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.”