Christian Today Digest – Issue 8 2019

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Mother’s happiness is key to happy home, study finds

A mother’s level of contentment has a far greater impact than the father’s on the happiness of the whole family, a new study has found.

Research by the Marriage Foundation revealed that the mother’s happiness is also far more important when it comes to the mental health of the children and her closeness to them in their teenage years.

The study was carried out by Marriage Foundation research director Harry Benson and the University of Lincoln’s Professor Steve McKay, and analysed the data of 13,000 UK families from the Millennium Cohort Study.

The findings suggest an especially strong link between the mother’s happiness during the first year of her child’s life and her levels of happiness later on in life.

The researchers found that mums who reported a high level of happiness when their child was nine months old were far more likely to have a good level of happiness when their child was a teenager.

There was also evidence that happy mothers were more likely to have a stable relationship with their children’s father, while their children were less likely to have mental health problems.

The parents taking part in the study included both cohabiting and married couples who had a child born in 2000 or 2001.

They were questioned six times from the time their children were nine months old up until they reached the age of 14.

Questions examined how happy the parents were with their relationship when their child was nine months old and again 14 years later, as well as whether they had stayed together during this period and whether their teenage children were showing signs of mental health problems.

Parents were also asked about how close their relationship was with their teenage children.

Overall, the researchers said that the mother’s happiness was twice as important as the dad’s when it came to the family’s wellbeing and was more significant than whether the parents were married or not.

Mr Benson said it was evidence that the popular slogan ‘happy wife, happy life’ had some truth to it.

“I’ve always argued that the key to happy family life is for dad to love mum and she will love him right back, in that order. Previous research has supported this idea but it’s been bitty,” he said.

“We think this is the first serious attempt to test the truth of the saying ‘happy wife, happy life’ across four different family outcomes.

“Equality has been excellent for encouraging women into work and men into childcare. But many men now struggle to find a unique role for themselves in family life.

“This research suggests a compelling solution. Men, the best thing you can do for your family is to love the mother of your children. Happy wife, happy life.”

Sir Paul Coleridge, former high court judge and chairman of the Marriage Foundation added: “As with so many traditional family myths, there is more than a grain of truth in this one as the evidence demonstrates.

“In all the contemporary discussion about the appropriate roles for mums and dads in today’s well-adjusted family, it is still crucial not to forget the vital role of wife/mother as the lynch pin.

“Dads would do themselves and their children a favour if they bore in mind that being supportive and kind to the mother of their children is not a sign of weakness but strength and self-confidence.”

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In the age of Brexit, we may be more radicalised than we think

[Andy Flannagan of Christians in Politics on the importance of listening to and engaging with others, even those we don’t agree with]

Have you been radicalised by social media (and other media)?

I suspect your instinctive answer to that question is “No”. We all like to believe that we are impervious to being swayed by propaganda and advertising. Yet strangely marketing and advertising continue to be huge and incredibly profitable industries. Companies would not sow those large amounts of cash if they were not seeing fruit! Perhaps we believe ourselves to be somehow ‘above the fray’ – that less savvy folks may be more easily influenced, but that we fully understand what is going on. I fear we are being naïve to how susceptible we all are to suggestion and the reality that we are fallen creatures longing to belong.

I have had the privilege in the last six months of speaking at Christian festivals and events right across the UK and Europe. As I reflect on our Brexitly divided nation, one moment sticks out. As always at one of our Christians in Politics sessions, I ask for a quick survey from the assembled crowd as to why they have come. Are they already involved in politics, are they hacked off with politics, are they just curious as to how any Christians could even dream of getting involved? It has given me a fascinating insight into the preoccupations, passions and priorities of Christians in the UK.

On this particular afternoon, in the midst of a passionate defence of Brexit, one gentleman shared that he had never read the Guardian, had no desire to do so and didn’t know anyone who did. The next person I chose said, “I have never read the Telegraph, I have no desire to do so and I must confess that until this moment I didn’t know anyone who did”. Cue much nervous laughter.

