasgow Pride event at the weekend, “Love is Love” – and was applauded. But what does that mean? Just as ‘Brexit means Brexit’ sounds good to those who think Brexit is a good idea and think they know what it means, so ‘Love is Love’ sounds good to those who think they know what it means. But what does it mean? What is love? Is love more than a feeling? More than a second-hand emotion? And what does love have to do with government policy?

For those who are naturalistic materialistic atheists or agnostics, there is a real problem. If everything is reduced to the chemical, the physical and the biological then love is, like humanity, just a collection of chemicals. As the late great atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell declared, “we are a blob of carbon floating from one meaningless existence to another”. ‘Love’ therefore is simply a chemical reaction, something which makes the ‘Love is Love’ truism meaningless in almost every sense, but especially in determining government policy. After all why should one chemical reaction be considered more significant than another? Hate after all is hate – and it too is a chemical reaction. But hate is bad. Agreed? But how do we know that? In a materialistic world there is ultimately no good and bad, just social constructs and evolved language. Who is to say that just as we are told we can change the social construct of gender, that we cannot change the even more malleable construct of language? Maybe Orwell was right in his dystopian vision of 1984 – how long before we have crowds shouting ‘hate is love and love is hate’?

There is another even more obvious problem with saying that love is love in a Godless world. What if someone’s chemical reaction is to marry ten people? Or to marry their sister? Or they have a chemical reaction that attracts them towards children? No one doubts that these things exist but does that mean that because ‘love is love’; polygamy, incest and paedophilia should be government policy? Of course not. Before going any further it needs to be stressed (because there are those who think this and there are those who thinks it is being implied) that I am not equating homosexuality with these at all. I am trying to deal with the logical basis (if one is allowed to think logically in today’s emotive political culture) that the First Minister set our for her ‘consultation’ (which is of course nothing of the sort, as the result is already pre-determined) announced at the weekend in which people will be able to self-declare themselves to be whatever gender they want – without any need for medical or psychological evidence. ‘Love is Love’ is a nice soundbite to be applauded by an unthinking crowd, but it is not a reason for government policy – especially because it is so vacuous.

But is love irrelevant? No – we need to define what it is. Perhaps the Darwinian understanding of humanity can help here? Love is more beneficial to humanity than hate because we have learned that reciprocal altruism benefits the species as a whole- whereas hate destroys it. It’s a good argument. But is the ‘you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours’ argument enough? Is that a sufficient basis for government policy? It’s certainly an improvement on love is love, but it still remains hopelessly inadequate. There may be times when hate actually benefits a particular group and society – would that make it right? And there surely is a time when even reciprocal altruism is not enough. What about that most absurd and evil of Christian doctrines, as Christopher Hitchens declared, ‘love your enemies’?

Because for the Christian there is a different and more concrete version of love. The Apostle Paul teaches about it in 1 Corinthians 13, the Lord Jesus exemplifies and practices it – and the Apostle John sum it up neatly in his first letter.

  This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” 1 John 3:16 (NIV). “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 

1 John 4:10-11 (NIV)

These are profound and deep words that require a lot of thought, meditation and practical working out. But they are real and concrete. What if they are true? They provide substance and meaning to ‘Love is Love’ by telling us and showing us that ‘God is Love’. That does not mean that anything we feel is love can then be considered to be God. It does however give us an objective and real standard outwith ourselves, by which we can judge and be judged. It is the most radical and revolutionary teaching of Jesus Christ, which once turned the world upside down and can do so again. Perhaps our society really needs to come to grips with and understand the love of God in Christ – so that love ceases to be a second-hand emotion and instead becomes the dynamic of us all?


www.scotsman.com/news/opinion/david-robertson-our-society-needs-to-come-to-grips-with-and-understand-the-love-of-god-1-4577679


 

Four Key Principles for Apologetics

At its heart, apologetics is beautifully simple and intricately connected to the heart of the gospel. As I’ve wrestled with people’s questions, I’ve learned there are a number of basic principles that apply time and again, no matter who I’m talking with.

1. Know what you believe

This is a challenge for those of us raised in the Church, or who have been Christians for decades. Too often we give how-shaped answers to why-shaped questions. If somebody asks you why you are a Christian, giving a narrative of how you became one isn’t always helpful. Many of our friends want to know why you’re a Christian now, today, with all of the challenges to your faith that daily attack you. What’s your elevator speech for Christianity?

2. Rediscover the power of questions

We’ve tried to reduce evangelism to formulas or methodologies. But the most powerful form of sharing the gospel is talking to people. Learn to ask your friends what they believe (or don’t believe). If a colleague at work is a Muslim, try saying, “I’ve never really talked to a Muslim before. What do you believe?” Or if a friend self-describes as an atheist, respond, “ ‘Atheist’ tells me what you don’t believe. But what do you believe?”

3. Engage people’s honest questions

Don’t ignore objections. A few months ago I met Alex, a young university student, who introduced himself to me as an agnostic. “I used to be a Christian,” he explained, “but I was raised in a fundamentalist family.” Questions about religion were forbidden in his family and church. Alex began to read atheist books and eventually abandoned his faith.

“But you introduced yourself as an ‘agnostic,’ ” I said gently. “What happened?” Alex explained he attended a local atheist group, and discovered that they were, in his words, “fundamentalists too.” Questioning was not allowed there either. Alex told me he didn’t know what to believe or disbelieve any more. Then, he asked me if I thought he was lazy. I replied, “There are two types of agnostics. A lazy agnostic is somebody who can’t be bothered to find the answer to the God question. An active agnostic is genuinely searching for the answer, but just hasn’t found it yet.” We talked long into the evening and slowly began to deal with some of the questions Alex had buried for so long.

4. Know what the gospel really is

That sounds obvious, doesn’t it, but a good deal of our problems in the Church stem from forgetting. We’ve allowed the gospel to become tangled up with political positions, culture wars or moralism. As an atheist friend once put it to me, “I know what you Christians are against, but I have no idea what you’re for.” A brilliant, if tragic, observation.

