This past weekend, I attended a debate between Christianity and atheism and the whole thing has left me feeling a bit, well — atheistic.
Before you start blowing cereal chunks across your morning paper, hear me out.
It’s not that I don’t believe in the God of the Bible, it’s just that I don’t believe in a god that needs me as his defense lawyer. Proving God exists became the formidable task this week of debater Cliff Knechtle, a Virginia pastor who took on the constitutional crusader Michael Newdow.
You’ll remember Newdow as the Sacramento, Calif., doctor trying to biopsy the flag salute and determine whether the phrase “under God” might be a religious cancer metastasizing into civic life. He began his debate by minimizing his expertise on the assigned topic, but vowed to do his best. Doing his best would be the minimal requirement against the giant slayer sent up by the Christian side.
Newdow’s opponent was no little shepherd boy holding a slingshot, nor was he Daniel, the vegetarian prophet facing carnivorous lions. Knechtle is a professional debater — a gun-slinging God-guy packing Bibles on both hips. He was hired by local townfolk to run the atheist varmint out of Dodge. The whole thing played like Schaffer feeding Letterman setup lines.
Newdow called God a no-show. Knechtle responded, calling Newdow prideful. Knechtle revived the old watchmaker analogy that the world was no more created by chance than a Rolex was created by a truck running over watch parts.
Newdow responded, telling people if you run over watchparts enough, you just might get a watch.
I have one word for these guys — predictable. For the most part, the debate was answering questions few people are asking. Take it on the road guys. Barnum was right. People will pay money.
The tenant of a post-modern world is that we are all spiritual beings, and the modern argument over God being defined in a prepositional statement has left us cold and sterile. The question is relevance. Is the god you profess able to transform lives? Are the values working for everyday life?
Pastor Knechtle, you’re a great orator, but what about communicating with us where we live? Don’t you know we’re the only real proof God has to demonstrate his existence?
Look at the incarnation thing again. Aren’t we celebrating a season that has something to do with God incarnating into the lives of people?
Dr. Newdow, lose the Madelyn Murray O’Hare act. “God, if you really exist, come down and prove it!”
That doesn’t play because it’s a “God on demand” idea, and many Christians make the same mistake. It’s called “name it, claim it.” It’s heresy.
In the end, the debate host asked us to vote on a winner. I couldn’t vote. Let the chads hang where they may. When it comes to believing in a god that needs my defense, I’m no believer.
The “show” reaffirmed a decision I made 25 years ago on a remote Texas farm where I had been invited by my father’s 72-year-old cousin to take a weekend respite from college. Cousin Jake was a part of a dying group of hardheaded Baptists who resembled that great predestinarian Calvin — but only on steroids. This group was sure God not only handpicked people for heaven, but he foreknew whom he would barbecue. I guess they might say, “God works in malevolent ways, his wrath to perform.”
After a long weekend of brainwashing, I took respite from my respite in a cow pasture, which I was sure contained less tonnage per square foot than was contained in that house. Alone in a star-lighted pasture, I told God that if he was the kind of God who makes capricious choices about populating heaven, then I’d just as soon be an atheist. It was at that point something real occurred. No, it wasn’t angels telling me to “fear not!” There were no sheep bleating — these were Texas cattle mooing. Nevertheless, in a way almost as real to me as those angels, I felt an assurance in a place that can’t be measured or biopsied that said God didn’t believe in that kind of god either.
It was a faith choice that Newdow can’t disprove nor Knechtle defend, but it was real to me. Karl Bart called that sort of choice a “leap of faith.”
Perhaps the road to God involves digging into historical facts. It might even include a hysterical search for the historical Jesus with the forensic anthropologists portrayed in Popular Science who are trying to re-create the face of Jesus using the Shroud of Turin. However, sojourners should be forewarned, Jesus was skeptical that such proof, even if it involved awakening the dead, would be sufficient.
So, my guess is that somewhere along the search, journeyers will find a huge chasm. And making the leap across to God is a horrendous jump that comes with a rush one would never experience from a bungee cord on “Fear Factor.”
I made that jump many years ago when I accepted the God who parted the Red Sea. But, mostly, I found the God who parted my sea of depression, the God who assembled my adoptive family, and the God who loves me in spite of who I am.