So we got those two gents together to chat and pray with each other later in the session. They both found it eye-opening. Each of them had not believed that a ‘real Christian’ could think some of the things that their new friend thought. They exchanged emails and promised to keep in touch. Similar (but less dramatic!) connections happened in many other settings.

Happily, the same thing is continuing to happen in Christians in Politics local groups around the country – bringing people together from across the political spectrum, and from both sides of the remain/leave divide, learning to disagree well and to put kingdom before tribe.

As those gents showed, people have always stuck with the newspaper that most fits their worldview. For decades papers have always had differing takes on the same story. In recent times though, it has been notable how the worldview of newspapers has become much narrower and less generous to those who hold even slightly different views.

We need to read with a critical eye. Is what is being presented to us fact? Or is it just opinion? The lines are increasingly and intentionally blurred, and this is taken to dangerous levels when independently owned media corporations have their own news channels. Much of what is presented is not news, but opinion, which is all the more persuasive when presented using the format of a news programme. Then beyond the issue of fact-checking, we have to take a step back and look at the priorities represented by newspapers or websites. What they are printing may be true, but should it be on the front page? Who is telling us which issues are most important in our society?

We need to reaffirm the important vocation of journalism. Without it, democracy does not function effectively. At its best, it holds those with power accountable. Journalism has founding ethics with regard to reporting truth, checking sources, and ensuring balance. The problem is that so much of our information these days does not come through those healthy filters.

In the internet age, everyone can be a newspaper, publishing whatever they want to say, whether it is founded in fact or mere prejudice. So you can be a newspaper, but you can do it without being trained as a journalist. We wouldn’t let people set up medical surgeries if they had not trained to be doctors. Obviously there is much to celebrate about some grassroots stories that come to light that otherwise would not in our new hyper-connected age, but we need to be careful about what we may be sacrificing along the way.

This online free-for-all would not be so problematic were it not connected to the phenomenon that is social media. By now, most of us know how the most extreme versions of what we think are being sold back to us, reinforcing our silo-ed thinking. It is the nature of the beast. Social media algorithms are designed to sell us stuff we already like for profit, and they would not exist otherwise. Our need for vigilance is therefore that much larger. Many of us have probably had the experience of someone who we have known as a loving, relational, open-minded human being surprising us greatly with a post or a tweet. Either they just lose it, knee-jerking some toxic comments or just calmly linking to something we can’t believe that they agree with, never mind want to share with the world.

People are being radicalised. I can’t think of a more appropriate word for it. I know it conjures up connotations of terrorist grooming, but the methodology is very similar. The constant reinforcement of only one opinion on a subject leads to that person becoming more and more convinced of that absolute truth, but also crucially more angry about anyone else not holding that view. Gradually the very humanity of those holding the opposite view is questioned, ceding permission to either verbally or physically ‘take them out’.

Now this is not to say that we should not be seekers of truth. My point is that what we believe needs to be regularly exposed relationally to other viewpoints that may sit alongside it, or in fact stand directly against it. And the key word here is relationally. As we saw with our two friends in my session, it is amazing what can happen and how de-radicalising that can be. And it is very rare for it to happen via social media.

This is also not about finding some fuzzy middle ground and coming to mushy compromises, though it may have that effect in some circumstances. This is about continuing to believe what we believe, but to start mixing in some grace with our truth. This is about reading beyond our borders, be that podcasts, newspapers or websites.

Click where your gut doesn’t want you to click. Buy a paper you normally wouldn’t. You may be surprised what you learn. You may not agree but it may sharpen and improve your arguments, and just maybe you will begin to understand where others are coming from, and that might help you find a common vocabulary to at least have a conversation.

At this point in our country, we are struggling to even curate that shared space. And it is crucial if we are not to slide even further towards a situation akin to the divisions we see in the USA, where two cultures exist together and yet separately within one country. We need people to straddle that gap. Could that be you?

