Exactly where people find validation in life fascinates international speaker and apologist Max Jeganathan.
As a Senior Apologist with Ravi Zacharias International Minstries, Max is passionate about the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ to transform lives. His research interests relate to the relationships between faith, politics, public policy, economics, and moral reasoning.
Born in Sri Lanka, he has worked as a lawyer and a political and policy adviser, including time as senior social policy adviser to the Leader of the Australian Opposition. Max was educated at the Australian National University and the University of Oxford and he speaks at churches, businesses, universities, public and government events, debates, and conferences. He lives in Singapore with his wife, Fiona, and son, Zachary.
Max is currently speaking at a number of events across Sydney for City Bible Forum around the idea of where and how humans find validation and fill the “God-shaped hole” in their lives.
So as a lawyer having studied at Oxford, how does theology fit in the public square?
The biggest realisation I have had in working in all three spaces, having worked in law, having worked in public policy advising law makers and now as apologist and evangelist, is there are a couple of misunderstandings that are out there both in secular society and in the church that I think need to be worked through. The whole idea of separating church and state means you can separate people from their worldviews.
As a political scientist this is absolutely right, you can’t have the state legislating for a religion, and you can’t have theocracies and the entire Christian faith is antithetical to theocracy. Scripture is very clear on that but people extrapolate that to mean that anyone of any faith can’t bring that faith into the public square. You’ve got to keep your faith in church or in your private bedroom or whatever, which really misunderstands this concept of worldview and that was the biggest lesson for me coming out of Oxford where we studied every worldview both theistic and atheistic.
What’s very obvious (you don’t have to go to Oxford to study it) is that everyone has a worldview. Atheists, Christians, Muslims all have a worldview and everyone believes their worldview quite exclusively. So everyone is pretty dogmatic. So we are all dogmatists, we’re all exclusivists and we’re all making truth claims. Even the guy that says there is no such thing as truth is making an absolute truth claim.
C.S Lewis said we are all dogmatists, the question is whether you are an unconscious dogmatist or a conscious dogmatist, and its amusing to think the most dogmatic are often the unconscious dogmatists.
So if we all believe we are dogmatic about something then we should be able to come to the public square and create a civil public discourse where we can share our beliefs and worldviews and make arguments and persuasions from reason for what we believe. But to say that a Christian is not allowed to be a Christian, or a Muslim is not allowed to be a Muslim once they step through the doors of Parliament is not just impractical it’s theoretically illogical. You are basically asking everyone to leave this huge existential part of themselves at the door.
The Christian Worldview is about the common good so it fits right into the public space, would you agree?
Exactly, but of course I am biased because I am a Christian, but if I was an atheist or a humanist I would be arguing much less offensively against Christianity as opposed to some of the other worldviews.
Everyone takes issue with Christianity and a lot of this is because of Colonial Christianity and the Empire dominance and some toolish things that Christians have done but there is still a disproportionate persecution in the public square.
That’s why, in my view, bringing apologetics is an important instrument through which we can engage, not in a hostile or offensive way, but in a productive and sensible way.
Do you think because Christian’s don’t have a voice in the public square we look for validation elsewhere?
The reason I think people struggle with this idea is because what people first look for is belonging. People are so averse to exclusion that people will look to belong anywhere they can. What the human instinct for belonging does, in my observation, is it leads people naturally into tribes. This is magnified through social media. Algorithms from Google and Facebook reinforce this tribalism. So when I was a Labour political advisor it was very difficult for me on my social feeds any kind of other discourse or news from other parties, because all the algorithms pigeonholed me into my tribe.
So people end up in these echo chambers, so once you are in these echo chambers, the first thing people look for is belonging and the second thing is validation or significance. But if you are already in your tribe you are limited to your tribe to find your significance.
Whatever tribe you have chosen will determine your value and significance. And when a society rejects God they basically take the capacity for a transcendent point of reference for your significance out of the picture, so people are forced to manufacture it from within their tribes.
Your horizons are not closed off in the way that society has led you to believe that it has. You are more than just your tribe, there is meaning for people beyond that. This tribal phenomenon is not just a societal thing, you find it in churches as well.
In this 24/7 social media world how is our validation tied to things that are out of our control?
Any meaning we create for ourselves outside of God is synthetic because you are creating it out of another view of self.
It’s manufactured meaning and when you reject God that’s all you’ve got. If you can get enough people to think that being a banker is a good thing, then you can draw some value from that. The problem with that thinking is that all the people around you need to continue to believe in you to give you validation and worth. So what happens when that goes away?
The only authentic meaning that transcends human agreement is meaning that is transcendentally anchored and the only place that this sensibly done is through the person of Jesus Christ.
The insidious part of [social media, advances in technology] is they can work to make life better if you use them correctly and for a lot of people this is the end of the game, but unfortunately what is missing is other deeper questions and deeper needs and longings of the human heart that are not being catered to by technology. That’s where God has to be bought back into the picture.
I think there is a God-shaped hole inside everyone and because it’s God-shaped it can only be filled by one person.