I almost want to apologize, but I entered into an online debate this week with a few self-identified atheists. Though they would deny it, I would classify them as New Atheists.
As someone who’s avoided the group for some time, I found it an interesting experience. Yes, the fallacies are all still there: the refusal to accept any burden of proof, the scientism, the distortion of theists’ actual arguments, the mockery in place of rational argumentation…but this seems rather old news.
I’ve decided that I ought to focus on what I can learn from the experience. Here’s my list so far, but I welcome additions in the comments section.
1. Doubt is a good thing
The New Atheists are right to assert this. In fact, it is not their doubt of theism that is my chief issue with them. It is their lack of doubt in scientism and materialism.
But I can’t respond to them by digging in our heels and declaring certainty. I need to see this as an example to avoid–to be thoughtful and reflective about my views.
2. You can’t persuade everyone
It isn’t our job to convince others of the truth of theism; only the spirit can convict. Our job is to communicate our beliefs, and the reasons for those beliefs, as clearly as possible.
The rest is between the listener and God.
3. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake
It’s not “blessed are those who are persecuted for obnoxiousness sake”. If I’m irritable, pushy, or defensive in my presentation, then I need to change.
However, it has happened that I’ve been insulted because someone is resorting to mockery for a lack of intelligent response. I’m slowly learning that this isn’t a reason to be upset, but something to expect.
4. Debate sharpens the mind, and clarifies one’s theology
I’ve found no better way to sort out the details my beliefs. I hope to always have someone to challenge me in ways that I don’t think to challenge myself.
5. Theism is an approach for the thoughtful
That’s not to say that all thoughtful people are theists, but that realizing that theism is a formidable position is part of being a thoughtful person. Those who dismiss the debate as if it were over simply don’t understand the reality of the situation.
6. Loving my enemies takes practice
It’s also the only way to free myself from bitterness.
7. One isn’t saved through debate
Part of the reason, I think, why most of us are so eager to convince others is that we think it will help us with our own doubt (and it seems to be worst when we won’t admit to ourselves that we have doubt).
But winning debates doesn’t make me more right, and it definitely doesn’t bring me closer to God. And it is amazing how easy it is to start debating as if it justified my existence.
Those are my lessons. If you have any others, I’d love to read about them.