Europe Solas

ELF Poland – Day 1 – May 29th 2015

The European Leadership Forum (ELF) is something that I have been to several times.  I have usually found it encouraging and helpful. It is a gathering of some 700 church leaders mainly from throughout Europe – although there is a significant American presence as well (especially amongst the organisers and the volunteer staff who run it) .  It has been a great place for Solas to meet with people and to share the work we are doing – so this year we decided to send a full team.  David Harnett (admin), Phil Dickson (intern), Al Smith (media), Tom Courtney (Europe Director) and yours truly as a speaker/seminar leader are the team.
Tom Courtney and I set of at 8am for Edinburgh airport with suitcases that we feared would be overweight because each of the Solas participants is taking their share of 500 Solas magazines and a similar number of leaflets and books.  Edinburgh airport, after its revamp, is now the most efficient airport I have been in – we sped through customs and security, even though it was very busy.  Our first flight was to Amsterdam with KLM – as always the Dutch staff were civil, efficient and helpful (United take note!).  Even though we only had a 40 minute changeover in Amsterdam and had to go from one end of that massive airport to the other, we made our connecting flight to Krakow.  I was sure they could not have got our luggage in that time, but I was wrong – it duly turned up on the conveyor belt.
Both the plane to Amsterdam and the one to Krakow were populated by noisy groups.  The former by a hen party of Glaswegians hens (complete with the obligatory pink sashes) who sounded as though they were speaking Dutch. The words sounded vaguely familiar and some of them I even recognised but I couldn’t make sense of what they were saying. The second flight was dominated by a group of Dutch men – who like the Scots, are hardly the most shy and retiring of peoples!    When I got off at Krakow I made a mistake and trod on a young Polish womans toe – I mumbled an apology which she clearly did not hear and she accosted my on the bus to the terminal and gave me a row.  She was quite right.
We then went to our host church – a small congregation with a clearly vibrant witness, where we heard Adam Broughton of Kirkcaldy speak with a translator for two sessions – which made it a long night.  At the end we got some food – some fabulous herring on a piece of bread, fruit sticks with grape, banana and oranges (a combination that worked really well) and above all, that Polish speciality – sausages!  One young man boasted to me of how even the Germans acknowledge that Polish sausage is the best in the world!
We are here because I had met some Polish pastors in Scotland and they asked us to come and speak at their conference.  We couldn’t really do so but given that we were coming to ELF anyway we agreed to speak tomorrow and then go on to ELF a day late. I am now in my (our) room in the church, a creche that doubles as a guest room, traffic roaring past the window.    I love doing these things but I much prefer being in my own bed – and I am already homesick for Annabel and EJ…I find it difficult to go a day without speaking to them.  Perhaps also sharing a room with Tom makes me more homesick!
The time on the plane was not wasted – I finished reading The Handbook for Young Atheists and continued to write my review (watch this space).  It was quite sad and depressing. But nothing compared to what I felt as we were driven to our destination by Yannick, a Polish lily grower.   We are very close  to Auschwitz – and driving through the woods and the greenery really gets to me.  In fact a black wave of depression came over me.   The evil is beyond comprehension.  The thought cannot but strike you –  Lord how could you allow this?  There are not many alternatives.  According to the philosophy of the Young Atheists Handbook, humans just did this ourselves -and ultimately the blackness cannot matter.  Atoms we are, and to atoms we shall return.  I suppose it is logically possible that there is a God who is cruel and capricious or there is a God who is cruel and capricious and does not care.  Or that there is a God who cares but he cannot do anything about it and therefore is useless. And then I saw a crucifix at the side of the road and I realised that there is a better alternative.   There is  a God who does care and who has dome something – the cross speaks of a horror even worse than Auschwitz and a hope that is great enough even to overcome that Blackness.  There is a bigger picture – slaughter, sin, death and disease on a massive scale throughout the world, every year – not just during the Second World War.  But the cross also speaks of a far greater Light – it is an atonement for sin, a cure for pain, a door to a world where there will be no more sin,suffering and sickness.   Ultimately the atheist has no solution for Auschwitz.  The Christian on the other hand comes through the darkest pain and the deepest blackness and is able to say – ‘there is good news – even for young atheists”.  And with that thought I head to bed….