I come from Northern Ireland, so I am all too painfully aware of what happens when tribes exist separately within the same country. In the UK right now, there is a real danger of a cultural divide becoming a cultural chasm, from which we may struggle to return. It’s why we need to stay focused on that bloodied cross that is the only reason we can be reconciled to God, to each other, and to the rest of creation. There we find humility to listen. There we find grace to embrace. There we find power to be transformed. May it be so.

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Archaeologists uncover mosaic showing five loaves and two fish near Sea of Galilee

Archaeologists working on the site of an early Christian church near the Sea of Galilee have unearthed a mosaic depicting five loaves of bread and two fish.

The mosaic was uncovered in the so-called Burnt Church at the Hippos-Sussita dig in Gennesaret, known today as Lake Kinneret, overlooking the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, Haaretz reports.

One of Jesus´ most famous miracles is the feeding of the 5,000 with just five loaves of bread and two fish.

Alongside the bread and fish, the design of the mosaic incorporates pomegranate motifs. The Burnt Church was discovered by a team of archaeologists in July and has since yielded up some ceramics dating the construction of the building to the fifth century.

The building is referred to as the ‘Burnt Church’ because it fell into ruin after being ravaged by fire. In a stroke of good fortune, however, it was the layer of ash that protected the mosaic flooring over the following centuries from sun damage.

Dr Michael Eisenberg, co-director of the Hippos-Sussita excavation, is working at the site alongside Arleta Kowalewska. Both are from the Zinman Institute Archaeology at Haifa University.

Speaking of the site’s close connection to the early followers of Christ, Dr Eisenberg said: “Looking down, they must have thought of the miracles and works of Jesus around the lake just below.”

Mosaic floors have been uncovered in the nave, the apse and the side-aisles. Thanks to the ash layer, their colours remain vivid today.

The loaves depicted in the mosaic are all different colours, something Dr Eisenberg said may have signified different types of bread.

“There are definitely five loaves, not three or six. Their colours may reflect different types of flour, wheat and barley. Then there is the pair of fish on the mosaic in the apse,” he said.

“The association that came to mind was the miracle of the loaves and fish.”

Parents cherish memories of Harvest Festivals and want the same for their children

Many British adults remember taking part in Harvest festivals as children and a majority think there is still value in their own kids taking part today.

The poll by ComRes on behalf of the Church of England surveyed 4,051 adults across Britain and found that three quarters (73%) remember celebrating a Harvest Festival as a child.

Even among those of other faiths (57%) and none (68%), many remembered taking part in a Harvest Festival as a child, although Christians were the most likely to do so (80%).

Most of those surveyed (65%) said they had enjoyed the experience, and those of different faiths (74%) were nearly as likely as Christians (76%) to recall it with fondness.

Women (73%) were more likely than men (54%) to say that they had enjoyed celebrating Harvest as a child, but there was little difference between the age groups, with more than two-thirds (69%) of those aged 65 and over saying they liked it, similar to 18- to 34-year-olds (67%) and 35- to -54-year-olds (63%).

When asked what they thought were “important benefits” of Harvest Festivals, nearly two thirds (62%) said showing generosity to people in need, and half (51%) giving thanks for the good things in their life. Many of those surveyed (48%) said the festivals were important for teaching children where food comes from.

Asked whether they thought there was still value in children participating in Harvest Festivals today, over two thirds (67%) said there was.

Christians were the most likely (77%) to believe it was still a valuable experience for their children, but even many of those belonging to other religions (63%) and those of no faith (57%) agreed that it was a good thing for their children to take part in.

Women (73%) were more likely than men (60%) to say that there was still value in children participating in Harvest Festivals today.

When it came to age, those aged 55 and over were far more likely (74%) to believe it was still a valuable experience for children today, compared to those aged 18 to 34 (60%) and 35 to 44 (66%).

Despite the positive attitudes towards Harvest Festivals, the survey found that many children today are not taking part in one.

Among the parents with a child under the age of 18, 42% said they did not participate in a Harvest Festival.

