They Don’t Believe Because Your God Isn’t Desirable
I watched the recent debate between William Lane Craig, a Christian, and Sam Harris an Atheist. The debate (seen Here) was over the foundations of morality. The Christian addressed the philosophical question at hand with skill and insight. By the midway point the atheist struck me as seriously outmatched and overpowered.
Yet then things changed. Sam Harris began putting forth a set of arguments that had nothing to do with the topic at hand: the problem of religious diversity, the problem of pain, reflections on the character of God in the Bible. By the end I thought the Atheist won—not because he actually addressed the question at hand—on that front I thought he failed. But because I don’t recall anything the Christian said that made me want to believe in his God, yet I had a worthy list of things the Atheist said that made me think the Christian God distasteful.
Is the debate about what is rational or about desire? What do you think of Jeff Cook’s notion that desire needs to be addressed more in apologetics?
Such experiences are not uncommon. Despite solid, rational rebuttals from philosophers across the board, despite the fact that the “new atheist” clan seems hopelessly naïve about ethics and epistemology—their arguments continue to gain ground because they know something Christian apologist apparently don’t.
The debate about God in our culture is not about what’s rational.
Bill Maher, Christopher Hitchens, Penn Jillette, Richard Dawkins, etc, specialize—not in philosophical thought—but in ridicule. And that means the new atheists excel on the only evangelistically-effective playing field that matters—that of human emotion and desire. Most Christian apologists conversely seem content to surrender that ground in their preference for mere rationality. This is a tragic mistake and it’s the primary reason Christian belief is diminishing, marginalized and an easy target for nighttime comedians.
Blaise Pascal said, “Men despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is first to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men wish it were true, and then show that it is” (Pensees 12).
All too often (especially online) those of us who like arguing for Christian Theism jump to the end of Pascal’s list. We think we have wiz-bang arguments to offer. Unfortunately, we don’t have a worthy foundation for showcasing such arguments. We have not established that Christianity should be revered, nor that it is attractive, nor that it is worthy of affection. We prefer to pull out our five proofs for its “truth” and argue our misguided interlocutors into the Kingdom cold. This is a mistake, for most of our audience see such arguments as power plays, as manipulation, as simply another advertisement out there trying to entice them to buy something.
Conversely, those arguing against Christian theism today have followed Pascal’s formula well. They begin by showing their audience that your God is blood-thirsty, arbitrary, and gains pleasure from the eternal conscious torment of large swaths of humanity to bring himself “glory”. Second, they have shown that Christian Theism is not attractive for it makes human beings into well-documented lunatics who start wars in the name of their god, who are irrational and condemnatory, and whose political preferences will destroy human freedom. And finally they put forth bland, non-curious, easily refutable arguments for the truth of Materialism (because unfortunately for them, those are the only kinds of arguments available for Materialism)—but by this point such arguments seem worthy and are easily swallowed.
Because, again, the debate about God today is not about what’s reasonable—it is almost entirely about preferences and desire.
One must want God to exist in order to become a follower of Jesus, and as such, it is time for a radical rethinking of apologetics that begins where nearly all of Jesus’ pitches for the Kingdom began—with human longing (consider, for example, the Beatitudes).
I will publish two more post on moving toward a more effective apologetic in days to come (or you may read a book I recently published which seeks to exemplify the strategy: here). But let us begin with this preliminary claim:
Has desire been overlooked by apologists? Have the intellectual battles been won at the expense of enticing seekers toward the risen Christ? Where do you see Christians effectively showcasing the desirability of God?
I look forward to dialoguing with you about this in the days to come.
Jeff Cook lectures on philosophy at the University of Northern Colorado. He is the author of Everything New: One Philosopher’s Search for a God Worth Believing in (Subversive 2012). You can see his work at www.everythingnew.org