Sunday, May 05, 2013

Engaging with deepest beliefs

South Cathedral Precinct, Beijing
A very encouraging email from a fairly frequent e-correspondent:
This is just to thank you for all those answers you gave to my questions over a space of months (and months). They were very helpful. I used to be an atheist but by asking around both the Church, friends, family, the web etc.) I am now a Christian. So many thanks to you and others!
The whole question of engaging with people's faith and encouraging them to change their positions is of course quite delicate. One of the important ideas/debates that the excellent Veritas Forum has been promoting is that "tolerance" must include the willingness to engage seriously with people's deep beliefs and have where appropriate a significant debate. Respect for the individual implies, and in a sense demands, a willingness to believe that they are capable to changing their opinions in response to appropriate arguments.

I was recently "evangelised" by a Muslim in the precincts of the South Cathedral in Beijing, which was an interesting experience. He began with "Excuse me, I am not a Christian but I have some questions" and then proceeded to quite scripture at me to "show" that Jesus was not God.  He was of course somewhat unfortunate in picking his "victim" but my reaction was interesting (to me). I got quite angry and dismissive. Clearly he didn't really know what he was talking about and hadn't read the Bible in the original Greek. But I should have been more gracious and tried to get him to see that Jesus "submitting" to the Father is about love and not about power (his points were that "submission" shows that you are not equal and that "submission"  = Islam). 

Of course the doctrine of the Trinity is not obvious - nor for that matter is any other deep truth about the fundamental nature of the universe, why should it be?  But I could have done a much better job of engaging with him - and perhaps would have done if I had been less tired and under time pressure and in a somewhat foreign milieu. And the insights of how it feels to have your fundamental beliefs attacked by someone who thinks they know better than you should stay with me as cautionary tale!


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