Extra! Extra! Atheists Whip Christians In Debate! Again! And Again.
The other day I read the recent Newsweek piece in which Rick Warren (Purpose-Driven Life—like you didn’t know) debated the eminently rational and mind-bogglingly articulate Sam Harris (The End of Faith, Letter to a Christian Nation). In that “debate,” I thought Mr. Harris waxed the floor with Mr. Warren (for whom—not that he could possibly know or care—I have nothing but love and respect).
For one, nobody out-rationalizes Sam Harris. The guy has a brain the size of Europe—and all of it is connected to his mouth. He also seems entirely compassionate and utterly Pro-Human, two qualities I know I enjoy in a person. I think Sam Harris stands as pretty much the ultimate example of what a person can be and think when they insist that rational thought, above all, should be respected. And I can respect that. It’s certainly not the worst thing for a person to stake their claim on.
Rational thought is core to what it means to be human. And that means that ultimately every human, sooner or later, must decide whether or not there’s a God. Everything is either created by some sort of Divine Overseer, or the universe is the result of purely mechanistic coincidences. Those are our two choices. It’s not like there’s a third one. (Unless you count the decision not to decide whether or not there’s a God—which, to my mind, is a “choice” entirely too spineless to take seriously.) There either is a God, or there isn’t. And everyone definitely wants to know which of the two it is. Not a one of us wants to exist in a system that’s grounded in pure, unknowable mystery. That’s way too scary.
So people do what they must: They choose either God, or No God. Then they go with that.
We Christians, of course, have chosen God. It’s what our hearts tell us is true. More: It’s what God tells us is true. To be perfectly accurate, we didn’t choose God at all. God chose us.
But we’ve got to understand that once we decide, for whatever reason, to Vote God, we necessarily mark ourselves, in the eyes of someone who’s gone with option No God, as extraordinarily irrational. At that point we can’t help but seem to them as fundamentally (so to speak) bonkers.
Which is not to say that we cannot fully justify our faith: My first book, Penguins, Pain and the Whole Shebang, proved (if I say so myself) that the entirety of the Christian belief system is nothing if not rationally supportable. Once anyone decides there is a God—which, since there either is or isn’t, is necessarily as rational as deciding there’s not—Christianity makes as much sense as opening an umbrella in the rain. It’s actually difficult to posit a God, proceed logically from that assertion, and end up anywhere but at the Christian cross.
God became human to right us with himself. It’s … well, perfect.
But the final truth behind Christianity is a spiritual, dynamic, mystical, deeply personal phenomenon that has no more to do with reason or logic than fins and gills have to do with koala bears. In the very, very final analysis, we simply cannot rationally defend our belief in God. Trying to do so is like, as they say, trying to dance about architecture.
Rick Warren lost his Newsweek debate with Sam Harris because Sam Harris can take rational thought and language all the way down to the base of what he believes in, while Mr. Warren, struggle though he might, can only take rational thought and language down the point at his belief where both become useless.
So Rick Warren loses the debate. In the end, we Christians will always lose the debate with atheists. Because they’re using the language of logic. And there are no words for the essence of the Christian experience. And there never will be, thank God.