Conclusion: Clearing the Ground

Ultimately, the task of apologetics is largely one of debris clearing: removing the obstacles so people can see Jesus clearly. Arguments can’t bring somebody to faith, but they can help create a climate in which faith is possible. Ultimately, what people need is not a clever argument, but to see the greatness and attractiveness of Jesus. Our task, and the task of apologetics, is simply to present Him as clearly as we can. And then get out of the way.


This was extracted from my longer article, ‘Apologetics Without Apology’, the cover story in the March/April 2015 edition of Faith Today magazine. You can read the full article online , or download a PDF of it here.

How to read – and understand – the book of Revelation

It’s a brilliant, if somewhat mad, Francis Ford Coppola film, with possibly the best credits and soundtrack ever. I am of course talking about the Oscar winning 1979 film Apocalypse Now, which is still one of the most powerful films you will ever see. I remember watching it as a young Christian student in the old Odeon in Edinburgh with an agnostic friend from New Zealand. As we left he just said to me “shut up, don’t start preaching…you are right, humanity is in such a mess”. We left it there. That one film was indeed apocalyptic.

As is the last book of the Bible. The one that is most popular with modern film producers, dispensationalist preachers and heavy metal bands – the book of Revelation. For centuries it has been the staple diet for conspiracy theorists, millenialists and anyone who wants to find some Scripture for their own personal crackpot theory. It is alleged that Calvin did not produce a commentary on Revelation because he found it too difficult.

So why are we beginning a new series for Christian Today on this controversial book? Surely in today’s confused Church and world the last thing we need is some speculative theology based on a hard-to-understand book?

We certainly do live in a troubled world. The word ‘apocalyptic’ is being used by more than one secular commentator to describe the times we live in. The devastation in Syria, regular terrorist attacks in the cities of Europe, China threatening in the South China sea, climate change, Britain leaving the EU, Greece collapsing, American politics being turned upside down, the Zika virus, the redefinition of marriage and redefining of gender, wars and rumours of wars.

Regarding the Church, although there are good news stories, we also have to face up to the twin threats from inside and outside. From outside we are faced with the eradication of the Church in its ancient Middle Eastern homelands, the increasing sidelining of the Church in the secular West and continual persecution and attempted control in countries such as China, Korea and the Islamic world. Within there are divisions, doctrinal splits and perhaps above all, a confusion about what Christianity really is and how we both communicate it.

In the words of the prophet, Robert Zimmerman

Come gather ’round people
Wherever you roam
And admit that the waters
Around you have grown
And accept it that soon
You’ll be drenched to the bone
If your time to you
Is worth savin’
Then you better start swimmin’
Or you’ll sink like a stone
For the times they are a-changin’.

And that is where Revelation comes in. It is not a book written as some kind of speculative, obscure, theological end-times tome. It is not for us to just pick and choose whatever we want from it. A text without a context is just a pretext for whatever we want it to be. To understand this supposedly obscure book we really need to understand the context.

Written towards the end of the first century, when the emperor Domitian was beginning his persecution against the Church, it was the last work of the author of the fourth Gospel and three of the New Testament letters to the churches. John was the disciple whom Jesus loved, the one who leaned on Jesus at the Last Supper, the fisherman on the Sea of Galilee; the one who saw and shared in the experience on the mount of transfiguration, and the garden of Gethsemane. John was at the foot of the cross when Jesus died on Calvary and one of the first at the tomb. That which he had seen, heard and touched, was what he proclaimed (1 John 1).

In one sense he was the ultimate martyr (the Greek word for witness). And now he is old. All his fellow apostles are dead. Jesus has not returned. And after an astonishing beginning, the Church throughout the Roman Empire is experiencing severe persecution. He had been exiled to the Greek island of Patmos; a desolate, waterless place only eight miles by four, consisting of mountains and marble quarries. He was the last of the apostles, left under guard on his own personal refugee camp in the Mediterranean. And this is what was revealed to him.

The Greek word for Revelation is Apocalypse. Once you grasp that it changes everything. Apocalyptic does not mean disaster, doom and gloom. It means a revealing. And in this case it is a revealing of Jesus Christ. Is there anything more necessary in this dark world and confused Church today than the revealing of the Light of the World? This is a book for the 21st century as much as it was for the first century

It is a revelation, not a concealing. It’s not a hidden story or a secret Bible code that only the initiated can get through a specially priced series of teaching DVDs. You can read the book yourself.

Speaking of reading, note how in the introduction there is a special blessing for those who read it aloud. We far too often skim read the Bible as though it were an online article that we glance over in order to find the best bits. Even in our churches we seem to give less and less time to the public reading of the Bible and often have it just as a kind of hurried preamble preparing the way for the comedian/entertainer/counselor/inspirational talker/preacher.

If we want to know Jesus we need to stop. Breathe. Rest. Don’t panic. Listen. Take time to listen to Jesus speaking in and through the Scriptures. And as John says, we need to take it to heart. Its not just to tickle our ears, so that we can tick another devotional good works box. It’s Jesus revealing himself to us, so that he can reassure, challenge and change us. The atheist will often say, “If only God would only reveal himself.” The Christian will often feel, “If only God would show me his way, draw near to me.” To both we say: He has. And he will. He delights to reveal himself, not conceal. You don’t need some kind of special gnostic, mystical experience. “You don’t need a telescope, a microscope or a horoscope to realise the fullness of Christ, and the emptiness of the universe without him. When you come to him, that fullness comes together for you too. His power extends over everything” (Colossians 2:10, The Message).

He tells us the time is near. The time for meeting him. The time for seeing that he is sovereign and that things are not out of his control. Revelation is a great trumpet call to a real faith in the real Lord.

So you are off to a good start if you understand that the background to this book, both now and then, is that of the Sovereign Lord Jesus coming to his people and telling them, in the midst of the most trying and distressing circumstances, that he is in control. This is a pastoral letter, not an apocalyptic film script.

I hope that as you read this book, and as we work our way through it over these coming weeks, you will see how it applies to our world, cultures and lives and that it will have the same effect on us, as Apocalypse Now had on my friend and me. As the end credits rolled we stood in awe and just said, “Wow”. May the revelation of Jesus Christ be for you the “wow” moment of your life.


Published in Christian Today   8th August 2016

Naming and Shaming – the Named Person Debacle

Published in Christian Today   29th July 2016


In an astonishing and unusual decision the UK Supreme Court has struck down a Scottish government law, the Named Person Act, by a majority of five to zero. There are many aspects to this case but because it was brought by, among others, Christian charities, it is important for us to realise and understand what is going on here.

