Advancing Atheism at Easter
A regular article written by Phillip Jensen in his role as Dean of Sydney at St Andrew's Cathedral.
3rd April 2009
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It is sad that society needs to be encouraged to be social. It is sadder still that Christians need to be encouraged to be Christian.
Individualism has become a way of life - with its mantras about personal freedom and the right to choose. It is part of a complex of values: materialism, consumerism, secularism and hedonism which all flow out of atheism.
All religions create a particular way of life and ethical system. Some are worked out intellectually; others evolve from the nature of the religion’s beliefs and practices.
Atheism is committed to a non-spiritual world-view. It therefore sees value only in what can be touched, sensed, enjoyed, owned. The atheists often have a great desire for moral values above the material but they are not a logical outcome of their belief and rarely reflected in their behaviour. Humanistic ethics carry very little power to change lives or societies except by Government imposition. There is very little atheistic agreement about the “good life”. The best that the utilitarians came up with was the pursuit of happiness.
While most Australians are not atheists by conviction they are in practice. It is the religion they do not believe in but which they practice, as opposed to Christianity, which is the religion they do believe in and do not practice.
Overwhelmingly Australians believe in God or a spiritual “other world” existence even if they may not be too clear on what it involves or how to engage with it. But they firmly deny atheism. Yet in Australia today there is a steady drift towards atheism.
This drift is not by intellectual persuasion but by embracing the lifestyle. Australians do not believe in materialism. But they are materialists. It is a sad contradiction that people deny physical materialism and yet are economic materialists. It is this materialistic pursuit of pleasure that leads to individualism (my pleasure) and consumerism (treating all relationships as the buying and selling of goods and services) and finally into secularism and “no religion”.
Last month’s proposals on opening shops and off-course gambling over the Easter holidays raised the ugly head of materialism. Opposition came from many quarters. It is hard to justify the need for more shopping or gambling in our society. The Government held firm against further materialistic intrusion into family and community life. They held firm this time - but the pressure will come again next time and the time after. (It is as certain as the media story of some great new discovery that proves Christianity is false. This happens every Christmas and Easter - you can count upon it.)
Last month the intellectual atheists played the “Christians forcing their religion onto society” card to oppose the ban on Easter shopping. For them it is the oppression of individual human rights. “I should be free to trade whenever I want without any regard to other people’s religious views.” “Why should Christians dictate when I should be allowed to shop?”
They forget the history of our culture. In their thirst for individualism they miss the point that Christianity creates relationships, community and society. It is not critical to us which day we have as a public holiday - it is just important that we have such days - so that people, families, communities can relax and recreate together. Within the Christian gospel there are no special days or “Holy Days”. Every day is lived for the Lord and in service of others.
By very long standing social convention we have established Sunday as our weekly holiday when we can gather with God’s people to hear his word, sing his praises, thank him for his kindness and pray for his help. But that is not the only day in a week in which we do it. And annually there are a couple of days, notably Christmas and Easter, when we take time to particularly remember with joy and thanksgiving the central facts of the gospel.
Australian Christians have the wonderful benefit of public holidays in which to celebrate together the birth and death of Jesus. But friends, if we do not use them, we will lose them.
Some years ago the government noticed that very few people were celebrating Australia Day. We had a long weekend, but who remembered that Monday was “Australia Day”? It was just the long weekend at the end of the summer holidays. The point of the holiday was lost.
Consequently, the Government abandoned the long weekend and celebrated Australia Day on the 26th of January, whichever day of the week it fell on. They also created a large number of nationalistic activities and gatherings to remind the nation of our identity and to create some social cohesion.
Good Friday is not a “Holy Day”, but it is a day in which Christians can proclaim and remember the centrality of the Cross. It is a day when we can take time out of our busy lives to gather with God’s people to celebrate the most important event in human history, the most significant event in our lives, and the very basis of our fellowship together as God’s people.
It is no sin to celebrate Easter as just another long weekend for personal leisure. We are not under any law about days or seasons or months. But we are unwittingly evangelising for atheism. We are advancing the cause of the gospel’s opponents. For atheism’s appeal is not the ideas but the lifestyle. We will not reach our society with the gospel of Jesus by giving priority to the pursuit of pleasure over the proclamation of the cross.
Furthermore we are missing out on the opportunity to use our time to build our identity and create our cohesion around Christ and his death and resurrection. The Government was right about Australia Day; it is time Christians get it right about Easter!
There are many worthwhile things to do this Easter apart from church on Friday and Sunday. Christians and churches can easily spend time on Good Friday afternoon or evening praying for the evangelisation of our city. Thousands of Christians spend the weekend at the Katoomba Easter Convention.
Here at the Cathedral on Friday afternoon we hold the annual Cathedral Easter Convention. This year my brother Peter will join me in speaking of Jesus. In the evening our choir and orchestra will bring to us Handel’s Messiah.
We have Easter holidays to celebrate our Lord’s death and resurrection - let’s use them for this purpose.