  1. One of these days I hope to get back to ELF–I still appreciate our walk through Eger together during an Apologetics track mentoring meeting. Hope your time there in Wisla is a blessing for you and your presence a blessing for others.

  2. David
    Which is worse at Auschwitz, the atheist who can offer no redemption or the theist who can offer no reason? What of evil, is that the depth of human behaviour or a metaphysical force that God allows again for an unknown reason? Finally, were those pink triangles the result of human prejudice or scriptural prescription?

    1. Jon – The atheist can offer neither redemption nor reason. The Christian can offer both. The Bible explains that there is such a thing as evil. The atheist has to deny that – claiming that it is only a chemical reaction. As Bertrand Russell said “Dachau is wrong is not a fact”. The pink triangles (note the secular atheists obsession again with sex – interesting how you refer to the homosexuals who were killed, not the millions of Jews, or the handicapped) were the result of human evil – they were not scriptural prescription – the Nazis hated the bible, thought that it was not progressive and scientific enough – (wonder where I have heard that before?).

  3. Jon,

    If I might engage with what you say about evil? It’s a common question – if God exists why does he allow so much evil and suffering. I hear that your view of the truth that it could either be the depth of human behaviour or what God allows for an unknown reason.

    I would suggest that both could have a part to play and there is a reasonable explanation for God to allow evil. Let’s say, for arguments sake that God does exist and that he could in a blink of an eye remove all the evil in the world. In an instant there would be no wars no rapes, no murders, no concentration camps. So the evil in human behaviour would cease instantly, only good would happen.

    Unfortunately of course this would come at the cost of not being free to choose to do evil if one desires. So that freedom to choose is removed. So no good would be done thought human choice but by divine dictate. So the freedom to love or hate to do good or evil to “sin” or be righteous, is removed.

    I think therefore it is reasonable to think that God allows the freedom to choose whether to do evil. I think it is incredibly freeing and humbling to think of it that way which then does leave one with the choices of what is done with that freedom and experiencing the consequences of such choices.

  4. Ducatihero

    Firstly, God could reveal himself to mankind as he did regularly in the Old Testament. He could appear live on the World Wrestling Federation thus combining the benefits of modern global communications with his attested (though less than omnipotent) wrestling skills! I believe the Catholic Church calls this the “beatific vision”.

    Humanity would still have the choice to believe whether or not they are saved by his atoning sacrifice. It is God’s narcisstic nature that prevents this.

    Secondly, 1.1 million people were murdered at Auschwitz. How many opportunities do you wish to afford the perpetrators? Clearly, God attaches more importance to the free will choices of the SS than the moral welfare of their innocent victims.


  5. I appreciate your honesty. The holocaust always brings a dark cloud over my soul. Makes me ashamed of the human race. Faith believes in God, but sometimes trembles.

  6. “Ultimately the atheist has no solution for Auschwitz. The Christian on the other hand comes through the darkest pain and the deepest blackness and is able to say – ‘there is good news – even for young atheists”.”

    Whilst an atheist might not, a humanist does. Not a solution that can be written off as “don’t worry about what you are experiencing now in these gas chambers as the Zyklon B fills your lungs, you are going to a better place” (by the way, do the Jews who were killed there get a positive afterlife despite not sharing your beliefs in Jesus and the Cross?). A humanist wants to prevent this type of atrocity from happening. A humanist wants to people of this world to treat each other with respect and equality. A humanist recognises the value of positive human relations and acceptance of who each being is and wants to be (noting that we don’t accept harm of others), sees the stunning negative effect of making those who are different from us out to be less than us and strives for a world where universal education and human rights are the norm. It is only when we can see young people looking at each other across the world and not seeing any negative differences will we be able to start on the road to preventing events like the Holocaust.