CARE and the Christian Institute have portrayed this as a victory for them against the Named Person scheme. Dr Gordon MacDonald of CARE stated:

“This is a stunning victory for parents and families across Scotland. We are delighted judges at the UK’s highest court have backed our case.”

But the Scottish government had a different point of view. The minister responsible, John Swinney posted:

“I welcome the publication of today’s judgment and the fact that the attempt to scrap the named person service has failed.”

So what is going on?

The Named Person Scheme came about because of perceived weaknesses in child protection provision in Scotland. There was a particular concern for joined up thinking and co-operation between different agencies involved with child welfare. The SNP has a scheme entitled “Getting it Right for Every Child” of which the Named Person legislation is a key part.

The idea is that each child in Scotland from the womb (an interesting development in itself) to aged 18 will have a state appointed Named Person, who will be a point of contact for parents, welfare services, the NHS, education etc. The aim is to improve access to services and to provide early detection and prevention when problems are likely to occur.

So far so good. So why were CARE and the Christian Institute opposed to this, to the extent that they were prepared to go to court? And it’s not just some Christian groups. There are secular, political and other charitable groups who are opposed, although the majority of children’s services and government social work organisations are strongly for it.

The main concerns are that it erodes parental rights and that it is so broad-based that it will be costly to implement and will limit more targeted intervention for high-risk children. From initially being a widely accepted programme that had been trialled successfully in the Highlands, there is now significant political and parental opposition, with polls showing that up to 75 per cent of parents are opposed.

The Supreme Court ruled that the Named Person scheme did breach the right to privacy and a family life under the European Convention on Human Rights and that it therefore went beyond the legislative competence of the Scottish Parliament. The Court stated that the aims of the scheme were ‘legitimate and benign’ but ordered the Scottish Parliament to redraft the legislation to comply with ECHR legislation.

I find myself in a bit of a bind here. I support the basic idea of a Named Person because I have listened to many of those involved in child welfare provision and they are generally supportive. There is a need for such a service and it is, as the Court stated ‘legitimate and benign’.

I also question why Christian organisations are taking the government to court. Is this not a waste of money? Does it really help the Christian witness? Why is this issue so important?

But when you ask questions, you also need to listen to the answers. So I have been asking the Scottish Government, CARE and others involved, and I actually took the time to read the whole judgment. Here are the main lessons I have learned.

It is wrong for anyone to claim that the Named Person scheme is “dead in the water”. I realise that when money, time and effort has been invested in a particular action there is a temptation to talk it up, for ourselves and our supporters, but we still have to be honest and measured. The fact is that, barring a significant change in circumstances, the NP scheme will go ahead. The Scottish Government has a clear majority in the Scottish Parliament and now this has been made a point of principle and pride, they will not back down.

Given that SNP MSPs are forbidden from disagreeing with any aspect of party policy and that their party discipline is so tight it is unlikely that any MSP will break ranks. So the government will change the legislation, tighten it up and then pass it in a form that the court will allow. At most, unless there is a major change of heart, the most that will happen is that it will be delayed for a few months.

However, this may turn out to be a real Achilles heel for the SNP, because it is a deeply unpopular policy and the court’s ruling will not help that. Hence the almost desperate spin being put on it by the Scottish Government.

It is also wrong for the Scottish Government to claim that the Supreme Court decision was in any sense a victory for them. By a majority of five to zero (which given that fact that cases that come to the Supreme Court tend by definition to be highly contested and controversial is itself extraordinary), without any dissent, the Court has declared that one of their Acts is illegal. This was as great a victory for the Scottish Government as Culloden was for the Jacobites, or Pearl Harbour for the Americans! The denial of their defeat and the attempt to spin it as victory does not reflect well on the SNP.

What is even more concerning is the potential harm that this legislation could have been used for. This is what the Supreme Court recognised. In a stunning citation as part of their judgment they declared:

Named Person

Here we have the Supreme Court warning the government that it is in danger of behaving in a totalitarian manner. Why? Despite Nicola Sturgeon suggesting that the Named Person scheme is voluntary, it is not. It is a compulsory scheme. Every child in Scotland has to have a Named Person, whether they want it or not. This is not about targeting particular needs or dangers; it is about attempting to identify them by making it compulsory. A case can be made for this if it was only about preventing child abuse. But the Scottish Government has made the scheme about much more because they have made the NP responsible for ‘child well-being’. This creates an open door for abuse, because it is so ill-defined. This would not be the first time that well-intentioned legislation ended up being used for harm. What if the Named Person wants to enquire about what kind of values and views the child is being brought up with? Let me give one example.

In June of this year I was asked by Barnardos if my church would be willing to partner with them on the question of adoption. I was very interested in doing so and looked forward to the discussion, when I got a somewhat embarrassed phone call from their representative saying that they had been instructed from higher up in the organisation not to partner with us because we did not accept Same Sex Marriage. Imagine that. A child welfare organisation were prepared not to provide adoptions because of their ideology on same sex marriage! So much for the welfare of the children needing to be adopted.

Barnardos are supporters of the Named Person scheme. The Scottish government regard supporting SSM as a basic civil right. It does not take much imagination to find parents being accused of putting the child’s ‘welfare’ at risk because the current zeitgeist morality of the State is not being taught in the home. The journalist Kevin McKenna wrote in the Guardian of the Named Person scheme that the Scottish government was: “constructing an illiberal, big government control centre that is seeking to insinuate itself into every corner of family life in Scotland. The family unit, no matter which way you try artificially to stretch it, is the natural authority in the life of every child. The state has many, many tendrils to sense when there is danger, but it has no right to presume to act as a grim, surrogate parent for the nation’s children”.

This is why ultimately I am thankful for the Court action taken by the charities and for the decision in their favour. It allows the Scottish government to change and amend this legislation so that the rights of parents are protected, and the welfare of children best provided for. We can only hope that they will have the humility to listen and act.

CARE and the Christian Institute have done the whole society a favour by drawing attention to the dangers involved and compelling the government to think again. It is a rare bit of good news in a time of seemingly endless bad news. For that we should be thankful. And we should all continue to work for the welfare of all children, and not rely just on governments or courts. The little children are to be brought to the Christ who loves and welcomes them. That is an on-going battle.


