Friday, April 12, 2013

When I Told the Atheist I Would Kill Him...

(Or, what I should have said was…)

In the words of Alanis Morrisette: “I recommend biting off more that you can chew to anyone (I certainly do)." That’s what I did this past week. I accepted an opportunity to dialogue with an atheist on the topic “Should You Believe in the Resurrection” at the Baptist Student Center at Missouri State University. I was paired with JT Eberhard who is a speaker for the Secular Student Alliance and blogs at www.patheos/blogs/wwjtd. You can also find many of his debates and presentations on YouTube.

Although I do believe JT was being somewhat kind to me and not as vicious as his reputation, I do think I was doing all right in the discussion. I’ll admit, I didn’t always have answers to his points about science as the answer to everything, my goal was to give a viable reason why I believe in the resurrection, and my reason was grounded in historical method and not science.

There came a time near the end of the night when the subject veered off of the resurrection and on to morality. The subject of the morality of Abraham’s decision to sacrifice his son came up. JT turned the question to me. Granted there is a God, and he told me to kill him (JT), would I do it. I hemmed and hawed. I didn’t know how to answer the question. If I said no, then I admit that I am more moral than God and don’t need him to make moral decisions. If I said yes, I reveal myself to be no different than someone like Andrea Yates (who drowned her children in a bathtub because “god” told her). We obviously don’t believe God told Andrea Yates that, and that is why it is hard to believe in anyone who tells you that God told them anything (especially when it comes to claims of the supernatural). I started by saying I felt the demand was something I felt that was out of character for what I knew of God on this side of the cross. But for some reason, I felt compelled to answer. I took the bait, and said yes, if God himself told me to kill JT, I probably would. And immediately I knew it was the wrong answer. The crowd (probably more skeptics than Christians) gasped. The BSU director threw his head back with his mouth agape as if to say, “I can’t believe you said that!” And of course, JT pounced. It is irrational to believe in the stories of the Bible where God tells someone to kill just as we wouldn’t believe Andrea Yates.

I backtracked, admitted that I made a mistake and wished that I could answer again, but I didn’t feel that was fair. I said that the question was hard to answer because it was out of character for God. What I wish I had said was that I would probably not do it, for that very reason. The request was out of character for my understanding of the nature of God revealed through the person of Jesus Christ. I would decline the command and throw myself on His mercy. I would assume that there must be something wrong with me if I thought that God was asking me to do something like this. Perhaps I should have just refused the question, because it is an impossibility. You cannot imagine how many times I have kicked myself since last night.

I definitely was out of my element last night. And that’s okay. I have very little experience in those of settings. It is amazing, however, how clever I was on the three-hour ride back home last night. I could think of many answers to the questions that were posed to me by both JT and the skeptics in the audience. If I want to continue doing this sort of thing, I guess I’ll need to get my reps in. (It will remain to be seen whether I want to continue to do this sort of thing, or even after this performance, anyone would even ask me to be a part. It will be on YouTube soon, so you can see the train wreck yourself).

The experience was truly humbling and challenging as well. I interacted with sources that I normally do not. I went into the evening with the goal of representing Jesus well. I was asked to take part in this event, not because of my debating skills, but because of my relationship with the Christian campus director and his feeling that I would come across knowledgeable, but I would not damage relationships that he has been building with the skeptic community at Missouri State University. And while I did not match wits at time very well with JT, later I was told by several skeptics that I came across as cordial, honest and humble. I knew I wouldn’t win a debate, but if what they said about me was true, I met part of my goal.