On April 8, 1966, Time magazine asked “Is God Dead?,” setting off furious debate among Christians and atheists.
Since that time, the discourse has taken an increasingly malicious tone, relying on stinging sound bites and monolithic attacks.
Due to the overwhelming majority of Americans self-identifying as “Christian,” the debate in the U.S. exists primarily between Christians and atheists. And the fault for the discussion’s shortcomings lies in both camps.
Instead of embracing the discussion as an opportunity to model faith, when confronted by skepticism, many Christians tend to become defensive or give intellectually dishonest answers. Speaking in “Church-ese,” believers quote a handful of Bible verses and expect that to be the only answer needed.
Quoting the Bible to a non-believer has its uses in some circumstances. However, Christians should consider how they would respond if a Muslim quoted the Quran to prove Allah was the only God. It’s similar to speaking loudly to someone who cannot understand your language; somehow yelling at them will make them understand, right?
Simply relying on the argument that a man named Jesus is the son of God because he said he was will not convince or convert an atheist, nor should it.
Instead, theological honesty is needed. Admit that there are some aspects to Christianity that cannot be proven or even explained and must be taken on faith.
Tired diatribes linking the following of Christ to going on bloody crusades, the terror of the Spanish Inquisition or any other atrocity committed in the name of God are likewise disingenuous. Interview any self-proclaimed Christian on the street and they will wholeheartedly repudiate the atrocities of past Christian radicalism.
For that matter, portraying Islam as a violent religion based on a small group of radicals is equally deceitful.
Atheists could benefit by asking honest questions that challenge, rather than taking an air of superiority and painting believers with broad brush strokes, such as “full of inconsistencies,” or “full of historical inaccuracies.” Militant atheists have seemingly made it their mission to personally attack a believer’s intelligence, caring little for a debate of any kind.
Undoubtedly, there are individuals on both sides of the “God debate” who are wholly uninterested in having a fair dialogue over the existence of God. But to those of you who are interested in a civil debate, consider these final observations.
When Christians tell a non-theist that he or she is going to hell, the Christians put themselves in their God’s place as a judge of another’s character. Rather than condemning the skeptic, is not “loving one’s neighbor” the biblical action to take?
And atheists might find fresh insight or new appreciation for fellow human beings by taking the time to be skeptical of their own skepticism, rather than seeing every believer as an accomplice to every atrocity carried out in the name of a god.
Whichever side you fall on, do not let stuffy dogma, narrow-mindedness or petty hate cloud your thinking. Instead, suspend your disbelief or moral superiority for a moment and listen.
Who knows, you might just change your mind.
Ryan Lee is a journalism and English major from Lewisville. E-mail him at email@example.com
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