David Robertson is the associate director of Solas CPC, Dundee. Follow him on Twitter @theweeflea.


 

Tim LaHaye and the end times: What should we believe about the end of the world?

I knocked on the door which was ajar. My friend was not at home and yet a pan was boiling on the hob, the radio was on, and the house gave every appearance of being occupied. The lines from Larry Norman’s I wish we’d all been ready‘the Son has come and you’ve been left behind’, went through my head. I had not been a Christian long but already the very popular apocalyptic Left Behind genre was part of my life. I even gave a lecture, at the request of my history teacher, on the end of the world – based entirely upon Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth.

All of this came back to mind this week when I heard of the death of Tim La Haye, aged 90. LaHaye, along with Jerry B Jenkins, authored the Left Behind series of books which have sold more than 65 million copies and been made into a successful film series. The ‘rapture’ theology is important, not just because of the impact it has upon Christians, but because of the potential impact it has upon the rest of the world. It directly impacts politics and key world questions such as the Middle East and Israel. It also taps into a very popular film and book genre – the apocalyptic, ‘it’s the end of the world as we know it’, scenarios. It appears that everyone loves disaster movies. But is the Bible the ultimate disaster movie? Does the Book of Revelation provide a blueprint for the end times? Next month I hope to begin a new series for Christian Today on Revelation for Today, but meanwhile let’s consider what the Bible has to say about the end of the world. In particular let’s deal with the challenge that there are Christians who have a kind of armageddon, apocalyptic theology.

Armageddon is a reference to the belief (based on Revelation 16:16) that some Christians have about the last great battle on earth. I am always wary about beliefs based on one particular verse, even more so when it comes in a difficult to grasp book like Revelation. The Bible teaches that just as Christ ascended into heaven so he will return – not this time as a baby in a manager but as the King to judge the whole earth. Revelation chapter 20 speaks of the Millennium, the 1,000-year reign of Christ. There are three basic understandings of that (along with numerous variations); Post, Pre and A-Millennialism.

Post millenialists believe that the Gospel age began with Pentecost and will end when Christ returns, but before he does there will be a great period (not necessarily a literal 1,000 years) in which there will be Gospel prosperity, the Jews will be converted and many come into the Kingdom.

A-millienialists believe that the millennium began with Pentecost and that there will be no special end time blessing.

Pre-millenialists believe that Christ will return, and then establish his 1,000-year reign. It is from this latter group that we get a lot of millennial thinking in the Christian church associated with strong support for the nation state of Israel (the emergence of Israel in 1948 and the occupation of Jerusalem in 1967 is seen as a fulfillment of prophecy). The emergence of the Christian Brethren founded by JN Darby towards the end of the 19th Century, and the Scofield Reference Bible had an enormous impact, especially in the US. End times theology remains incredibly influential (and lucrative). I grew up in that tradition and can testify that the imagery of the Rapture (when Christ returns and takes Christians up to heaven, leaving the rest of the world to get on with it) is very powerful. However I have since come to see that dispensational pre-millennialism is a 19th century creation and is only one particular interpretation of the Bible that is by no means clear on this. The literal and physical are not the same as the literal and figurative.

Whatever one’s view of the millennium (and personally I think as a Christian you could hold any one of the three – the one thing we can all agree on is that Christ is returning as both judge and saviour), it is surely not right to read the USA and the UK into the Bible, when they are not there. However this field does allow for all kinds of weird and wonderful speculations and all manner of eccentricities. At best they are harmless, at worst they can fuel fantasies which could do a great deal of harm. The doctor who told me that the British are the lost tribe of Israel (a rather bizarre heresy known as British Israelitism) is not quite on a par with those who think that Armageddon is coming, so it won’t do any harm to speed it up. Poor theology in the hands of twisted minds is always a dangerous combination.

As Philip Jensen states “Christianity is a big story religion”. There are multiple facets to the cosmic story that it seeks to tell. Sometimes people get bogged down in the details. Sometimes they get things out of proportion. But what is obvious is that there is a clear Christian view of history. It is not directly linear, as some people believe; ie that the world is steadily getting better or steadily getting worse. The Christian view is that the world is moving from the first coming of Christ, to the second, but that it does so as history is moving in circular patterns towards that deliberate end.

I will leave it to Justin Martyr, the early Church apologist, to summarise Christian teaching about the end of the world. “He shall come from heaven with glory, accompanied by his angelic host, when also He shall raise the bodies of all men who have lived, and shall clothe those of the worthy with immortality, and shall send those of the wicked, endued with eternal sensibility, into everlasting fire with the wicked devils.” (First Apology – p180).

Sensible thinking modern Western people of course regard all such talk of the end of the world as medieval, fanatical and depressing. And yet their alternative is, if anything, more apocalyptic. The world will be destroyed by nuclear weapons, climate change, a comet or a virus. Ultimately of course nothing matters because the universe is going to either explode or implode…and there is nothing we can do about it. It’s such a hopeless position. Bertrand Russell spoke of his ‘unyielding despair’ when he contemplated the inevitable death of the universe.

“No fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought or feeling, can preserve a life beyond the grave…all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system; and the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins.”

The Christian has a far greater hope. We believe that this universe is indeed time limited and bound for destruction. But we also believe that the heavens and earth will be renewed. Rather than a universe in ruins, we see a renewed universe. Meanwhile as Romans 8 tells us “We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has? But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we wait for it patiently.”


Published in Christian Today   29th July 2016

The burning issue: Why the Church has got to start talking about hell

Published in Christian Today   25th July 2016


‘Burn In Hell!’ screamed the tabloid headline as it vented the frustration and wrath of ‘the people’ against a particularly evil individual. It’s strange that despite the lack of teaching about hell in the Church, the idea of hell continues in popular culture.

I’m not sure when I last heard any teaching about hell in church, never mind a good old fashioned hell-fire sermon. Isn’t that a wonderful thing? Isn’t the rejection of hell a sign we’ve grown up, matured and finally come into the 21st century? Isn’t this a much nicer picture of God?