    I think that you are misinterpreting or rewriting history (as you often accuse me of). Nazi Germany was a Christian country. Hitler was a Catholic. Hitler’s anti-Semitism grew out of his Christian education. Austria and Germany were majorly Christian during his time and they held the belief that Jews were an inferior status to Aryan Christians. The Christians blamed the Jews for the killing of Jesus. Jewish hatred did not actually spring from Hitler, it came from the preaching of Catholic priests and Protestant ministers throughout Germany for hundreds of years. Martin Luther held a livid hatred for Jews and their Jewish religion. In his book, “On the Jews and their Lies,” Luther set the standard for Jewish hatred in Protestant Germany up until World War 2. Hitler expressed a great admiration for Martin Luther constantly quoting his works and beliefs.


    “We were convinced that the people needs and requires this faith. We have therefore undertaken the fight against the atheistic movement, and that not merely with a few theoretical declarations: we have stamped it out.” -Adolf Hitler, in a speech in Berlin on 24 Oct. 1933

    “The best characterization is provided by the product of this religious education, the Jew himself. His life is only of this world, and his spirit is inwardly as alien to true Christianity as his nature two thousand years previous was to the great founder of the new doctrine. Of course, the latter made no secret of his attitude toward the Jewish people, and when necessary he even took the whip to drive from the temple of the Lord this adversary of all humanity, who then as always saw in religion nothing but an instrument for his business existence. In return, Christ was nailed to the cross, while our present- day party Christians debase themselves to begging for Jewish votes at elections and later try to arrange political swindles with atheistic Jewish parties– and this against their own nation.”–Adolf Hitler (Mein Kampf)

    We could, of course, just quote various things and various interpretations at each other here as you would point out things people have said that are not what the Bible actually means and I would again make the point that you are very confident about what the Bible means compared to so many other Christians and theologians since the time of Christ. I lack that strident confidence in what I know so I always want to read more philosophy and science.

    We are atoms. The way our atoms are arranged is the current step that started at the beginning of the universe. Start again and you would very probably not have humanity or even the same universe. Nothing is guiding us and nothing has a fantastic obsession with bipeds in the middle east. But that does not mean that we have to accept blackness. From certain philosophical perspectives morality is different from fact but some scientists are beginning to argue that ethics could be objectively grounded in an understanding of neuroscience and how that impacts on human wellbeing. We are atoms that *know* we are made of atoms and we can learn lots more about who we are and what it means to be human. When we learn more about ourselves and each other, accept ourselves and each other then the likelihood of events like the Holocaust will considerably diminish.

    1. Douglas, thanks for a very interesting post. I would love to meet with you one day to actually talk about this. I find this kind of communication very limiting…Anyway a few points.

      1) I love your humanist faith…I am only sorry that it does not square with the reality of human sin.

      2) Nazi Germany – now that is a subject I studied at Edinburgh University and for many years after. Nazi Germany was actually a secular country (Germany rejected its Christian connections with Bismarck) which largely had rejected Christianity. Hitler was no more a Catholic than Dawkins is an Anglican. He never attended mass, read the bible, prayed. etc.

      3) You ARE right about Luther’s anti-semitism being used by Hitler. One of the more shameful aspects of Luthers life.

      4) I am all too familiar with the quote mining that people pick up from atheist websites. All I simply ask is that you get the context (for example was he speaking to the Catholic teachers union?) and learn to distrust what politicians say in public and what they actually mean.

      5) Your last paragraph illustrates both the bleakness and the blind faith of the atheist position. I am so sorry that that is all you have…

      If you want a Hitler quote then this indicates more his position – Sometimes we also had interesting discussions about the church and the development of the human race. Perhaps it’s going too far to call them discussions, because he would begin explaining his ideas when some question or remark from one of us had set them off, and we just listened. He was not a member of any church, and thought the Christian religions were outdated, hypocritical institutions that lured people into them. The laws of nature were his religion. He could reconcile his dogma of violence better with nature than with the Christian doctrine of loving your neighbour and your enemy. ‘Science isn’t yet clear about the origins of humanity,’ he once said. ‘We are probably the highest stage of development of some mammal which developed from reptiles and moved on to human beings, perhaps by way of the apes. We are a part of creation and children of nature, and the same laws apply to us as to all living creatures. And in nature the law of the struggle for survival has reigned from the first. Everything incapable of life, everything weak is eliminated. Only mankind and above all the church have made it their aim to keep alive the weak, those unfit to live, and people of an inferior kind. (Until the Final Hour –p108)

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