Reasons I am sick of arguments both for and against religion

If you are a regular reader of this blog, you probably have ascertained two things about me. One is that I have strong opinions. Two is that this blog is not a place for constant back and forth. Neither is the rest of my life. This blog is the place where I share my views. People comment both in support and in opposition to some of the things I write, and that is fine with me. What I do not do, however, is debate for the sake of debate. And I am tired of those who do, on both sides.

On the secular side, I am tired of those materalists/atheists who — with our without the support of books like Hitchens’ God Is Not Great, or Harris’ The End of Faith, believe they have come up with be-all/end-all reasons that faith is superfluous, ridiculous, poisonous (Hitchens’ term), even deadly. I am tired of those who are determined to see religious faith in simplistic ways, and then argue against that simplistic faith, celebrating their triumph over a god that not even most religious people actually believe in.

I found myself recently in a discussion with an atheist who was a confessed fan of Hitchens (I presumed, as he was thanking the recently dead Hitchens for an argument that gave him his ability to score imaginary points against me in an argument that I wasn’t engaged in to begin with, had no interest in, did not ask for, and exited as quickly as I could with whatever grace I could muster). There was a substantial air of smugness and self-satisfaction as he carefully set up and then beat down his straw man. This of course was both before and after I had sent him the following words:

Persuasion is not my calling. My life work is to teach spirituality in an authentic, honest, non toxic and thoughtful way. If I do my job well, I will help produce not just better Christians but better human beings. And I mean “better” in a way that would be verifiable by a person of any faith or no faith at all. I hope I can influence people to live less fearful, more loving, more humble, and more gracious lives than they would otherwise live. In order to do this effectively I must work only with people who deeply want this for their lives. That is why I have no interest in debating merely for the sake of debate. Though I spent decades studying apologetics and philosophy, and it does help me in my work, persuasion itself is not helpful to me.

On the religious side I have no use for debate either. There is usually an urgency to debate that I believe is uncalled for in those who calmly and confidently believe God is at work in all things. Religious people tend to think they are deeper or more moral than those they are arguing against, and are usually a bit cocky or dismissive about it. But the most embarrassing and frustrating part on the religious side is the number of religious people who simply cannot deliver the goods when it comes to arguments — neither making good arguments of their own, or fending off the arguments of the atheists they are debating. Religious people often just have not thought things through very well and often come across as ignorant. I think in the way religious people argue about God, they often reveal the extent to which they themselves really do not trust a loving God who is steadily moving all of history in accordance with his divine will. Even more often, they resort to arrogance, condescension, anger, and other personality characteristics that quickly reveal that the God they claim so passionately to believe in exists more as a psychological construct in their minds than as a real entity in their lives.

As for me, I will write and speak what I believe, love those who agree and disagree, and attempt, with as much grace as possible, to get out of arguments that are often massively time consuming and accomplish almost nothing except to leave both parties feeling a little bit more smug. I can say from experience that among those who rush into debates quickly, very few have much use for any more smugness. A wise man once wrote, “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up.”

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic. A request for me to defend some of my comments does not obligate me to do so.

  • Shelly Thomas

    I agree Dave, I believe some people’s heads are so high up in heaven they can’t look around to really see the damage they are doing. Then the only thing they use God for is to hide behind Him, disregarding any LOVE.

    • Shelly Thomas

      Well, they perceive that they are heavenly, or Godly

  • Tim McCollum

    I read once that the best part of beauty is that which a picture can’t express. There is a dimension found in debating theology that misses this truth. Concepts like “goodness,” or “fact,” or “the holy” are impossible to define conclusively not because they surpass the limits of any definition, but because they are transcendent in meaning—they touch the ineffable. So, how can we ever define what we mean by “God”? When the basic issues of religion, such as God, revelation, prayer, holiness are reduced to pedestrian categories and deprived of their mystery and sublime relevance, they become meaningless. Debating these concepts (from both sides of the spectrum) tend to stand in the way of authentic faith. We can ask questions about God, but ultimately, it’s the question that comes from God that matters: “What is asked of us?” This is the part of most debates about theology that is often missing.

  • Kim Nebel

    I understand, and can relate to what you are saying. I often feel that debating theology is an intellectual pastime/entertainment if you will, or type of competition for some people. It’s not a passtime I enjoy or have much patience with, and I often sense it is not furthering the gospel, or spreading the love of Christ that motivates these discussions, although the instigator pretends it is, which is very irritating. I would imagine that as a pastor you are a frequent target for these debaters.

    • Well said, Kim. Yes, when the instigator is a Christian they will often say super rude things, claiming, “I’m trying to speak truth in love, here.” That’s total crap. Love demands submission. “Love” should never lead us to trample over other people, shame them, embarrass them, put them down, make them look stupid, or disrespect them in any way. Irreligious people, when debating, often do these things as well, and ironically they are the very same things they make fun of Christians for doing. That’s why both sides are usually ridiculous.