Indeed it is. There is only one slight problem. Its not what Jesus taught. Which is a big problem for those who profess to be Christians – followers of Christ.

I spoke at Spring Harvest once and was given the subject of Hell. I guess they thought that a Scottish Presbyterian Calvinist would have that has one of his favourite subjects. I turned up in Skegness and was shown to a large hall, which was heated by two flame-throwers set either side of me. I said that under no circumstances was I going to teach about hell with flame throwers as props! But what astounded me that more than 100 people turned up for the seminar. These were Christians who were concerned that they did not have any real teaching about hell.

Everyone from the Jehovah’s Witnesses to Christopher Hitchens wants to tell us that either Jesus did not teach about hell, or if he did it has been terribly misunderstood. But Jesus taught more about Hell than anyone else in the Bible,  by a long way.

Why would a loving Jesus, gentle Jesus meek and mild, give such horrific teaching? The only reason I can think of is that it is true.

“The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will collect out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all evildoers, and they will throw them into the furnace of fire, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father” (Matthew 13:41-43).

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats… And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:31-46).

Jesus taught that hell is a place of torment and fire, as these Scriptures reveal:

“And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:42)
“Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire” (Matthew 25:41)

In Mark 9:46, Jesus speaks about Hell: “…where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched”.

The bottom line is that Jesus believed that there is an afterlife. He believed that what we do, say and choose in this life determines where we will spend that afterlife. He believes that there is a judgment and after that judgment some will spend their eternity in what we call Hell. It is a place of exclusion, darkness and pain. And it is eternal. That much we know. I am not sure it is wise to speculate beyond that. Images of Dante’s Inferno, magnificent poem though it is, do not really help. It is important not to confuse the speculations of later times with the simple and stark words of Christ.

It is also important to remember that Hell is about justice. I met a man from Manchester who had grown up in a nominally Christian home but had converted to Islam. Why? Because all he ever heard about in his church was a God of love, and he wanted a God of justice, who was not going to leave sin unpunished and who would right every wrong. Ironically his church, who doubtless thought they were presenting a more attractive version of God, had turned him away from Jesus because they presented Jesus as someone who let evil go unpunished. They did not teach the Jesus of the Bible – the one whose love is beyond any human comprehension and yet who spoke so passionately of hell.

In one classic episode of Inspector Morse, set in Australia, Lewis asks Morse about whether he believes there’s a hell. Morse, thinking about the evil and injustice he has seen, muses:

“I hope so, Lewis, I hope so.”

But in Downfall, the amazing German film about Hitler’s last days, Hitler is shown, just before he commits suicide, talking about how his death means he will be at peace. That is what the world believes and its what ‘liberal’ Christianity teaches. It doesn’t matter what you do in life, there is peace at the end. There is no justice, no judgment day. In fact without hell, there might as well be no God.

To reject hell is to reject the teaching of Christ, to demean his atoning work on the cross and to attack the character of God. If you believe that as Rousseau argued “God will forgive me, because that’s his job”, then you end up with a God who is weak, cruel and unjust.

John Milton wrote in his epic poem Paradise Lost:

So spake the Son, and into terrour changed
His countenance, too severe to be beheld,
And full of wrath bent on his enemies. 

(Book VI)

We struggle with the idea of the wrath of God, finding Milton’s description as somehow unpleasant and inhumane. We judge God for being Judge. And yet we ourselves feel perfectly justified in being angry at the injustice we receive and indeed the injustice in the world. Is it wrong to be angry about a truck being driven through a crowd of people in Nice, killing men, women and children? Would there not be something wrong with us if we did not feel anger at the abuse and rape of young children? If it is right for us to feel anger, as weak and fallible humans, will not the Judge of all the earth do right?

There are Christians who believe that ultimately no one goes to hell. Others believe that while hell is real and lasts forever, people within hell will eventually die after suffering the punishment for their sins. The traditional view has been that hell is eternal conscious torment because those in hell keep on sinning and never repent, and so get caught in a never ending cycle of sin and punishment.

I cannot think of Hell without shuddering. I believe what Jesus says and the bottom line is that I believe that God is just. I also believe that Jesus came to save us from hell and that no one needs to go there. Indeed the only people in hell are those who have chosen not to go to heaven.

C S Lewis has been a great help to me in trying to understand something of heaven and hell. The Great Divorce is a fascinating book with lots of wonderful insights (and some things I am not too sure about). In it he says:

“There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, “Thy will be done.” All that are in hell, choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no hell. No soul that seriously and constantly desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened.”

“The choice of every lost soul can be expressed in the words, ‘Better to reign in hell than serve in heaven.’

The reason Jesus came and suffered such a horrendous death was to save us from the eternal death that is hell. He is the Saviour who not only came to save us from hell; he also came to save us for heaven.

Belief in hell is counter-cultural. It is not easy. And there are lots of questions that we will have. But we need to be aware that in denying hell, we are denying the triune God; Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

If we don’t take hell as seriously as Jesus did, I suspect that we will not really take Christianity seriously. And our evangelism won’t really work because the Good News is reduced to denying what Jesus taught and instead telling people that everything is nice and going to be OK. The Holy Spirit comes to convict us of sin, righteousness and the judgment to come (John 16:8). When a Christian says they don’t believe in the judgment to come, they are in effect denying the work of the Holy Spirit.

Maybe it’s time for the Church in the West to recover the teaching of Jesus about hell?

Pie in the Sky when you Die? How to understand heaven

Published in Christian Today   7th July 2016


Have you noticed that every time a celebrity dies (which seems to be occurring at an alarming rate this year – or am I just getting old?) that inevitably the remarks follow about them being in heaven, looking down, playing their guitar etc.  For a generation that is supposed not to believe in God and the afterlife it seems somewhat contradictory. For human beings, it appears there is an understandable fascination with what happens to us when we die. As the preacher in Ecclesiastes tells us, God ‘has put eternity in the heart of man’. Is this just false comfort? Is this just social conditioning for the poor and the weak, to help them cope with the troubles they have in this life, by encouraging them to think of the next? Is it just pie in the sky when you die?

