Let's free ourselves from weighty news: earthquakes, floods, oil explosions; Uganda, Afghanistan, and other slaughter; economy and immigration struggles. Let's debate God and religion. After all, everyone reserves the right to be an expert on that.
Rabbi David Wolpe, author of "Why Faith Matters," and atheist Christopher Hitchens, best-selling author of "God Is Not Great," are engaging in a series of debates in what Wolpe calls an "atheist vs. rabbi roadshow." Wolpe also says that the fight over faith is the "most recent culture clash," fallout of 9/11.
What is happening is more of an effort by the godless to intimidate God-believers with clever jousting as ancient as Lucifer's loss of heaven. Paul, a New Testament author and master debater, warned: "Turn away from the irreverent babble and godless chatter, with the vain and empty and worldly phrases, and the subtleties and the contradictions in what is falsely called knowledge and spiritual illumination" (1 Timothy 6:20 Amplified).
Clever jousting always goes in for the kill. When a debate moderator asked Hitchens if he ever prayed, he said: "Yes, once, for an erection." Wolpe wisely backed away from prayer discussion. After a debate Hitchens' line of autograph seekers stretches, according to Wolpe, "as long as the eye can see," while five or ten stand in Wolpe's line. That reveals, not Wolpe's vs. Hitchen's skills, but what the audience seeks.
Comedy Central's network writers get it. Neuroscientist Robert Provine's laughter studies don't surprise them. Laughter, primal and social, is our first communication. If it is popular to poke fun at Jesus Christ, as they do on "South Park" and intend to do if they air their series "JC," they will, like Hitchens, entertain their viewers.
Brian Zahnd, pastor and author of "What To Do on the Worst Day of Your Life," warns against the rant or debate as a method of "proving" God or Bible. He recognizes that people like Ann Coulter, Rush Limbaugh, and Glenn Beck, are primarily entertainers, labeled more for what they are against than what they are for.
The Washington Post pointed out in a June 2010 article that top U.S. generals are hard to find. Today's world demands they master a complex mixture of military leadership and diplomacy. Warrior-diplomats are also scarce among God-believers.
St. Augustine said: "A person can do other things against his will; but belief is possible only in one who is willing." The Bible is not a proof text unless it is believed. We could better learn from Big Jake, the world's tallest living horse at 6 feet 11 inches, who raises money for the Ronald McDonald House. His owner, Jerry Gilbert, says: "Big Jake is good with people and even likes to goof off."
Paul spoke one of his finest arguments to King Agrippa, but it ended with the king saying: "Almost thou persuadest me to be a Christian" (Acts 26:28). Another time he debated the polytheistic philosophers on Mars Hill in Athens, cleverly pointing at their idol to the "Unknown God." At the end some mocked and some said they'd think about it (Acts 17:32). Maybe this column will provoke that much; if not, try laughing it off.
Finding truth requires the right starting point. That is the quest of this column. If you are a seeker of simple truth, we can find it together - side-by-side.