Brieley, Oldfield & O'Connor

Christian revival: fantasy or reality?


May 14, 2024
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With recent examples of high-profile atheists publicly converting to religious faith, or aligning with ‘cultural Christianity’, it seems the tide might be turning against secularism in Britain and America. But do stars of the rationalist movement finding faith mark a greater social shift? Joining UnHerd to discuss this very question are presenter of ‘The Surprising Rebirth Of Belief In God’ podcast Justin Brierley, host of ‘The Sacred’ Elizabeth Oldfield and Alex O’Connor, otherwise known as the ‘Cosmic Skeptic’. You can watch the full event above.


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Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
14 days ago

It was interesting, but you should have had a heavyweight rationalist in the panel to puncture some of the contradictory rubbish that Justin Brierley and Elizabeth Oldfield came out with, because with all due respect to Alex O’Connor, he was too respectful and not sceptical enough. Someone to throw a bucket of ice-cold water over the warm soothing bath (or perhaps bathos) that the other two panelists created was needed.

Having said that, Alex brought to the table that Ayaan Hirsi Ali quote from her discussion with Dawkins, re the virgin birth – “…I choose to believe it…”. The follow up to that is of course obvious, but it seems no one wanted to go there, probably out of a painfully human respect for the dark suicidal place Hirsi Ali found herself in. But, um, as I’m much more cold-blooded about calling out nonsense, I, um, choose to rip into that choice. The first and very obvious point to make is that you have just pulled the carpet from under yourself if you also want to disclaim that a man can change sex simply because he chooses to believe it. A second point I would make is, we know that countless biochemicals (or lack of them in cases) alter your mind state, (or perhaps we can choose to not believe that as per taste) from hormones produced by your own body, to flora found in nature, to man-made drugs. The question then begged is, if the dark place Hirsi Ali found herself in perhaps had a biochemical cause, how do you know the belief system she has now imbibed does not have the same source? Or perhaps someone wants to claim the delusional state was the earlier one when she bought into atheism?

Mark O
Mark O
13 days ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Nah… Alex was a great conversational partner in the discussion. Speaking truth when it needed to be said. Acknowledging when it needed to be acknowledged.

Campbell P
Campbell P
13 days ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

The Christian faith is not founded on feelings but on facts. That some choose to be led by their feelings rather than by the facts is not surprising, especially when they have been indoctrinated by scientific materialism and cynically sceptical self-styled ‘liberal’ atheists who consider only the facts which suit them. You have only to watch Richard Dawkins squirming in his seat when debating Professor John Lennox as he tears Dawkins’ arguments to pieces on the grounds of reason and logic. Atheists and sceptics of Christian doctrine should listen to Lennox for the theological case for Christ and to the increasing number of scientists who, from the evidence, have come to accept ‘design’ rather than ‘chance’ behind the creation.

Martin Tuite
Martin Tuite
4 days ago
Reply to  Campbell P

“The best data we have concerning the big bang are exactly what I would have predicted, had I nothing to go on but the five books of Moses, the Psalms, the Bible as a whole.” The Nobel laureate Arno Penzias, who did crucial work in discovering cosmic microwave background radiation.

Dumetrius
Dumetrius
10 days ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Surely the correlation is workable, since in our society we have freedom of religion, so others do not have to believe he’s a woman, just as no one who doesn’t want to, has to go to Ms Ali’s church.

William Brand
William Brand
12 days ago

Cultural Christianity is a fallacy. Christianity is the belief that Jesus of Nazareth is the son of a verry real God named Jehovah who died and rose again. One must ask Jesus to grant him salvation through the blood of Christ. Today we are about to experience the rapture of the Church and the rise and 7-year rule of the Antichrist. Trying to get the results of Christianity without belief in Christ is a false church such as will be created during the 7-year tribulation.

