by Trevor Pitt
from Signs of the Times No. 63 - Oct 2016
Can a robust case for Christianity be made in an increasingly anti-religious culture without watering down its main tenets?
Rupert Shortt, a journalist and religion editor of the Times Literary Supplement, in this brief but incisive book mounts the charge that waning levels of belief in God represent popular trends which actually rest on nothing more than a series of misrepresentations or caricatures.
In five wide-ranging chapters, referencing an impressive array of writers in the fields of science, philosophy and theology, he makes a considered, compelling and personal defence of mainstream Christianity as a coherent, progressive and intellectually robust option for the future of western society. In the face of sustained intellectual attack, Shortt insists that anti-religionists who so readily dismiss Christian faith wholesale should actually know something about what they critique, and should realise that the God they so easily dismiss is not the God most Christians would endorse. Indeed, hard-line atheism often looks like a new form of dogmatic religion, and although recognising, of course, that its
one great asset is the ignorance and charlatanism of much Christian fundamentalism with its toxic social values, Shortt also notes how ‘secular liberalism tends to be very coy about its own imperialism’.
Having established the nature of the case against God, Shortt takes up in his third brief chapter a review of traditional thought about God as uncaused, uncreated (No Thing), and so not a part of reality as we understand it. Grown-up Christianity is therefore ‘not thinking our way into a new way of living, but living our way into a new way of thinking’. A further chapter deals constructively with practical questions about possibilities for intelligent religious practice in lively, self-critical churches. Theology can never be lightly brushed aside, and must have a highly constructive role to play in a world becoming ever more religious as secularisation goes into reverse. Western culture simply cannot afford to dispense with Christian sources of wisdom, ‘because writing off our own history risks writing off our future as well’.
This excellent little book is a sophisticated and generous commendation of the Christian faith to a society increasingly ignorant of its positive contribution to civilised well-being. Its opening claim that
‘the Churches have weathered the storms of modernity... and for all their shortcomings are the greatest single fount of social capital on earth’