Friday, November 6, 2009

Is This It? - More on The Alpha Course

Posters like this are appearing outside churches across the UK as part of the Alpha Course. There is one outside Morningside Baptist Church which I pass every day. This has made me think further about the issue so I present these thoughts as additional to my previous article on the subject.

Is this it?

What exactly is "this"? Its not explained on the poster so presumably we are to make up our own minds. I am sure that the people behind Alpha would say that the question is about existence and the meaning of life, but clearly it is aimed at our satisfaction with the substance of every day life as its during every day life that we are passing and reading this poster. The provocative question seems to be aimed at people who are disatisifed with life. Not just marginally disatisfied with some aspect of their life, but thoroughly disatisfied with everything, and possibly even depressed.

Evangelical churches are increasingly relying on exploiting people's disatisfaction with life rather than celebrating what life has to offer. They seem to have got into the business of telling people that life is pointless without God (or more properly their very narrow depiction of God). This is all very negative. What about people who simply don't have the ability to believe in God or people who live genuinely fulfilled lives without God? This is the crux of the matter. I know lots of people who are perfectly contented without any religious belief.

This advertising campaign by Alpha - like much of evangelical Christianity - is misleading, because it makes the unsubstantiated claim that without believing in God and Jesus there can be no satisfaction, enjoyment or fulfillment. Clearly this is not true. Most people have no fervent religious beliefs, but live generally happy lives whilst many people with religious beliefs feel unfulfilled and unhappy. There seems to be no connection at all between personal fulfillment and religious belief.

So how did the church get here? The simple answer is "lifestyle evangelism".  Evangelicals facing an ageing church membership and declining numbers moved away from concentrating on the issue of sin, with all its negative connotations, to a strategy of attracting people to the faith through other Christians who displayed themselves as examples of how enjoyable and fulfilling life could be. Its not quite flirty fishing, but its heading there. The problem is that "it" does not work for everyone. Churches are themselves full of people who do not feel particularly fulfilled so its a strategy which is bound to fail.

This has done untold damage to battalions of people who have filtered through churches and found that "it" did not work for them. This is why most growing evangelical and charismatic churches are full of very confident, clean cut, younger people with professional occupations. Its not God that has made them like this. They have self selected themselves because they already fit that lifestyle and like attracts like.