What will heaven be like? I know this sounds strange but even as a Christian for a number of years I struggled with the idea of going to heaven almost as much as I struggled with the idea of going to hell. Not long after I became a Christian I was walking along the beach at Brora in the Eastern Scottish Highlands. It was about midnight and it was a glorious and beautiful crisp and clear night, with the full moon bouncing off the calm sea. I confessed to my companion at the time, the wonderful Bible teacher, Dick Dowsett, that I did not want to go to heaven. He smiled and asked me why not. “Because although I know that it is not really like this, I cannot get out of my head the images of sitting on a cloud, playing a harp, or heaven being like one eternal church service, and then when I look at all this beauty, I think I don’t want to leave that.” Dick looked horrified; “David, you really have no idea about heaven. Stop and think. Look at all this beauty and you have to realise that it is just a foretaste, it is but a shadow. What you see now will be a million times more in heaven.”

One of the images that help me to understand heaven better is that of sight. Now we see but through a glass darkly. Then we shall see clearly. I heard a scientist who was based in the Antarctic explaining that when he stood on his small hill he could now only see 100 miles with the naked eye whereas when he first came to the Antarctic he used to be able to see 400 miles. It was not that his eyes were fading but rather that the environment was becoming more polluted. It struck me that that is a great analogy for heaven. Right now we see dimly. The pollution of sin, the incapacities of our minds and the limitations of our bodies mean that we cannot conceive what God has prepared for those who love him – in the new heavens and the new earth, without the pollution of sin.

Before I sat my driving test I had to go and get an eye test. I thought my eyes were perfect and confidently told the optician that there was nothing wrong with my eyesight. When he covered over one eye and asked me to read the top line on the board, I had to ask, “what board?!” When he gave me glasses and I put them on, everything in the room was clearer. I had not known that my eyesight was so bad because it had gradually deteriorated. That for me is what heaven is like. We think just now that we can judge God, that we can tell him what is right and wrong and that we can even determine that he does not exist. The arrogance is breathtaking because in reality we are blind men shouting at the light that we say does not exist. When Jesus opens our eyes we begin to see, but it is only a beginning. Throughout our lives as we draw closer to Christ we see more and more of the beauty. But it is only when we get to heaven that we will really see and grasp. Then we shall see clearly.

It takes an enormous shift of mind to grasp that what we are living in just now is real, but is not the ultimate reality. We are tasting but this is not yet the banquet. Heaven is not an ethereal dream but a reality to which in contrast this current live I am now living is but a shadow. CS Lewis developed and spoke a great deal about this idea of the Shadowlands. This week’s recommended book is his wonderful story about the difference between heaven and hell –The Great Divorce.

Speaking of which I don’t know a better description of heaven than the latter part of Lewis’ conclusion to the Narnia tales, The Last Battle. “It was the unicorn who summed up what everyone was feeling. He stamped his right fore-hoof on the ground and neighed, and then cried: I have come home at last! This is my real country! I belong here. This is the land I have been looking for all my life, though I never knew it till now. The reason why we loved the old Narnia is that it sometimes looked a little like this. Bree-heehee! Come farther up, come farther in!”

What all of this has to do with Jesus is this. What makes heaven heaven, is the presence of the Lamb. It is Christ who is the joy, light and life of heaven. “We now understand that Jesus himself is ‘heaven’ in the deepest and truest sense of the word – he in whom and through whom God’s will is done,” says Pope Benedict. Heaven is where Jesus is. Hell is where he is not. Anyone who chooses to reject Jesus and live without him is in effect choosing hell.

The Humanist Hope

There are problems, depths and many questions in thinking about all of this. And surely that is the way you would expect it to be? When human beings try to create a heaven on earth just think how weak and pathetic our efforts are in comparison to what God does and promises.

What is the humanist hope? Bertrand Russell expressed it starkly – “No fire, no heroism, no intensity of thought or feeling, can preserve a life beyond the grave…all the labours of the ages, all the devotion, all the inspiration, all the noonday brightness of human genius, are destined to extinction in the vast death of the solar system; and the whole temple of man’s achievement must inevitably be buried beneath the debris of a universe in ruins.”

We are a blob of carbon floating from one meaningless existence to another.

That is really what it all boils down to. Is our life a sad meaningless journey from nothing to nothing? Is life, as Macbeth says in his final speech,

…but a walking shadow; a poor player

That struts and frets his hour upon the stage,

And then is heard no more; it is a tale

Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury,

Signifying nothing.

Or is there something more? Surely everything in you screams out – there is more. Life is a journey – complete with ups and downs. For me as a Christian it is a joy, a feast, but it is not the final destination. We are on the road to somewhere.

That somewhere is tied up with a whole host of words and concepts – beauty, truth, love, life, justice. A few years ago I buried a young man who was a great fan of The Lord of the Rings movies and so the family requested that we play Annie Lennox singing Into the West. It is the song at the end of the last of the trilogy and accompanies the ship sailing into the West. It represents death. And hope. Beautifully phrased and sung. Little wonder that there was not a dry eye in the house.

Lay down
Your sweet and weary head
Night is falling
You have come to journey’s end
Sleep now
And dream of the ones who came before
They are calling
From across a distant shore

Why do you weep?
What are these tears upon your face?
Soon you will see
All of your fears will pass away
Safe in my arms
You’re only sleeping

What can you see
On the horizon?
Why do the white gulls call?
Across the sea
A pale moon rises
The ships have come to carry you home

And all will turn
To silver glass
A light on the water
All Souls pass

Hope fades
Into the world of night
Through shadows falling
Out of memory and time
Don’t say
We have come now to the end
White shores are calling
You and I will meet again
And you’ll be here in my arms
Just sleeping

Whilst we are on the Lord of the Rings – perhaps the following quote encapsulates the Christian hope of heaven.

‘”Gandalf! I thought you were dead! But then I thought I was dead myself. Is everything sad going to come untrue? What’s happened to the world?”
“A great Shadow has departed,” said Gandalf, and then he laughed and the sound was like music, or like water in a parched land; and as he listened the thought came to Sam that he had not heard laughter, the pure sound of merriment, for days upon days without count.’

The hope of heaven and the certainty of arriving at our final destination, the realisation that ‘this world is not my home, I’m just a passing through’, is something which gives us the courage, strength and ability to face all the ups and downs of this present life. It’s not just pie in the sky when you die, but steak on your plate while you wait!

