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Don't patronise: what the R20 means for development

The R20 meeting at the G20 global summit sheds light on development. Christopher Wadibia makes the case for a change in perception.

Chris Wadibia is a Junior Research Fellow at Pembroke College, Oxford. His research interests include political Pentecostalism, global Christianity, and faith-based investment in global development. 

Swami Govinda Dev Giri Maharaj, Dr. Valeria Martano, and Archbishop Henry Ndukuba, are greeted by R20 founder Yahya Cholil Staquf.
G20religion.org

God is dead,' wrote Friedrich Nietzsche in 1882, in an effort to argue that every European imagination, community, and enterprise developed by faith in the Christian God would inevitably degenerate relative to Europe's dwindling commitment to belief in the former. Nietzsche's argument preceded the once popular secularisation thesis. The view that societies would increasingly adopt non-religious values and institutions as they modernise influenced global development discourse in the 20th century following World War II.   

However, in 2023, a year that marks more than 140 years since Nietzsche first popularised the atheistical three-word phrase ‘God is dead’, anyone familiar with the mechanics and forces driving the modern global development project would point out that faith-aligned actors play a pivotal, and even in some cases, unrivalled role. These actors promote growth, progress, and development globally, especially in the Global South.  

Albeit, Nietzsche once argued that Europe's declining belief in the Christian God signaled God's death, the fact that at least 85% of the world's over eight billion people claim some form of faith. Couple that with the reality that faith actors deliver the majority of local development services in many regions across the globe, and the suggestions is that God has risen from the grave and traded European burial clothes for globalised vocational attire. Far from being dead, God is alive and more engaged in developing the earth than ever before.  

Aside from state and private-sector investment, since the second half of the 20th century, the faith sector, comprised of thousands of actors, has become increasingly responsible for developing the modern world. A recent study on faith-aligned impact investment, completed by researchers at Oxford University's Said Business School, showed that four of the world's most influential religious groups (Christianity, Islam, Dharmic, and Judaism) collectively hold at least $5 trillion in net assets. The study linked this $5 trillion in assets to faith-aligned investment in addressing social and climate-oriented challenges globally.  

The study, which analysed over 360 distinctive organisations, attributed over $260 billion to Christian-aligned capital. Given the difficulty of securing accurate data on the total assets and capital held by the world's many thousands of churches and Christian  organisations, it should be acknowledged that this estimate sits far below the real net assets in Christendom that have been invested into global development. However, a key takeaway from this study is that Christian-aligned capital remains a game-changing force in the global development sector. After all, those organisations serve the approximately 2.4bn Christians alive today.  

  

'The R20's mission was grand but straightforward: fill the gap in world leadership that stresses politics and economics rather than faith and spirituality.'

In November 2022, two weeks before the G20 summit in Bali which brought together the leaders of the 20 countries with the world's biggest economies, another gathering took place in Indonesia that attracted less publicity. For the first time ever, the R20 (the G20 Religious Forum) united leaders from the major religions of the G20 countries whose heads of state would flock to Bali a few weeks later. The R20's mission was grand but straightforward: fill the gap in world leadership that stresses politics and economics rather than faith and spirituality as resources to provide solutions to pressing global challenges.  

One of the R20's more high profile speakers was Archbishop Henry Ndukuba, who currently serves as Anglican Primate for the Church of Nigeria. In his speech, Ndukuba cited the violent persecution of Christians and liberal Muslims in the majority Muslim region of Northern Nigeria. The R20's goal of elevating faith and spirituality in the hierarchy of resources that can be enlisted to engage with global issues should be viewed as noble. However, in practice, the concept of the world's major faith communities petitioning global peace and development stakeholders to be recognised as legitimate contributors to the sacred project of redeeming the brokenness of the world reeks of obsequious servility.  

Moreover, this unequal power relation fatefully overlooks the substantial contributions to peace and development made every day across the world by faith actors. Many of the world's major faith traditions share the vision of developing the world into a place devoid of disease, poverty, and suffering. The global faith and spirituality sector is truly not without its imperfections, but for centuries this multi-faith comity has invested immense resources into making earth look more like heaven. It does so by leveraging faith as a conduit to gather assets that aid in the deeply holy process of chiseling away at the degenerative evils and satanic forces plaguing the world until all that remains is the latter's Edenic base.  

The time has come for the world's faith actors to stop begging secular state actors to recognise them as stakeholders committed to promoting global peace and development. Getting on with the heavenly work of building God's cosmos, in anticipation of the New Creation, requires faith that God will provide the right people, ideas, and resources and that secular state actors should be viewed as partners instead of patrons in this divine enterprise.  

'The work we do in the present, then, gains its full significance from the eventual design in which it is meant to belong.'

N.T. Wright

Secular state actors should better understand what is driving those faith actors and the desire to balance the partnership. In his influential book Surprised by Hope, NT Wright argues that continuities will exist between Christian work completed in service to God in the present age and the eternal life that God's people will enjoy in the New Creation. Wright reasons,

'The work we do in the present, then, gains its full significance from the eventual design in which it is meant to belong. Applied to the mission of the church, this means that we must work in the present for the advance signs of that eventual state of affairs when God is ‘all in all’, when his kingdom has come and his will is done ‘on earth as in heaven’.' 

Every day a faith actor funds a school, hospital, or social development project somewhere in the world. They see these projects function in God's ongoing programme of redeeming the world by means of the intellects and imaginations of themselves and those who benefit. In their eyes, all are made in God's own image. In a world where they see sin's footprints manifest by way of suffering, violence, and destruction, every actor inspired by the faith in their heart to challenge the existence of the former should recognise that the impulse to build a better world is a nudge from heaven foreshadowing the New Eden to come. 

