I initially thought to title this post ‘because it works’, which is a more basic way of describing the impact of the truths of Christianity on individuals and society. And unlike many arguments this isn’t an argument merely for the existence of God, but rather the fact that the transformation we see in the lives of people who convert to Christianity is consistent with the existence of God, and thus lends credence to the claim He exists.
First though, a couple of observations by objective observers (atheists in this case) which I think demonstrate the claim. The first comes from Penn Jillette, in an interview with Las Vegas Weekly about TV show Bull****!:
Are there any groups you won’t go after?
We haven’t tackled Scientology because Showtime doesn’t want us to. Maybe they have deals with individual Scientologists —- I’m not sure. And we haven’t tackled Islam because we have families.
Meaning, you won’t attack Islam because you’re afraid it’ll attack back …
Right, and I think the worst thing you can say about a group in a free society is that you’re afraid to talk about it—I can’t think of anything more horrific. [...]
You do go after Christians, though …
Teller and I have been brutal to Christians, and their response shows that they’re good ****ing Americans who believe in freedom of speech. We attack them all the time, and we still get letters that say, “We appreciate your passion. Sincerely yours, in Christ.” Christians come to our show at the Rio and give us Bibles all the time. They’re incredibly kind to us. Sure, there are a couple of them who live in garages, give themselves titles and send out death threats to me and Bill Maher and Trey Parker. But the vast majority are polite, open-minded people, and I respect them for that.
What is interesting about this response is its tacit acknowledgement of the transformative power of Christian beliefs – Christianity is distinguished experientially from other belief systems by its ability to change the responses of believers to attacks by opponents. They respond to such attacks with kindness. This is a direct manifestation of the truth articulated in Scripture:
Romans 12:21 (NAS)
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
Another observation comes from Ayaan Hirsi Ali, an atheist, critic of Islam and author from her book Nomad:
The Christianity of love and tolerance remains one of the West’s most powerful antidotes to the Islam of hate and intolerance. Ex-Muslims find Jesus Christ to be a more attractive and humane figure than Muhammad, the founder of Islam.
Hirsi Ali, a Somali émigré to the Netherlands (who is now in the US), has had a unique opportunity to observe the impact of beliefs around the world. Her recommendation for dealing with the oppression of Islam? Christianity. She has said:
So long as we atheists and classical liberals have no effective programs of our own to defeat the spread of radical Islam, we should work with enlightened Christians who are willing to devise some. We should bury the hatchet, rearrange our priorities, and fight together against a much more dangerous common enemy.
Given the choice, I would be far rather live in a Christian than a Muslim country.Despite her lack of belief, she recognizes the transformative power of a belief in Christ. In short, she observes that the effect such belief has on adherent is consistent with the claims of Christianity – and that speaks volumes to the reality it represents.
One last observation, which is a bit older, but I think equally powerful. It comes from Matthew Parris, an atheist writer for the Times of London, concerning the impact of the spread of Christianity on Africans and African culture:
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.
I used to avoid this truth by applauding – as you can – the practical work of mission churches in Africa. It’s a pity, I would say, that salvation is part of the package, but Christians black and white, working in Africa, do heal the sick, do teach people to read and write; and only the severest kind of secularist could see a mission hospital or school and say the world would be better without it. I would allow that if faith was needed to motivate missionaries to help, then, fine: but what counted was the help, not the faith.
But this doesn’t fit the facts. Faith does more than support the missionary; it is also transferred to his flock. This is the effect that matters so immensely, and which I cannot help observing.
First, then, the observation. We had friends who were missionaries, and as a child I stayed often with them; I also stayed, alone with my little brother, in a traditional rural African village. In the city we had working for us Africans who had converted and were strong believers. The Christians were always different. Far from having cowed or confined its converts, their faith appeared to have liberated and relaxed them. There was a liveliness, a curiosity, an engagement with the world – a directness in their dealings with others – that seemed to be missing in traditional African life. They stood tall.
As one who has travelled in Africa and Central America, this claim fits my own experience; the truths of Christianity are exemplified in the visibly transformed lives of those who comes to accept them. This effect is universal, cross-cultural, and powerful. It is not merely anecdotal, but a matter of record.
So I would offer this is is perhaps one of the greatest evidences for the truth of Christianity – it is capable of transforming the lives of believers in the best possible ways in a way no other belief system can.