Tonight I went to a panel discussion featuring Friendly Atheist Hemant Mehta and Christian apologist Ronald Danatus at Moody Church in Chicago. The group that hosted the event was comprised of young married people and singles.
The group has had a series of discussions with different groups and topics that they may or may not know much about. Things like discussions with a Muslim or Christian dispelling myths about homosexuality.
It sounded like the group was genuinely pursuing information to help them learn more about ideologies that they might be ignorant of. Having Mehta speak was laying the groundwork to understand atheism in a realistic perspective.
I have no real background information on Danatus apart from what he explained tonight. From memory, he is originally from India. He has a Hindu background and he converted to Christianity after exploring different religions. There was a turning moment when Danatus had some kind of breakdown that encouraged him to seek spiritual guidance and he’s found that Christianity is the best option.
I am biased, of course, but I felt Mehta represented his perspective more clearly and admirably than Danatus. Mehta was much clearer in speech. He has a smooth delivery and an ease of discussing controversial topics without making them seem controversial.
Danatus didn’t represent Christianity well. He made off-topic remarks. His speech wasn’t clear and he was difficult to understand.
Danatus brought up evolution. He was dumbfounded by Dawkin’s recent book “The Greatest Show on Earth.” Not understanding or accepting evolution is a gigantic Christian mistake. The Christians last night at the University of Chicago event showed that it’s possible to be Christian and accept evolution. Dinesh D’Souza is also in that camp … as well as a large number of Christians who work as scientists.
Danatus brought up Hitler, which was completely superfluous to the conversation. The event was a friendly conversation to discuss Christianity and atheism. It wasn’t a debate. There was no need to prove one wrong. There was no reason to demonize atheists during this discussion. Mehta made no attempt to demonize Christianity. For Danatus to make a statement about Hitler was non-sequitur and didn’t contribute to a healthy discussion.
Mehta makes atheists look good. That’s the plain and simple truth. He doesn’t get caught up in the muddy waters of philosophical details regarding atheism or belief. He comes from a Jain background, which separates him from some of the debate surrounding Christianity. He has a natural perspective that is neither naive nor ignorant.
I think the problem with the debate between Christianity and atheism is becoming too wrapped up in concepts that have nothing to do with the debate. This is where Danatus failed tonight. He got caught up in discussing concepts of anti-atheism, and he should have concentrated on concepts of pro-Christianity. He confused being pro-Christian with being anti-atheist. The greatness of Christianity should be able to stand on its own merits and principles. Otherwise, there is no beneficial discussion.
You can’t make your point by making your opponent’s view appear inferior. That’s like trying to beat up the bully by telling “Yo Mama” jokes.
Certain concepts are fed into the debate equation that don’t belong there. The equation is really quite simple. Either you find yourself as a believer or you don’t. If you’re a believer, you’re fed with all kinds of discussion points. If you’re an atheist, you are likely the same way. I’ll be happy to discuss concepts with people, but don’t push me away by demonizing my views. There’s plenty of ammunition against Christianity. And I know you think there’s amunition against atheism.
How are we working to connect and mend the differences?
After the talk, I hung out with some Christians and Mehta. One woman named Nicole asked us what question we might have asked if we had the chance to do so. I told her that I thought these conversations were necessary, and there’s no reason to express hostility or antagonize atheists if it’s not necessary. There was no reason to bring up Hitler and couple him with evil. I told her that Christians should rest their discussion on the merits of the positive attributes of Christianity. There’s no reason to try to convert us or to bring up death or hell as a factor.
She also asked what our view of love is. Since I’m married, I was given a spotlight. I told her that marriage is of utmost importance to me. My priority and my goal is making my marriage work. Love is a goal and an honor. Fidelity is key. I explained that my wife and eventually my children are the most important values that life can offer.
They also asked Mehta and me about our views on service. I’ve been exploring how I want to get involved lately with giving back to my community, and this question definitely made me think and want to pursue that want even more.
It was definitely a positive event. And if you’re a Christian reader of this blog, and you are involved in a church group … I think it would be an important and reasonable idea to encourage your church group to invite an atheist to speak to your group. Follow the lead of Moody Church. They seem to be doing something right.