The Great Debate

I went to the “great debate” – Does God Exist? – last night at Binghamton University in Upstate New York. The event was double-hosted by the Campus Bible Fellowship and the Secular Student Alliance.

Ex-Mormon Erin M. and I caught a ride with Michael McElroy, all members of the local atheist Meet-Up group, Capital Region Atheists and Agnostics. Nice trip, the both of you. I enjoyed the wide-ranging conversation immensely. Sorry I fell asleep on the late-night return trip; hey, I’m old. —Oh, yeah, also saw Rick Martin, one of the CRA&A founding members.

McElroy has an excellent recap of the actual substance of the debate on his own blog.

I’ll post the YouTube videos when I see them up. Don’t know when that will be. But meanwhile …

I thought Matt Dillahunty (host of The Atheist Experience) did a fantastic job against Christian apologist Jay Lucas.

Matt was thoughtful, open, generous, honest and funny.

The audience, which appeared to be about 60-40 atheists vs. godders, and mostly college students, was receptive. At the breaks, instant crowds gathered around Matt for photos, smiles, laughter and requests for autographs. (I thought it was funny that several freethinker students got Matt to sign the free Bibles the Fellowship handed out beforehand.)

Lucas, on the other hand, seemed cajoling, wooden, slick, and preachy. Mostly, he seemed rehearsed as opposed to genuine. There was just enough of the slippery and sly about him …

I wish I could describe what it was. Something like an oily car salesman who slaps a bearish arm around you and leans in too close to say “Hey, friend, I’m giving you such a deal, practically cutting my throat, so just sign right here and we’ll go get us a beer, okay good buddy? Hey, I’ll let you buy the first round! Haw!”

… to make me feel slightly ill in his presence.

To give you an example of his rhetoric, he trotted out STALIN. His next few words were drowned out by emphatic groans of disgust from the audience. Lucas never blinked.

He also misrepresented the full picture of slavery in the Bible, cherry-picking passages so he could call it – I kid you not – “a social safety net.”

But processing the pics I took of the event, I came across a sequence that stirred something … sympathetic.

I was talking to Jason, one of the event organizers (fantastic job, by the way, guys!) about the subject of tactics, and said that in my political career I had at times admired the tactical skills of my opponents even while hating what they were doing. “It’s like getting shoved into the cage with a tiger. You know it’s gonna kill you, but you can’t help noticing how beautiful it is.”

This was something like that.

I’m looking at these pics (click to embiggen) …

… and seeing someone lost. A little boy who got into this career track with glowing encouragement from his peers and mentors, and now – at this paunchy age of baggy eyes and vanishing hair – finds the solid foundation of that career, and the entire philosophy that undergirds it, dissolving into bitter mush.

Mostly, I feel sympathy for the victims of religion, but merciless distaste for the salesmen of same. It’s like the different feelings you might have for hapless drug addicts as opposed to predatory drug pushers, or women forced into prostitution as opposed to pimps.

This is my first window into a third feeling, an empathy for the man in the Christian pimp-mobile. A tentative look at the forces that led him to be here, and a thought or two for his eventual fate as the peddler of a philosophy in the process of being rejected by large numbers – an eventual majority, in fact – of his fellow men.

On the other hand … given the reality of pimps and pushers, the things they actually DO, no matter what brought them there to do it, and the fact that none of us has an infinite amount of sympathy or resources, there’s an unfortunate limit to how broad minded you can afford to be.

Matt Dillahunty: I hope we meet again, and have a long, long time to talk. I’m buying the first couple of rounds.

Jay Lucas: I wish you whatever joys a person such as yourself can find in life, but I genuinely believe what you do hurts people. I would not enjoy your company.

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About Hank Fox
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=782440911 Lawrence

    Matt is building quite a fanbase. There are a number of gnu-atheists emerging now who aren’t well-known professors, professional philosophers or controversial writer/journalists but who are perfectly able to blow professional apologetics or of the water. The Reasonable Doubts crew are another good example. They’ve ripped apart arguments by William Lame Craig, Plantinga, Copan and many others on their podcast, and Jeremy Beahan’s demolition of Cliff Knechtle in a live debate a few years ago was masterful.
    It’s about time the spotlight shifted from Dawkins et al and focused on these grassroots activists.

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