In 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.