Does Christianity stifle creativity?

Published in Christian Today   21st June 2016


 Isn’t it great to be free! Especially free to be creative. Doesn’t religion shackle creativity? Isn’t it just better to be ourselves and express ourselves? So runs the somewhat narrow and simplistic narrative of some of our culture. Does Christianity really stifle music and the arts? I guess tales of bagpipes being burned (although that may have had something to do with taste rather than theology!), or statues being smashed can fuel that misapprehension. Because, as anyone who knows anything about art or music history, it is a demonstrably false claim.

I once visited the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York and was astounded at the crowds in the 17th, 18th and 19th century galleries. Then I went into the 20th century gallery – there was enough space to play five-a-side football! Why? It’s a complex question but I think one aspect is that largely 20th century art has lost its way, becoming a commercialised caricature of itself (and I say this as someone who likes a great deal of modern art and supports modern art galleries). When someone asks “what is art worth?” and the answer is given, “what any idiot is prepared to pay for it?” then you have reached a level of anti-art which is the real stifler of creativity. Paying £5 million for someone’s bed, or £250,00 for a pair of spectacles left in the middle of the floor, or any other expensive surrealist joke is sadly all too common.

I visited a small Edinburgh art gallery to have a look at the work of an artist I know whose painting is very special. One of his works of art was hanging at a price of around £5,000. It was a beautiful creation that stunned me and filled me with awe (ever notice how really good art inspires worship?) Beside it was a painting which was selling for around £40,000… to say it was rubbish would be to be unkind to garbage. I asked the gallery director why the difference in price and which painting he thought was the better. His answer was revealing. The cheaper painting was by far the best, but the other one was more expensive because of the name on it. Without the name you would have done well to sell it for £10 in a bring ‘n’ buy. With the name it cost £40,000. No-one was going to buy it for the beauty, the quality or the art. Dealers would buy it as an ‘investment’ – hoping that because it cost so much, people would value it!

My church is just up from one of the best art schools in the country, the Duncan of Jordanston College of Art and Design at Dundee University. I love going to their degree shows, though it can be depressing that there are still young artists who think they are being radical by featuring genitalia in their art! One year there was a young jeweller who produced a fabulously intricate, well-designed and beautiful piece of jewellery. She got a 2:2. Then there was another who produced a rotting carrot on chain. They got a First! Much to the embarrassment of the college, the 2:2 went on to become British young jeweller of the year and now makes her living in her chosen craft. I don’t know if the First made it, but I suspect their career was more likely to be in gardening!

Hans Rookmaaker’s Modern Art and the Death of a Culture traces some of the developments in this. It is a classic which examines the relationship between philosophy, worldview, history and art. That’s why it is this week’s highly recommended book of the week.

The fact is that Christianity has always encouraged art. Jesus is supreme patron of the arts. And why not? After all, if we believe that he is God and God is Creator and we are created in his image, then surely that enhances rather than restricts creativity? We are creative because we have been created by the Creator. I used to give a lecture in art colleges entitled ‘Can Artists be Atheists?’ The title really upset some people because they thought I was asking could atheists be artists? – which of course they can! It might appear that the original question has an obvious answer, too. But my point is that it is more difficult for artists to be atheists and to be consistent. How can you have art without the Artist? How can you have creativity without the Creator?

Christianity has always been associated with music as well. Our God is a God who sings. “He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.” (Zephaniah 3:17) There have been many musicians who believe that their music was a gift from God. I remember one atheist saying that the best argument for God he had ever heard was JS Bach. The late great Johnny Cash expressed it well:

“And that was the first time I remember her calling my voice ‘the gift’. Thereafter she always used that term when she talked about my music, and I think she did so on purpose, to remind me that the music in me was something special given by God. My job was to care for it and use it well; I was its bearer, not its owner.”

I am certainly not saying that the best musicians or songwriters are always Christians, far from it. I recall a wonderful scene in a Christian gathering where a young Scot stood up and sang a dreadful song in an American Country and Western accent. It really was cringeworthy – especially when he introduced his self-penned composition with the words: “the Lord gave me this song”. The leader of that particular event, with all the subtlety of my fellow Scots, stood up, walked over, took the sheet of paper from the music stand and with the words of Job, “the Lord giveth, the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord!”, scrunched it up and threw it in the bin.

I am saying, however, that the gift of music is one of the great gifts of God. Calvin taught that of all the gifts God gives us, it is the most powerful. And the great themes of the Bible; creation, humanity, sin, redemption, love, life, death, beauty, ugliness and hope, are the themes out of which the best music arises. I think of a band I absolutely love, The Manic Street Preachers. I love the way they explore these great themes through their music. Although at one level they come across as anti-religious, I think their analysis of the human situation is often spot on, and the questions they ask are all answered in Christ. Richey James, their initial lead singer who sadly disappeared in 2002 (presumed dead), wrote: “I never saw the point of organised religion.” In his desperate search for meaning he tried drugs, alcohol and self-mutilation. He described an idyllic childhood and a rotten adult life. He became obsessed with religion and the basic questions of humanity; latterly carrying a book of biblical quotes everywhere. Their album, The Holy Bible is an album, unlike the real Bible, full of pain, and without any real hope.

The great Dutch Calvinist Abraham Kuyper declared:

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, ‘Mine!'”

That includes art and music. That is why for some of us the notion of Christian music, and Christian art, makes about as much sense as that of Christian sausages or Christian bricks. Music and art are tools given to us by the Creator, to be used for his glory or to be perverted by his Enemy. Christ does not stifle the arts, he frees them. Music is not drowned out by the pious; it is Jesus who puts the song into our hearts.

Was Hitler really a Christian?

Published in Christian Today   10 June


The Hitler challenge: Wasn’t he a Christian?

Adolf Hitler: Was he really a Christian?

I confess. In last week’s column I sinned, at least against the internet gods. I mentioned Adolf Hitler, thus triggering Godwin’s Law, which states that the minute anyone mentions Hitler in an argument they have lost.

It is astonishing how many times Hitler comes up in conversation. It’s not just that people have a seemingly endless fascination with him, it’s the way that the new fundamentalist atheists have adopted ‘Hitler was a Christian’ as one of their mantras. So how do we answer this one?

