It Takes All Kinds

It Takes All Kinds May 6, 2013

conversation2In case you didn’t know, we are in the midst of a culture war.  It’s a war between competing narratives, each having its own collection of good guys and bad guys, stories of derring-do, and tales of epic battles between the forces of good and evil for the fate of the world.  But this is no mere war of words.  It is a war of ideas, and ideas have consequences.  Ideas lead people to do things, to take action.  And sometimes those actions have lasting consequences on individual lives, families, and on society as a whole.  They cause people to act towards those ends which they believe are worthy of their time, effort, and passion.  I know first hand the power that these narratives wield over our lives, and I myself have seen the effect they have on people.

But like any war, this battle is not fought on merely one front.  Like any war, there are multiple arenas and multiple strategies in play, and one cannot simply say that one battle is more important than another.  All of the battles are important in their own ways, and much of the important work is done far away from the front lines.  Much of the important work that happens in a war happens when bridges are built (both literal and figurative) and alliances are formed between groups that have common goals.

That is why some of us caught up in the culture wars will devote our time to building relationships and seeking common ground among those whose goals are not diametrically opposed to our own.  We feel that much good can be done through nurturing these relationships and through fostering positive, constructive dialogue (as much as can authentically be done) between Christians and non-Christians whenever possible.  Each of us may have ulterior motives in forming these alliances, but that’s just the way alliances work.  Why else would each side be motivated to seek such bonds?  It’s okay, though.  We can still each benefit from our respective gains.

You do not have to approve of such measures.  I will not even be personally offended if you feel this is a waste of our time.  But whether or not you agree, we feel this is valuable work, and we feel it is not wasted.  Some of us, in fact, by virtue of our particular life situations feel compelled to devote ourselves to advancing these friendly conversations because our most important relationships will benefit from them.  Some of us have people we love dearly on both sides of the battle lines.  We are not content to merely suit up and charge the front lines, swords raised for attack.  That work has its place.  But so does the work of diplomacy among our allies.

This weekend was a lot of fun for me.  I posted a YouTube video and made a lot of friends. The responses were overwhelmingly positive, and the feedback was generous and charitable.  Those who expressed the most displeasure had one of two complaints:

1.  Anti-theists seem to get a bad rap in my talk.  Many feel I misrepresented them. Considering the context and the broad strokes with which I had to approach the conversation, I’m sure I did.  Perhaps in the future I’ll be able to articulate a more precise and positive explanation for those viewpoints.  I still maintain, however, that I do not identify with anti-theism per se simply because there are too many diverse kinds of theism out there, and my response to each kind will vary.  I think people are too quick to lump the people they don’t agree with into one common pot, and helpful distinctions are lost in the process.

2.  Some felt I was just too nice.  Too syrupy sweet.  Too conciliatory.  Those who know me know that I do, in fact, err on that side in most things.  But consider, once again, the context of this interview.  I was invited by an evangelical church in Jackson, Mississippi to participate in an event especially designed to foster positive, constructive dialogue between Christians and atheists.  It was a warm, welcoming atmosphere, and the church and the minister did a fantastic job of making me feel at home.  So from where I stand, it was a great night all around.

The fight is worthy, and it must be fought on all fronts.  There is a place and a time for clashing swords, metaphorically speaking.  I quite enjoy the sport of it myself.  I learned to love apologetics even as a youth in church.  I still enjoy the conversations (and the disagreements) that happen in that context.  But the diplomatic work done among our allies is just as important.  Not all theists, and not all Christians, see people like me as an enemy (or as a pawn or a puppet of an enemy).  Some of them want to be friends, and I feel that’s worth my time.

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  • I just have to repeat that I was deeply impressed. Kudos!!!!

  • Ron Godin

    I really enjoyed the “interview” and I think you handled it just right. I don’t think being confrontational is the way to win folks over. I think that we need just to explain, as you did, non-believers are regular folks that just happen to see ONE issue differently. Kudos on a good job. BTW, I have a blog and I would entertain any feedback from anyone on it. I comment on more than religion. It’s at

  • “too many diverse kinds of theism out there.” So which theism were you addressing when you carefully prepared this talk, worked on the Keynote or Powerpoint slide show and created miles of distance between your kind of Atheism and the Anti-Theists who get sh&% done?

    Your lengthy prose above reminds me of someone trying to convince themselves rather than an audience. If you were wrong, admit it and move on. If you felt justified, offer a precise explanation instead of some drawn out wordy diatribe.

    Have you any examples of when an alliance between atheists and Christians has produced any notable benefits that prevented their abuse and intrusions into secular society? Or is this a more personal attempt to make amends for daring to think for yourself and win back the fair-weather Christian friends you once had?

    Above you make a false dichotomy. You offer only two alternatives, one peace loving fuzzy coated kumbaya mantra and the polar opposite with “swords raised attack”. Do you really believe those to be the only options? This type of defense is embarrassingly transparent.

  • Sorry to hear you disapprove. But thank you for taking the time to share your opinion with me on my blog.

