The Center For Inquiry has a new billboard up here in Grand Rapids, MI, touting happiness without religious belief. On one of their websites, they explain, “It’s really quite simple,” that is, being human is good and wondrous and we live in an amazing time and place. A video outlines their thoughts:
Yesterday I was interviewed by WoodTV8 on a story about a controversial billboard near downtown Grand Rapids that reads, “You don’t need God – to hope, to care, to love, to live.” The billboard is sponsored by the Center for Inquiry. My reaction is that the billboard can be a positive because it serves as a conversation starter about a relationship with the Lord and what the meaning of true love and true hope is all about.
When I was an undergraduate student at Ole Miss, I had a religion professor who seemed to be a strong proponent of Buddhism. I believe she was a fair professor and was not trying to indoctrinate anybody into converting, but the class and the studying of other religions called me to study and think deeply about my own faith. The class prompted me to read the Gospels and Scripture closely, which was ultimately a first step into a calling to seminary. Likewise, the billboard may give Christian families and believers a chance to ask the deep questions of what they believe and why they believe. Furthermore, a bland nominal Christianity is no preparation for the difficulties and trials of this world and it is essential to move beyond that.
I’d also like to expand beyond the edited comments from the news report and offer a fuller response about hope and faith. One thing that is apparent today about many skeptics and atheists is that they are very evangelistic. Unlike the past, they are very aggressive about gaining converts and are often reactionary to any faith or religion expressed in culture. In many cases this brand of atheism mirrors a sort of reactionary Christian fundamentalism when it comes to responding to culture.
In a 2007 Weekly Standard piece, Harvard professor Harvey Mansfield summed up the the new aggressive atheist tactic this way,
Atheism isn’t what it was in the eighteenth century. Now, the focus of the attack is not the Church, which is no longer dominant, but religion itself. The disdain one used to hear for “organized religion” extends now to the individual believer’s faith. Despite the change, politics is still the thrust of the attack. It’s just that the delusion of religion is now allowed to be the responsibility of the believer, not of some group that is deluding him. A more direct approach is required.
For the Christian, when it comes to hope, care, living, and love, the believer knows that ultimately all those attributes are grounded in Christ. In contrast, the hope of the unbeliever is a hope in the things of themselves and of this world. The believer on the other hand knows that the hope of this world is ultimately a vain, withering, and disappointing hope. But the hope provided by the life, death, and resurrection of Christ is an anticipation that does not only not disappoint (Romans 1:5) but is triumphant. The resurrection of Christ is so essential to our future hope that Augustine declared, “In Christ’s death, death died. The fulness of of life swallowed up death; death was absorbed in the body of Christ.” John Calvin added about Christ, “Such is the nature of his rule, that he shares with us all that he has received from the Father. Now he arms and equips us with his power, and adorns us with his beauty and magnificence, and enriches us with his wealth.”
As we travel life’s highway, the believer can be assured that God is still on his throne and that those that are hid in Christ are heirs to his glory. If vain and confusing props on the side of the road can help remind us to think and converse in a deeper manner about all that we are promised and will receive by his marvelous grace, then ultimately it is beneficial. When one studies the Gospel story and is rooted in what the Apostle Paul calls “the fulness of Christ,” there is an assurance and confidence the world cannot steal from you.
The University of Maryland — Baltimore County Orthodox Christian Fellowship and the school’s Secular Student Alliance sponsored a Nov. 16 debate on the subject of “The Source of Human Morality” with about 450 people in attendance. Fr. Hans Jacobse, an Orthodox Christian priest and president of the American Orthodox Institute (he blogs here), squared off with Matt Dillahunty, the president of the Atheist Community of Austin, and host of the public access television and Internet show The Atheist Experience. The debate’s organizer noted that Dillahunty “was raised as a fundamentalist Baptist, and was on track to become a minister until he started asking questions about the reasons for his belief. He rejected religion, and now serves as a public voice for rationality and secular morality.”
The debate was moderated by John Shook, Ph.D., Director of Education at the Center for Inquiry in Amherst, NY. He is the author of The God Debates: a 21st Century Guide for Atheists and Believers (and Everyone in Between).
Fr. Hans is also the editor of OrthodoxyToday.org and is a good friend of the Acton Institute. He has long argued that Orthodox Christianity has an important part to play in American moral renewal. In his article, “Orthodox Leadership in a Brave New World,” he explains why the culture wars are basically rooted in competing visions of the human person — a fundamental conflict about anthropology. And you’ll see him follow this line in his debate with Dillahunty.
For those wanting a deep dive into the “New Atheist” polemic, Fr. Hans is recommending David Bentley Hart’s book, Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies.
The Orthodox Christian Fellowship has been posting videos of the debate and some of Father Hans’ talks with students the following day on subjects as wide ranging as “The Intrinsic Value of the Human Being” and the Crusades. You can find these on the OCF’s YouTube channel, and they’re well worth the investment of time. I’ll share a couple here, from the debate Q&A and the talk with students.