In the first decade of the twenty-first century there has been an upsurge in
public discussion of the 'religion question'. This phenomenon has occurred
throughout the Western world, and many factors have contributed to it. 9/11 and
other jihadist atrocities, the 'war on terror', the invasions of Afghanistan and
Iraq, natural disasters such as the 2004 Boxing Day tsunami, the looming threat
of climate change - all these have generated widespread existential angst. But a
number of other, quite disparate influences have also been at play, including -
in the West - unprecedented material affluence coupled with worsening
In this fraught and unsettled atmosphere, popular 'debate' about religion has
tended to be conducted by zealots and opportunists on all sides - posturing
politicians, commercially-motivated proselytisers, radical atheists, and
high-profile 'leaders' of the main faiths. The resultant discourse has left many
ordinary citizens angry and confused, or - worse - indifferent and uninformed.
Not nearly enough light has been shed on the underlying theological issues,
which remain fascinating and vital. The questions 'Is there a God?' and 'What
does God expect of me?' are the most important questions of all. Grappling with
them is - or should be - what religion is actually about.
Deep down, most people understand this - even people who live in overwhelmingly
secular countries such as Australia. The key issues are rarely done justice here
by our mainstream electronic and print media, and they are scarcely taught at
all in our public schools. Since those are the two sources from which most
Australians derive their knowledge of the world, it is not surprising that
apathy about matters spiritual runs deep. Nowadays you are unlikely to know much
about Christianity unless you were instructed in it by your parents or sent to a
church school. And yet, according to public opinion surveys, a large majority of
Australians still profess to believe in God. In the 2006 Census, only 18.7 per
cent of people classified themselves as having 'no religion'.
What these surveys are truly measuring is, I suspect, a state of uncertainty. A
good many Australians must realise at some level that they do not know enough
about Christianity, or any religion, to dismiss the notion of a deity out of
hand; and they are reluctant to profess atheism. Many such people might sense
instinctively that they ought to learn more about this most seminal of subjects
- but they do not want to go to church to do it, and most choose to stay away.
That circumstance gives rise to a big practical problem: ignorance, even among
those who are otherwise well educated.
In many ways I am a most unlikely person to write a book defending Christianity.
A decade ago the idea would have struck me as preposterous...
Buy the book to read the rest!