    As I said, “Some of us, in fact, by virtue of our particular life situations feel compelled to devote ourselves to advancing these friendly conversations because our most important relationships will benefit from them. Some of us have people we love dearly on both sides of the battle lines.”

    I went on to say that the confrontational work has its place. This church meeting was not the place, or the time for that.

  • And I went on to say that you are creating a false dichotomy.

    You’re welcome.

    “You offer only two alternatives, one peace loving fuzzy coated kumbaya mantra and the polar opposite with “swords raised attack”. Do you really believe those to be the only options?”

    You completely ignored this!?! Why? Instead you pretend those are the only options, they are not! Friendly, respectful debate can take place. Even without the debate, a rational discourse without hostility and confrontation can be achieved, instead you opted for a course of ostracization of “unknown” atheists while coddling the religious.

    This certainly sounds more like you have a very personal agenda with little to nothing to do with Atheism.

    Above I asked some direct questions which you avoided and chose to create a strawman fallacy in which to argue.

    “I went on to say that the confrontational work has its place. This church meeting was not the place, or the time for that.”

    I wish you well in repairing whatever damages have been caused to your personal relationships but to attempt repair by wastefully disguising an opportunity to teach a theistic community about atheists is dishonest.

    You took what was to be a National effort to raise awareness and give general insight of Atheism to Theists and instead used the opportunity for personal gain while scapegoating the Anti-Theists for whom without you would not have had the platform to begin with.

  • I ignored your challenge because I don’t feel personally obligated to answer your objection. I painted with broad strokes because a church service isn’t the right time or place to be confrontational. You evidently disagree with me on that. That’s your prerogative. But it’s also my choice to use the opportunity I had to start a conversation that wasn’t aimed at detailing all of the places where I disagree with them. I feel like I got quite a bit said and I’m happy with what got covered.

  • And again, you defend a proposition that wasn’t made. I am embarrassed for you. Good day Sir.

  • James

    What you did was honorable and you handled it impressively! There are no easy paths, just easy copouts, it takes a wise man or a fool to pursue the middle ground between extremes… It seems we live in a world of do’s and don’ts,, them or us, Red State or Blue, good or bad, theist or atheist, there are just a very few who are willing to understand the other side… Compromise is never a bad thing! Understanding, compassion, and tolerance are not bad words… We have to begin somewhere, we have to draw our lines in the sand, and yet still be willing to tear down the walls and the divides, that divide us, so we can communicate and understand our oppositions point of view!

    Being brought up as a Catholic, being born again, then converting to Buddhism, my life has taken many different paths… Studying world religions, for the past thirty something odd years of my life, and then coming to the realization that we are all just looking for a little slice of peace, comfort and certainty in an uncertain existence has left me with the impression that most Theists, (along with Atheists) goals could be honorable, if they didn’t get so stuck in their so called created certainties! Dealing with a couple of life threatening illness has taught me how uncertain and fragile life is… When dealing with the threat of death and dying all certainties fly out the window and what we are left with are our hopes… I tend to turn to Ingersoll, Fromm, Voltaire, Buddha, Rumi, even Jesus, not for the supernatural, but for the human aspect… Because whether there is a god or not, matters little in the face of uncertainty, what matters is the common bond we all share with uncertainty, fear, and death, the unknown! That which is unknown, in religious belief and science, is what makes our natures yearn and hope for some kind of certainty, some foothold or storehouse of stability! But in reality… There are no easy paths… There is no certainty, even in death, we do not know what lies hidden behind it’s veil, and it is only the fool, be it an atheist or theist, who claims differently…

    What we do know is right now, in this moment we exist… We breathe, we take up space, we are here… There will always be those who try to peddle certainty and the so called TRUTHS, but in reality… We only have each other, in this present moment, and the next is uncertain! What we have to offer each other, the greatest gift we can share, is the gift of compassion, loving kindness, and understanding, it doesn’t take a prophet or saint, to realize the benefits of doing so… There will always be those of opposing views, always be disagreement, always be new paths to travel upon, so we can either kill each other or choose to live in peace and cooperation, with the understanding that it is okay to believe differently, as long as we are not forcing those beliefs on others… If we can get to that point, that understanding, it would not matter if a person was a theist or atheist, the problem is that our desire for certainty always seems to push us into extremes! This is why it is so important to continue to do what you are trying to do, to build bridges, instead of just burning down churches! I congratulate you, on your courage or possible foolishness to do so… It shows honor, it shows tenacity, and possibly… A slight bit of insanity! Lol

  • Excellent word, James! Very well put. Thank you.

  • James

    You are very welcome! And a very big thank you, for all your efforts in trying to build those bridges!!!

  • Justin

    I actually enjoyed the video, though I do feel like you unintentionally threw anti-theists under the bus a bit. It was not nearly so bad as to be upset about.

    I wonder though, as a former minister and therefore a theologian to some extent, do you sometimes find yourself debating with Christians as though you were still one of them? And if so, do you find that to be productive to your overall message?

  • carmen

    I really like what James has to say here and wish I could write as well and as convincingly. . . sigh. . .