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.


Erik Muir said...

I don't know if I'd be able to follow through with God's command in that instance, but my theology tells me I should obey Him. And, I suppose, if I didn't follow through with His command it would be a sin, but for which He has already forgiven me.

I'm sure I'm probably wrong here, but should we not so quickly jump to the conclusion that Andrea Yates did not hear God tell her to kill her children? Our actions here on Earth have earthly consequences, such as going to prison for murder. But is it possible that that's where God wants her to be? Maybe He needs those children in His Kingdom now for a special purpose. We, as a society, can't excuse her behavior, but God, on Judgement Day, can sentence her as He pleases.

Can you say, with any certainty, that God would not command one of His followers to do such a thing - on this side of the cross, as you said? Maybe you can. I haven't thought about it enough.

BTW, you should definitely see the film "Collision" (if you haven't already) about the debate tour of Christopher Hitchens and Doug Wilson. It is excellent.

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Anonymous said...

Dear Dr. Victor:

I am a Christian who was present at your debate. I want to quickly give my answer to the infamous question. This will also be a indirect response to Erik Muir's comment.

I would first like to commend you for the grace and humility which you displayed during the debate even when it was definitely not going your way and the humbleness you are showing by this blog post in dealing with your mistake.

The reason the Christian would know that the command from God to kill JT would not be valid is because it violates the New Testament. Ben Witherington puts it this way:

"In 1 John 2 the Beloved Disciple suggests a series of moral tests to see if one's experience is of God, for example-- does it produce behavior like the behavior of Jesus? Does it lead one to love God with one's whole heart and one's neighbor as self, or is it narcissistic in character? Does it lead to holy living or does it lead to questionable beliefs and behavior? Does it lead to moving on faith, or does it lead to fear-based practices, since the experience of the real love of God casts out all fear? Does it lead to the belief that Jesus is the Son of God come in the flesh, as the Johannine Epistles put it, or to some sort of heterodox belief about Jesus?"

Now God appearing to you and telling you to kill JT would violate several of the conditions of John 2.

I would also like to discuss the issue of Abraham since a main contention of the skeptic is that God commanded Abraham to kill Isaac as a test of faith so therefore God could command anyone to kill thus God is immoral.

There is ultimately more theologically to the story of Abraham than merely a test of faith. If you follow the entire narrative underlying the entire Torah it is easy to see that many of the actions God takes is to prove that the one true God is different than the other God's that were worshiped in the ancient near east.

For example, In the creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2 God is specifically pointing out that he created the sun and the moon, the land, the trees, etc. This is important because it is the first foundations of the theological narrative I stated previously. In the ancient near east worship of the sun, moon, trees, etc. as deity was common so God is essentially saying that He demands worship not his creation.

In the case of Abraham it is important to note that God stayed Abraham's hand via an angel,which ultimately signifies that He is a God that does not demand child sacrifice because child sacrifice was very common in the ancient times. God commanded Abraham to go through this exercise knowing that he could make this point through it while simultaneously testing Abraham's faith. It is shown in the Torah that God chooses to uses actions over simple commands because as we all know actions speak louder than words.

Thanks for allowing a forum to allow me to engage with this topic because I have desperately needed to since the debate.

I hope you do not think of the debate as a failure. for me it has reinvigorated my interest in apologetics. More importantly you were an amazing example of Christian humility during the debate as well as your response to your shortcomings. You sir are clearly a great man of God.

Thank You,
Marcus Krueger

Morrison said...

Don't knock yourself, Victor.

JT uses shock tactics...his debates are about WINNING, not about finding the truth.

Those are old debate tactics...

As to whether someone would kill someone in any given circumstance, just ask the Atheist if they would kill if their government told them to.

Officially atheist governments have killed MILLIONS...literally MILLIONS...and there is nothing inconsistent between being an atheist and being a killer.

JT is intellectually dishonest, and although he was toned down here he frequently relies on ad hominems, even against atheists he disagrees with, calling them such things as "dishonest little sh*ts" and "f*ckstains".

He can't be trusted.

Anonymous said...


"there is nothing inconsistent between being an atheist and being a killer."

No there's not because those have really nothing to do with each other. Let's take this bit of "logic" a little further.

There is nothing inconsistent between being a Star Trek fan and a killer. Or a conservative and a killer. Or a liberal and a killer. Or a man and a killer. Or white and a killer.

"JT is intellectually dishonest, and although he was toned down here he frequently relies on ad hominems, even against atheists he disagrees with, calling them such things as "dishonest little sh*ts" and "f*ckstains"."

That's not ad hom. Pick up a basic logic book. Those are insults. An ad hom is using an insult to attempt to refute someone. Like what you are doing right now.

Anonymous said...

Hi Bill,

I saw your debate with JT a few days ago and I have a question about something you said. If I am remembering it correctly then your recommendation to your students on how to convince skeptics and atheists of the truth of your religion is to show them your god's way through their behavior. In other words you would like them to be nice and kind when interacting with skeptics and atheists (and I assume just in general to everybody, but I am specifically talking about your tactic to convince skeptics and atheists). You said during the debate that you've read a good deal of counter apologetics books and you've had at least one encounter with an outspoken atheist now, i.e. JT. After reading the books and speaking to JT, does it not occur to you that "being nice and kind" to us (and by "us" I mean the kind of skeptic and atheist that has actually thought about religion and it's claims) is just about as ineffective a method as you can possibly imagine? How could being nice and kind to us possibly convince us, if the central question we have for religious people is "why do you believe what you believe?" Just for a moment, put yourself in our shoes and think of an imam suggesting to his students that they should go out and mingle with Christians and convince them of the truth of Islam by being nice and kind to them. Would that approach in any way stand the chance of convincing you of the truth of the claims of Islam? Or would you require a little more from the followers of Islam to be convinced of their beliefs like, say, a few good reasons for why they believe what they believe and why you should believe the same things?

I am not seeing you interact much with your commenters but I'd be happy if you replied to my question.

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billy v said...

Thanks for your reply. I obviously do not believe the only way to engage skeptics is just to be nice to them. I believe my presence at the debate and my study and presentation would give evidence to more than that. I believe there must be both evidence and living the truth in front of them. I had much more material interacting with such authors as Robert Price, Richard Carrier and Matthew McCormick but I was limited on how much time I had.

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