Less than a third (29%) said their children took part in a service or activity in a school or nursery, while only one in five of the parents (19%) said their children participated in a visit to a church organised by a school or nursery.

Religiously unaffiliated parents were the most likely (47%) to say that their children do not take part in any Harvest Festival, compared to a third (35%) of Christians.

The Church of England’s Chief Education Officer, The Revd Nigel Genders, said he wanted to see more schools celebrate harvest.

“Harvest Festival is just one of the ways that the Christian tradition enriches the lives of children of all backgrounds as part of daily collective worship,” he said.

“It’s encouraging to know that parents agree, and there is a clear call for more schools of all kinds to use the coming weeks to celebrate harvest, and I hope many will do so.

“Harvest is a wonderful opportunity for all schools and nurseries to help children and young people to think about how food reaches their plates, and to say thank you for all they have received, as well as giving to those in need.”

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Outgrowing Atheism: it’s time for Richard Dawkins to grow up

David Robertson on everything that’s wrong about Richard Dawkins´ new book.

Although its readers were to name him one of the top three intellectuals in the world, Prospect magazine gave a scathing review to Richard Dawkins´ anti-religion polemic The God Delusion, writing at the time, “It has been obvious for years that Richard Dawkins had a fat book on religion in him, but who would have thought him capable of writing one this bad? Incurious, dogmatic, rambling and self-contradictory, it has none of the style or verve of his earlier works.” That did not stop TGD becoming a multi-million copy bestseller.

At a personal level I am thankful to Richard Dawkins because he opened the door for me and others to proclaim the Good News of Jesus to tens of thousands who would not have heard it otherwise. In fact, I have met more people who were converted to Christ through Dawkins, than have been converted to atheism. I wrote a book called The Dawkins Letters, which the Lord still continues to use.

There was however a down side to this – the level of vitriol from what I came to recognise as the New Fundamentalist Atheists, was at times overwhelming – something which rather sadly was encouraged by Dawkins with his mocking and sneering tone. And the arguments Dawkins used (largely borrowed from previous atheists such as Bertrand Russell) although simplistic and naïve, were repeated ad nauseum in schools and through the secular media.

Which brings us on to Outgrowing God: A Beginners Guide, Dawkins latest book, published on September 19. It is designed for young people so I was interested and intrigued by what he would say. Had his argument developed? Would he have taken account of the weaknesses? Would he be able to explain and discuss in such a way that young people could grasp and think for themselves?

The arguments he uses are just a rehash of those in TGD, as are many of the illustrations and stories. So we have all the old ones – atheists just worship one god less; evolution proves there is no God; you don’t need God for morality; and of course the oldie but goldie, ‘who created God, then?’.

He’s even got the same old stories and illustrations – the cargo cult, the universe where you have a green moustache, the (mis) citation of Hitler etc.

Dawkins pontificates as though he were an expert in subjects which he knows very little about. Space does not permit me to list all the subtle and howling errors. But here are a few of the simplistic lowlights.

People worship Jesus all over the world today because of a historical accident in AD 312; the Trinity is polytheistic. Paul says virtually nothing about the life of Jesus. Until now nobody doubted the Gospels. Revelation was the inspiration for the doctrine of the rapture. There is little or no evidence for the existence of Abraham, David, and Moses, and perhaps Jesus didn’t even exist. If he did, he may have said some cool things but he really was not nice.

Dawkins does strain at gnats while swallowing camels. He is so desperate to disprove the Bible that he will grab any bit of confirmation bias he can. He confidently asserts knowledge he does not have. One example is his claim that Abraham could not have existed when Genesis said he did (2nd millennium BC) because camels (mentioned in Genesis) were not domesticated until hundreds of years afterwards – and yet we have evidence of camels being used in the 3rd millennium BC.

If you want to understand how Dawkins works, take this example: “No serious scholar today thinks that the Gospels were written by eye-witnesses.”

