The Heart of Africa
My Internet reading has once again led my attention toward Africa. On December 27, 2008, the London Times published a short article by Matthew Parris with the long and attention-grabbing title, “As an Atheist I Truly Believe Africa Needs God.” The even longer subtitle summarizes the bottom line: “Missionaries, not aid money, are the solution to Africa’s biggest problem—the crushing passivity of the people’s mindset.” Parris doesn’t explain why he is still an atheist, but he does a stunning job of explaining why his view of Christian missionary efforts in Africa has drastically changed in recent years.
In late 2008, Parris returned to Malawi—which he knew as Nyasaland when he was a boy there—to visit the work of a charity that helps provide rural Malawians with safe water. Parris was impressed with the humanitarian work, but he was even more impressed with the changes he saw in Africans who had become strong Christians. Gone was the passivity he had been accustomed to see in their faces and manners, replaced by a confidence and self-reliance that he felt he had to credit, despite his atheism, to their new-found Christian faith. “Christianity changes people’s hearts,” he concluded. “The rebirth is real. The change is good.”
We are left to wonder how a spiritual message that Parris believes to be untrue could be have such a visible and healthy effect on converts. If a God who doesn’t exist can work such miracles, think what he could do if he really is what the missionaries say he is. I could speculate on how Parris might explain the paradox, but I hope he will attempt it himself in a later essay.
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Phillip E. Johnson is Professor of Law (emeritus) at the University of California at Berkeley. He is the author of Darwin on Trial, The Wedge of Truth, The Right Questions (InterVarsity Press), and other books challenging the naturalistic assumptions that dominate modern culture. He is a contributing editor of Touchstone.
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