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Did you know that the early Christians were considered atheists by the Romans? It started with the Jews. Romans worshiped many gods but the Jews refused to worship anything but their one God. Because of their lack of acknowledgement of the gods of Rome they were labelled ‘atheists’ and it wasn’t long before Christians, who their shared belief in one God, came under the same judgment.
Strange as it may seem, this is perhaps one thing Christians have in common with today’s atheists—we don’t believe in gods. Our differences are over the reality of the one God!
Despite the predictions of many that there would be a gradual decline and privatisation of religion starting in Europe and extending throughout the world, the opposite has happened. Religion has made a comeback over the last three decades, is increasingly political and is certainly not private. Just take for example, “fundamentalism”, or the growth in the worship of nature, or what some are calling “religious terrorism.”
This probably explains why there aren’t very many true atheists in Australia. The last census showed that over 60% are still are willing to call themselves Christian, albeit, most have lost all connection with anything “church”. Other research shows the vast majority have an openness for spiritual things believing in something bigger than themselves that helps them make sense of their lives. “I don’t go to church, I don’t pray, and I’m not religious, but I do believe in some kind of a higher power.”
I suggest there are many who may call themselves atheists but still hold there is something outside of themselves, even if they are unclear what it is. Theologians call this “somethingism”. People believe there must be something, but are not willing to call it “God.”
I wonder if this is where many Australians are at. Rationally and consciously they reject the God of their ancestors, yet emotionally and subconsciously their hearts remain open.
We face interesting challenges as we endeavour to dialogue with “somethingism” and converse with those who believe they have rejected the God we believe in. Perhaps we can learn from C.S. Lewis who would ask his friends, “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in. It may be that I don’t believe in that God either.”
Too many people suffer under their image of God, but it is not the God we worship. May God grant us an ability to empathise with them and maybe help them to begin to see the God from a different point of view.
Stephen L Baxter
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