Thursday, March 29, 2012

Thoughts About the Reason Rally, Conversations in the Midst of Un-reason

The Reason Rally was promoted by new atheists such as Richard Dawkins and David Silverman as “the largest gathering of the secular movement in world history.”  One section of the Reason Rally website stated the following:
The Reason Rally is a movement-wide event sponsored by the country’s major secular organizations. The intent is to unify, energize, and embolden secular people nationwide, while dispelling the negative opinions held by so much of American society and having a d^#! good time doing it! . . . It will be the largest secular event in world history. 
For those of us attending the Reason Rally as part of a coalition of apologists with True Reason.Org and Ratio Christi, it was a successful and incredible experience of outreach to those who deny the existence of God and those who hate an accountability to any absolute moral framework.  

One of the privileges of this event for me is that I have maintained correspondence with one self-professed atheist who does not agree with the new popular atheism, calling it in an email, “the neo-positivist atheism promoted by Richard Dawkins.”  This is interesting and accurate to say the least. 
Once we arrived and settled in, and the introductions were completed, it was “into the front lines” we go.   I was joined up with “Dale,” a brother who holds a great passion for cosmology and the physical sciences as a whole.  What we had is one member of the team possessing a passion for logic, philosophy, theology and epistemology.  The other has the same with much strength (vocationally)  in the arena of the science.  What a tag team combination! I am grateful to have had Dale for a “fishing buddy." I learned a lot of science in one afternoon.  One of the ministry blessings is being able to work off of and with one another very well.
One of the things that learned about the rally was that it was promoted one way and manifested the converse. You see, the new atheists tried to promote themselves with "reason" and "belief,” however they “shot themselves in foot” with rhetoric replacing reason and the bashing of religion.  Though they say they did not believe, their words and actions were reflect of a belief that is bent toward rants against religion.  Taking one of their statements off the Reason Rally website:

“Are we just going to use this opportunity to trash religion? Answer: No. This will be a positive experience, focusing on all non-theists have achieved in the past several years (and beyond) and motivating those in attendance to become more active.”  
Practically every speaker did their outright best to “trash” religion in general and Christianity more specifically, with all the vitriolic rhetoric they could muster, all demonstrated by a severe lack of critical thinking.  It was critical of religion and anyone who believed in something beyond the materialistic natural realm.  The only thing that was missing besides an accurate representation of Christianity was sound reason that would convince a reasonable person that atheism was the best worldview.  It just was not there.