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Belief
5 min read

Dawkins is wrong about the nature of belief

You can’t rejoice in its collapse and like its cultural inheritance too.

Yaroslav is assistant priest at Holy Trinity, Sloane Square, London.

A man sits and speaks, against a background of a bookcase.
Dawkins on LBC.

Richard Dawkins sat in a tree,  

Sawing every branch he could see,  

As he sawed through the branch on which he sat,  

He raged, "It's not fair that I should go splat!" 

I am a recovering New Atheist. I was such a New Atheist that I have a claim to fame: I have given what-for to Anne Widdecombe and the Archbishop Emeritus of Abuja. I was there, as a spotty, greasy haired, angry teenager when Christopher Hitchens and Stephen Fry socked-it-to the Roman Catholics at an Intelligence Squared debate. The motion was ‘The Catholic Church is a Force for Good in the World’. The question I asked was so poorly formed that the moderator deemed it a comment.  

I was a callow youth. Forgive me.  

I am now not quite so young and not quite so spotty. Now that I am a man, I have put away childish things. I have abandoned atheism and embraced faith in Jesus Christ. I am a priest in the Church of England, fully in favour of the Ten Commandments and the moral framework of the Church. Clearly, I’ve been on a journey.  

So, it seems, has Professor Richard Dawkins.  

The author of The God Delusion, and scourge of many public Christian thinkers and apologists, has recently made some turbulent waves. Having surfed the tides of New Atheism, he now seems to be swimming against the current. He is a proud ‘cultural Christian’. In an interview on LBC he forcefully defended the Christian inheritance of this country: 

“I do think that we are culturally a Christian country…I call myself a ‘cultural Christian’… I love hymns and Christmas carols…I feel at home in the Christian ethos… I find that I like to live in a culturally Christian country…” 

Professor Dawkins went on to clarify (several times!) that he doesn’t believe a single word of Christian doctrine or the Bible. He was cheered by the continued decline in the numbers of believing Christians in this country. This wasn’t his Christianity. He argued that the distinction between a ‘believing Christian’ and a ‘cultural Christian’ is such that one can be both a very firm atheist and a ‘cultural Christian’. He doesn’t want people believing the Virgin Birth or the Resurrection of Jesus, but he does want us to keep our Cathedrals and beautiful parish churches. At first reading this could be seen as positive - an unlikely defender of the Christian faith coming to the rescue of a beleaguered Church.  

It isn’t. 

What the interview demonstrated was that Professor Dawkins doesn’t really understand the nature of belief or the nature of culture. If he did, he would understand a basic principle: culture doesn’t just magically appear and grow. Culture is formed and maintained from fundamental beliefs.  

You can’t have the fruits without the roots. 

Professor Dawkins likes church music. He likes the architecture of grand Cathedrals. He likes living in a society with a Western liberal ethic. All three of these fruits have grown from roots of the Christian tradition, and not just any Christian tradition. They have grown out of the BELIEVING Christian tradition.  

Why on earth would people spend inordinate amounts of time and money building Cathedrals if they didn’t actually believe the worship of God was important? Why would musicians pour out the best of their creativity into sacred music if not for a love of Jesus? Why would they structure our society in a way that sees the care of the poor and oppressed as a fundamental necessity if they don’t take the Sermon on the Mount seriously? 

People don’t die because they quite like a soft cultural inheritance - they die because they believe! 

Professor Dawkins finds himself living in a world that has been so shaped and saturated by Christianity that even our secularism has been called ‘Christian’. He lives in a Christian house. He likes it. Now he thinks he can have it and keep it while seeking to undermine and destroy the very beliefs that are the foundation, the stones, the mortar. 

He can’t.  

You don’t get to demand that everyone build their house on sand, and then complain that it is collapsing…and he does worry that it is collapsing. Predictably, he opened the interview by discussing his qualms about Islam and how he wouldn’t want this country to change from being ‘culturally Christian’ to ‘culturally Muslim’: “Insofar as Christianity can be seen as a bulwark against Islam I think it’s a very good thing.” I find this invocation of my faith offensive - not just because I believe my faith is ‘the truth’ (not just a club for angry atheists to bash Muslims with), but because it is so stupid! 

I use the word advisedly.  

It is a comment from a man who can’t seem to understand cause-and-effect. People who don’t believe strongly in something don’t fight for it. Rejoicing in the collapse of Christian belief while expecting it to protect you from other religions is about as obtuse as an individual can get. The Church grew, and spread, and produced the hymns and cathedrals and ethics that Professor Dawkins loves so much, because of people’s firm belief in Jesus Christ as our Risen Saviour. People died to spread this faith - THIS CULTURE! As Tertullian said: “…the blood of martyrs is the seed of the Church.” People don’t die because they quite like a soft cultural inheritance - they die because they believe! 

It was this realisation that led me to where I am now. I found that everything I cared about flowed from the Christian faith I rejected, so I rejected it no more. I wanted to continue enjoying the ‘fruits’ of my ‘cultural Christianity’, so I stopped hacking away at the ‘roots’ of ‘believing Christianity’. Professor Dawkins is seemingly wilfully blind to this fact: ‘believing Christian’s make it possible to have ‘cultural Christians’. Take away the belief and just watch what happens to the culture. 

“I don’t was to be misunderstood. I do think it’s nonsense.” 

As a believing Christian I respond: can we please have our culture back, then?