Certainly not just by saying, “No he wasn’t, he was an atheist.” Nor is it helpful to shrug one’s shoulders and walk away from the discussion, as though it did not matter. Because if Hitler was inspired by his Christianity to do what he did, there is a serious charge to answer.

As it happens I love being asked this question (as for example in this debate with Matt Dillahunty); firstly, because when I did my history degree at the University of Edinburgh my speciality was Weimar Germany and the Nazis; secondly, because it was partly through the question of evil raised by Auschwitz that I became a Christian.

If you are asking whether Hitler was a follower of Jesus Christ, the answer is absolutely no. If you mean, was he baptised as a Catholic and did he sometimes make positive references to Christianity in his public speeches, and did he try to get the Churches on his side, then yes.

But he was not a Christian in any meaningful sense of the word. He did not read the Bible, go to church, or follow Jesus. He hated God’s chosen people, the Jews. It is difficult to see how someone who hated the Jews could follow the greatest Jew of all. As his ideologue Martin Bormann put it: “National Socialism and Christianity are irreconcilable…National Socialism is based on scientific foundations… [it] must always, if it is to fulfil its job in the future, be organised according to the latest knowledge of scientific research.” The condemns “the concepts of Christianity, which in their essential points have been taken over from Jewry”.

Hitler’s Table Talk makes it very clear what his views were.

“The only way of getting rid of Christianity is to allow it to die little by little”.

“In the long run, National Socialism and religion will no longer be able to exist together” (p 61).

“As far as we are concerned, we’ve succeeded in chasing the Jews from our midst and excluding Christianity from our political life” (p 394).

“There is something very unhealthy about Christianity” (p 418).

“When all is said, we have no reason to wish that the Italians and Spaniards should free themselves from the drug of Christianity. Let’s be the only people who are immunised against the disease” (p 145).

“We’ll see to it that the Churches cannot spread abroad teachings in conflict with the interests of the State. We shall continue to preach the doctrine of National Socialism, and the young will no longer be taught anything but the truth” (p 62).

“When understanding of the universe has become widespread, when the majority of men know that the stars are not sources of light but worlds, perhaps inhabited worlds like ours, then the Christian doctrine will be convicted of absurdity” (p 69).

These are certainly not the comments of a Christian. They read far more like comments one can read every day on many atheist/secular comment pages.

On the other hand, there are lots of atheists who use the same quotes all the time to go that Hitler was a practising Christian. For example, Hitler’s statement that

“Secular schools can never be tolerated because such schools have no religious instruction.”

Case closed. Hitler supported Christian schools because he wanted religious instruction. He must have been a Christian. But in quoting history, as in quoting scripture, the key question is always context. That quote is from April 26, 1933, a speech made during negotiations leading to the Nazi-Vatican Concordat. It does not take a genius to work out why Hitler would speak in favour of Catholic schools (the vast majority of schools in Germany were either Catholic or Lutheran) when he was still trying to consolidate his power. Once you know the particular cultural and historical context of the quote it changes it considerably.

Likewise with fact that the SS had Gott mit Uns (God with us) on their belt buckles. What they don’t realise is that this was the traditional motto of the German army and no more indicates Christian conviction than the fact that an American using a dollar note which says ‘In God we Trust’ proves a Christian conviction.

It’s not just reading quotes in context that helps; a wider reading of history does too. Formal quotes in political speeches or literature are not as valuable as private papers and memoirs. In my reading I came across a memoir from his personal secretary Traudl Junge, in which she gave the following fascinating testimony: “Sometimes we also had interesting discussions about the Church and the development of the human race. Perhaps it’s going too far to call them discussions, because he would begin explaining his ideas when some question or remark from one of us had set them off, and we just listened. He was not a member of any Church, and thought the Christian religions were out-dated, hypocritical institutions that lured people into them. The laws of nature were his religion. He could reconcile his dogma of violence better with nature than with the Christian doctrine of loving your neighbour and your enemy. ‘Science isn’t yet clear about the origins of humanity,’ he once said.

‘We are probably the highest stage of development of some mammal which developed from reptiles and moved on to human beings, perhaps by way of the apes. We are a part of creation and children of nature, and the same laws apply to us as to all living creatures. And in nature the law of the struggle for survival has reigned from the first. Everything incapable of life, everything weak is eliminated. Only mankind and above all the church have made it their aim to keep alive the weak, those unfit to live, and people of an inferior kind,” (Until the Final Hour, p 108).

If Hitler was not a Christian, was he an atheist? The answer is we don’t know and nor does it really matter. What is far more important is what influence his anti-Christian views had on his policies. In the film Downfall, Hitler is quoted as saying before his suicide that he was going to be at peace. His lack of belief in God and the judgment of God meant that he thought he would not be accountable for his crimes and that therefore he could get away with them.

Atheists like to argue that atheism, being just a lack of belief, means that it cannot be held responsible for anything. But a reason people go to war might be the absence of belief. If, like Stalin or Hitler, you believe that there is no God to answer to, that might is right and that power comes from the barrel of a gun, you are much more likely to indulge your selfish genes and go to war to get what you want. It is also the case that Hitler clearly did not go to war because he believed in God or because he wanted to spread Christianity. He hated Christianity. On the other hand he did believe that religion was a virus and that the Jews especially were vermin who should be eradicated in order to better preserve the species.

It was all perfectly logical, Darwinian and godless. Perhaps the atheist zeitgeist has moved on. But meanwhile until it is proven otherwise, I would prefer to stick with the tried and tested morality of the Bible.

Speaking of which, what about the question of suffering? I have written about this before, but let me simply state that Auschwitz was for me one of the reasons I became a Christian. It proves the Bible’s teaching if human beings are left to our own devices we will make a mess and a hell of things. As Freddy Mercury, late of Queen, sang at the first Live Aid, “If there’s a God up above, a God of love, then what must he think, of the mess that we’ve made, of the world that he created?”

Two years ago I stood at the gates of Auschwitz in tears. It was not just the industrial scale of man’s inhumanity to man, but also the answer to how to deal with that, which overwhelmed me. Ultimately the atheist worldview has no answer to the problem of evil, as exemplified in the Holocaust. But Christianity does. And that answer is Christ. His life, love, teaching, death and atonement.