Nicholas Taylor
Nicholas Taylor
10 days ago

Listening to the Panel, and their perception that Christian religiosity is reviving, I find it hard to understand how anyone can choose to subscribe or ‘convert’ to something without concern as to whether it is true, apparently unable to distinguish between reality, narrative, wishful thinking, and an emotional rush.
Christianity raises a further problem for me, namely what Christians really believe, setting aside the nebulous concept of ‘God’ and rote formulae repeated in churches.
Given that the nominal foundation of Christianity is the person of Jesus, a specific problem is with him and the teachings attributed to him. As I understand it, after Jesus’ death there were two rival movements: of James (‘brother’) who emphasised the Law; and Paul who emphasised Faith based on revelation.
The gospels were written at least 30 years later. There are substantial inconsistencies between them, for example in the circumstances of Jesus’ descent and birth, and contrivancies linking him to king David and repeatedly citing fulfilment of prophecies in the Hebrew Bible. That persuades me they are mostly fiction.
To my mind one possible exception is the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew’s gospel. Its emphasis on Law, and its terse even fundamentalist style, suggest that the principles it lays down could have been transmitted through James. In contrast, for example, the parables later in the book are so full of detail that they would have needed a professional scribe to record and preserve them. Where is that document, I wonder?
Then there are the conflations that transform Jesus from one who comes “not to destroy the law, or the prophets … but to fulfil” first into an earthly king, then a divine Lord, then the divine judge at the apocalypse, and finally equal with God at the apex of a holy hierarchy. Where does one draw the line between the plausibly historical and considered, and the fantastical and gratuitous? My instinct is to place it earlier rather than later.
If that is correct it reinforces the atheist humanist position. However, given the moral weakness of secular humanism in competition with illiberal and theocratic movements, as well as its apparent ineptitude in dealing with current socio-economic problems, reviving ‘Christianity’, for want of a better term, may be the only way currently available to recover confidence in the best of post-Enlightenment and historical Christian culture.
This appears to be what Ayaan Hirsi Ali and others perceive, and what can justify Richard Dawkins’ reported conversion as a ‘Cultural Christian’. Now we need to decide urgently what we actually mean by ‘Christian civilisation’.
Towards the end, the Panel turns to the need for love, where there should be no problem as it is there in the Sermon in black and white (together with misogynistic declarations concerning divorce and some quirky ideas about fowls and lilies). Conversely, I find it hard to understand why anyone should be concerned about elements in the confusion of the Christian scriptures that are disagreeable to the modern mind. Why would one place any more weight on them than on any other ancient writing?

philip kern
philip kern
8 days ago

“The gospels were written at least 30 years later. There are substantial inconsistencies between them, for example in the circumstances of Jesus’ descent and birth, and contrivancies linking him to king David and repeatedly citing fulfilment of prophecies in the Hebrew Bible. That persuades me they are mostly fiction.”
Few scholars would date Mark that late. And Paul’s writings, which were written in the 50s, contain elements of the gospels historical claims–e.g. 1 Corinthians 15 speaks of witnesses, some who are still alive, seeing the risen Jesus, 3 days, etc. In fact, there appears to be a fair bit of ‘historical’ material woven into the letters written in the 50s that has already taken on a settled form prior to his writing–so probably originating back in the 40s A.D. Moreover, the argument from prophecy cuts both ways.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
8 days ago

How atheists love to strut and prate. It goes with extremely high self-regard, which you find filed under the general heading of solipsism.

Martin Tuite
Martin Tuite
4 days ago

the nebulous concept of ‘God’?
The existence of God is not an outlandish concept. Many quantum physicists like Paul Dirac thought of existence of God as a plausible explanation for the improbable nature of origin of life on this universe.
One of the founding fathers of quantum theory, he posed the question: “If physical laws are such that to start off life involves an excessively small chance, so that it will not be reasonable to suppose that life would have started just by blind chance, then there must be a God.
“God is a mathematician of a very high order, and He used very advanced mathematics in constructing the universe.”

Nanda Kishor das
Nanda Kishor das
1 day ago

Asking someone wether they believe in the virgin birth is a confusion of categories and terms. The virgin birth and the triple nature of divinity, for example, are items of revealed theology; they cannot be understood or demonstrated, so calling them out as false makes no sense. Debates between atheists and people of faith should be kept strictly within the grounds of *natural* theology, which deals with how reason can come to terms with the philosophical arguments that establish the necessity of God. Items of revealed theology are beyond reason, but they are not te be simply “believed” by people –their truth is to be directly seen or experienced as the consciousness of the faithful goes deeper into spiritual practice.

Mustard Clementine
Mustard Clementine
13 days ago

Religious debates often get too caught up in abstract theological discussions rather than focusing on the tangible, real-world impacts of religious practices and societies, which too commonly overemphasize uniformity, rigid thinking, and suppress the evolution of the stories we tell and what stories are helpful to us. I find it ironic that in a room of people likely to criticize herd mentality, this argument wouldn’t come up. While I respect personal beliefs, the drive to impose them on others promotes divisiveness and groupthink. In this way, religion often hinders progress rather than improving people. I don’t see a regression towards religion as a way to fill a hole; I see it as a sign we are entrenching ourselves deeper.

Michael Askew
Michael Askew
12 days ago

But bear in mind that our society is almost entirely secular – a way of thinking, believing and behaving that every child grows up assuming is normal. The secular viewpoint is therefore imposed on us all without us realising it.

Jerry Carroll
Jerry Carroll
8 days ago

Religious beliefs are not imposed, they are received.