There is something that needs to be remembered here.  Not all folks professing to atheists agree with this new movement.  Most of the atheists in the halls of academia that are not part of this movement, men like Kai Nielsen and Michael Ruse, consider this movement as an embarrassment to atheism.  
What made the engagement with the skeptics, for lack of a better adjective, “enjoyable” was not the speakers but it was some of the great conversations we engaged in.  Dale and I were able to have some very thought provoking conversations with individuals and groups of two or three at a time.
Before hitting some of the highlights of our conversations, we both remarked while looking at the monitors on several occasions seeing many families having their young children with them.  Are you kidding me?   A fascinating side note here, is when I first announced to my wife and daughter that I was participating in the Reason Rally with several apologists, my daughter got excited and asked if she could come with me.  I told her that I appreciated her enthusiasm, but this was not the place for someone of her sensitivity, especially if they are going to to be ridiculing the Christian faith.  The speakers, comedians and musicians were a great “disappointment,” as they were quite liberal with profanity and lewd language.  So much for a “high moral ground.”
How does one strike up a conversation with someone who is hostile to your worldview?  How do you carry on as long as possible an intelligent and cordial conversation with that individual?    A quick answer to these questions is, you build bridges by looking for common starting points.  This involves looking and listening intently to the one you are talking to and trying to share the gospel.  
This happened in several different ways ranging from offering to exchange information with one atheist passing out information for their brand of atheism.  Some were sporting what I call “the hat.” What is “the hat”?  Being a Red Sox fan, there were some that were wearing a Red Sox hat, which gave me an “in road” to ask the person, "Hey are you a Red Sox fan or do you just like the hat?"  Now before you start thinking that I spoke only to those who wore “the hat” the answer is a firm “No”, we spoke to folks of all different stripes.  One visit we had was with a  couple atheists that graduated from a Christian high school.    
Other conversations were struck up with a question like, “How do you like the speaker?”  Another question was, “Hey how are you doing?” OR “How do you like the Rally?” 
Once the ice was broken, and cordialities were understood, we were asking things like, “What is the strongest argument that you have heard for the existence of God?”  Another question was “why are you an atheist” OR “why don’t you believe in the existence of God?”  Once the answers were given, the conversations took off like a 747 jet plane.  Almost all of the conversations were cordial.  One young man got a little “excited,” however this was after he was verbally abused by one of the members of Westboro Baptist Church.
How many times did we hear the word “believe”
One of the interesting things that we heard from the event’s speakers is the number of times that they used the word, “belief” or “believe” in order to describe their worldview that is devoid of any belief.  Think of this for a moment, you have folks who are heavily into the scientific, but they don’t believe.  My question is this: They don’t believe, what?
Dale and I had a similar encounter with the two young men, who claimed to have left the Christian faith, and graduated from a Christian high school.  One of them claimed that they became an atheist at the impressionable age of sixteen.  
I had shared with them that I shared a similar experience, having started on the trail to skepticism at that age.  At the end of the conversation with all their arguing for science and Dale waxing eloquently on the fine tuning of the universe and the anthropic principle, the word “atheism” came up.  This prompted me to ask a question, “When you say atheism can you tell me what you mean by that word?”   One of them proceeded to tell us that “atheism is a lack of belief.”  
The interesting point to make here is that this is a statement that is professing what?  It is professing a belief in. . . a lack of belief.  I could not resist pointing that out to my young skeptic, and he did not know what to say other than “you have me on that one.”  On that Dale and I encouraged these young novice atheists to research the information that we shared with them on the historical evidences given them and the anthropic principle for the fine tuning of universe.  Whether they will or not the Lord knows.
Morals with no absolute moral framework
One of the more popular answers to the question, “what is the strongest argument . . .?”  centered upon the moral law argument.  Summarizing Penn Gillette’s attack on Christianity he stated, and I am summarizing here, that Christians are only moral because they are trying to earn rewards in the afterlife.  Nothing could be further from the truth!
I had one atheist tell met this. However his problem was demonstrated in a lack of understanding the where a moral framework is grounded.  You see most atheists, in arguing their morals, have to smuggle in Christian terminology in order to make their defense.  However, the atheist’s foundation for a moral framework is on a relativistic, slippery slope with no footing.  What does this leave them with?  What it produces is nothing more than a false sense of altruism (selflessness) while being philanthropic toward their fellow man.  In essence that they are left with is a pseudo-selflessness.  When I pointed this out to my atheistic friend in a Red Sox hat he stated that we were at an impasse.  
Conversations were also engaged in discussions on the intrinsic value of human beings.  What Dale and I exposed was that the atheist has no sense about the  intrinsic value of a human being, without compromising their worldview.  While denying the existence of God, who declares the sacredness of a human life, the kind intentions of the atheist become nothing more than selfish deeds that display the deadly pride enchaining their worldview.  Their moral high ground is not very pretty when it is exposed in the light of a Moral Lawgiver.
How can you have a beginning to the universe with nothing prior to it?
Lastly, Dale and I met an atheist Justin Schiebers, who co-hosts the podcast  called “Reasonable Doubts.”  Both Dale and I have continued our contact with Justin on Facebook and hopefully Skype in the future. 
The conversation with Justin started in cosmology, which is Dale’s specialty. His problem was that “if the universe had a beginning”, he could not acknowledge something or Someone who caused that beginning.  Dale was able to share with Justin some fascinating facts about the beginning of the universe.  I reminded him of the principle of causality.  We then moved into a discussion with him on the anthropic principle.  Interestingly enough, Justin did not balk at anything we had to say to him.  We could also tell that he was not too impressed toward accepting what we shared with him.  Hopefully we put a stone in his shoe.
Conclusion : A Confirming Impression.
I believe that each of the opportunities made evident the reason for this mission at the rally. Much could be said about the Orwellian 1984 “double speak” that emerged in the rhetoric to stir the masses.  Words like “faith,” “belief,” and “morals” were being redefined by the speakers and the doubly thousands of people cheered mindlessly to the rhetoric and vitriol. 

Who says there is no need for apologetics in the church?  It is high time we hunker down, load up our clip with the evidences in the mind of Christ and love the culture for the sake the gospel and the truth of the Christian faith which once for all delivered to the saints.
For me personally, I liken my experience to a scene from the Lord of the Rings.  As Frodo Baggins was taking the ring to Mordor, he felt the burden of the mission become even heavier the closer he came to the mountain. 

The Lord has wired me, over the last thirty plus years, with the passion for defending the faith with the goal toward sharing the gospel with those looking for and open to discussing the truth issues of our day.

“The world is changing” and I am seeing the shifts in our culture toward a loss of thinking in the churches, and the fallout from the faith as students walk away.  What does this say to us?  It says that there is a famine in the land and that the apologetic mandate has never been heavier in my heart and mind. We need apologetics in our churches and in the marketplace of ideas.  If this does not happen, I believe the church will be ineffective in this nation.  And I am afraid that we could be standing on the brink of that ineffectiveness right now.

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