The New Year is traditionally a time to think about new beginnings. The turning of the calendar represents a blank slate, a time to consider setting aside the old in favor of the new. The whole holiday season is an invitation to reflect, with time off work and visits with family and friends to freshen your perspective.
I came across an interesting new-beginning story about Ayaan Hirsi Ali. She is an author, activist, and academic. Born in Somalia, she received political asylum in the Netherlands where she served in the parliament. She has shined a bright light on women’s issues on the world scene, like forced marriage, child marriage, and honor killing.
She announced her new beginning in an article entitled, “Why I am now a Christian.” She chronicles how reading Bertrand Russell’s 1927 lecture, “Why I am not a Christian,” shifted her worldview from the religion of her family to atheism. Russell’s lecture connects fear and religion. “Fear is the basis of the whole thing,” he said, “fear of the mysterious, fear of defeat, fear of death.” Ali had experienced religious fear and was weary of it. So, in 2002 she decided to seek solace in Russell’s conclusion, “When I die, I shall rot.”
So was Ali’s worldview until 2023. Her aforementioned article explores Christianity as the solution for the world’s problems. It offers “an elaborate set of ideas and institutions designed to safeguard human life, freedom and dignity – from the nation state and the rule of law to the institutions of science, health and learning.” Here she identifies basic civilizational benefits of the Christian worldview. But she also gives a personal reason for her new beginning. “I have also turned to Christianity because I ultimately found life without any spiritual solace unendurable – indeed very nearly self-destructive. Atheism failed to answer a simple question: what is the meaning and purpose of life?”
Christianity’s answer to that question includes love. “God is love, and the one who abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him…There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear” (1 Jn. 4:16,18). Religion that motivates by guilt and fear misses the mark.
Jesus offered a new beginning to Nicodemus. “Unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus asked, “How can these things be?” Jesus replied, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16). To believe is to have new life, a new beginning.
Ali is leaning into her new beginning. “I still have a great deal to learn about Christianity. I discover a little more at church each Sunday.” What a great way forward!