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December 27, 2008


Matthew Parris on form again – What Africa really needs

by quaesitor

Picked up by a number of blogs, Matthew Parris has written a brilliantly provocative piece in today’s Times: As an atheist, I truly believe Africa needs God. He has wonderfully resisted the western secular agenda that lies behind so many development agencies, despite being an avowed atheist, with its barely disguised disdain for what is fundamental to African culture and life. But Parris knows what Africa is like – he was brought up in what is now Malawi, and has returned many times. And more importantly, he has seen what Christians actually do, and what impact it actually has

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.

The fascinating thing in all this is that Parris refers to the Christian God and not any other (especially not the Muslim god). As someone who has reservations about the value of a lot of development work in Africa, i have to say that this article has made a hugely important contribution. If only people would take it seriously.

Read the whole article – and some of the comments are great too. Here are 3:

It seems to me that Christianity inspires its adherents to build hospitals, schools, orphanages and clean water projects in a way that other religions do not. At the same time you hear so little of Christian suicide bombers walking into crowded Muslim weddings and blowing themselves up. Brice Baker, Waterford, USA

As an African I have to say well done Mr Parris. I may not agree 100% with all you’ve said, but I can detect this is coming from the heart and you do care about what happens to Africa. Ben U, Benin City, Nigeria

As an African, I applaud your ‘out of the box’ thinking, which is very much at variance with a neo- Marxist orthodoxy that seeks 2 blame colonialism and the West for Africa’s problems. Naturally, expect 2 be maligned by left-leaning intellects that fetishize the “Noble Savage”. A book next? Baraka, Washington, DC, USA

4 Comments Post a comment
  1. Dec 27 2008

    Yeay! Wasn’t it refreshing to read an atheist saying how positive an impact Christian faith has on Africans… The question for me is probably: why does it work in Africa, but not, apparently, show such positive effects in the UK?

  2. Dec 28 2008

    Hi Mark,
    I too found it interesting that he so specifically singled out Christianity. He’s also resisting cultural relativity by saying there are ways to critique cultures and he is reporting something he has observed – so there’s an “empirical” element to his article that leads him to be able to say, “In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts” but as Cheryl points out he doesn’t go further. He doesn’t conclude that the UK needs Christianity (or I would argue Christ not Christianity). So though he’s arguing that it is true and real he is doing so in a geographically limited way. Christ might be Lord in Africa but not in the UK nor of him.
    Still he makes a fantastic arguement against the ‘preaching the gospel at all times and if necessary use words’ since he is highlighting that though good works are important that it is the truth-content of the message that has an individual and collective liberatory and culture-shifting effect.


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