Here you need to grasp how Dawkins uses language. “Serious scholar” means ‘someone who agrees with me’. If they don’t they obviously can be neither serious nor a scholar. Which is why he can dismiss, if he even knows about, Professor Richard Bauckham of the University of St Andrews, whose serious scholarly work Jesus and the Eyewitness is an authoritative piece of academic research.

Likewise when Dawkins confidently asserts that no “educated theologian” believes that Adam and Eve, or Noah is history. But I’m educated (two degrees) and I’m a theologian, and I believe they are history. I may be wrong. But Dawkins´ simplistic Emperor’s clothes attitude – ‘any intelligent person will see that the Emperor is wearing the finest clothes´ – is easily exposed.

One of my favourites is his repeated argument that there is very little about Jesus in the contemporary written histories of the first century. Why should there be? Jesus was a Jewish peasant on the fringes of the Empire who died an ignominious but not uncommon death. Why would any contemporary historian write about him?

Or how about this: “‘Isn’t it remarkable that almost every child follows the same religion as their parents, and it always just happens to be the right religion!” Dawkins misses out the rather obvious point that this is also true for secular atheists – whose children happen to follow their position – which remarkably happens to be just the right position!

Then there is the unlikely anecdotal hearsay evidence that he uses, for example, when he asserts that when he asks Christians what the Ten Commandments are, they can only remember one – ‘thou shalt not kill’. Either his Christian acquaintances are extremely limited or he’s not telling the truth. Most of us can remember about not stealing, committing adultery, keeping the Sabbath, etc.

He is also not averse to twisting the Bible to make it mean what he wants it to mean: “What the Sixth Commandment originally meant was ‘Thou shalt not kill members of thine own tribe.’“

But it’s not just in his attempt to diss the Bible that Dawkins shows both illogicality and a lack of knowledge. It’s also when he asserts his own faith. To him evolution is much more than a scientific theory that explains how life develops – it is the theory of everything. It proves that things are getting better – including wars, human morality and the world in general.

Whilst mocking the God of the gaps argument (an argument that we do not use) he sets up his own blind faith – the science of the gaps. We don’t know but one day science will be able to explain (and sort) everything. He believes so passionately that science and Christianity are opposed that he cannot seem to comprehend the many Christians who are scientists.

One area where I was surprised was his argument for abortion: “You can define a fertilized egg as a human being if you like. But it doesn’t have a nervous system, so it can’t suffer. It doesn’t know it’s been aborted, feels no fear or regret. A woman has a nervous system.”

If Dawkins were being consistent and logical, this would mean that he is opposed to all abortion after a few weeks – when the baby does have a nervous system.

He is hopelessly all over the place with morality. On the one hand, he argues that the universe has no moral properties, and that there should be no lines and boundaries. On the other, he argues against the “immorality” of the Bible and for the absolutist belief that “causing suffering is wrong” – unless of course it is the suffering of the unborn child, or the Christian who is refused the right to educate their child according to their faith.


In summary, all I can say is that he’s done it again. Richard Dawkins has managed to produce a book on theology, history, philosophy, ethics and science that is even worse than his first.

Outgrowing God is a dumbed down version of TGD, which itself was a dumbed down version of more classical atheist arguments. Apart from the half of the book that is about evolution and where the writing is at times beautiful and often informative, it is poorly written, badly researched and relies on ridicule and ad hominem rather than rational and intelligent discussion.

Dawkins wants to assure us that the atheist emperor is covered in a fine robe of scientific rationalism. He argues that those who do not see this are ‘uneducated’ and to be frank, quite thick. Of course there are those in the fawning interviews and book reviews who will declare that the emperor is fully clothed and in his right mind. But his book only demonstrates that the emperor is naked.

The childish arguments and sneering mockery only show his inability to see beyond his own prejudices and preconceptions. It’s time for him to outgrow his atheism and mature in his thinking. If our society follows the philosophy and faith of Dawkins we will be heading into a dark abyss. It’s time for another Christian Enlightenment.

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