Sunday, March 25, 2007

Southern Baptist John Avant on Sam Harris

I came across a column by John Avant in the Baptist Press, that mentions Sam Harris' Letters to a Christian Nation , and thought I'd comment on it.

Our real problem

I just read one of the great evangelistic books of our day -- “Letters to a Christian Nation” by Sam Harris. It is an evangelistic masterpiece. Harris has invested years of his life preparing to write this book. He is so passionate about sharing his faith with others that he took the time to write a defense of his faith and publish it for the whole world to read. They are reading it, and it is becoming a national best-seller. Harris is bold. He realizes that everyone is open to talk about faith these days, and so while most of us stay silent, he speaks loudly and clearly to all of the importance of his faith, which he says is intellectually defensible and exclusive.

Those of you who knows that Harris' is an atheist, are probably seeing a big strawman marching in. Atheism as a faith? And "open to talk about faith"? Given how Dawkins' and Harris' books have been received by many, it would seem that while people might want to talk about faith, they certainly don't want to debate or evaluate the basis of their faith.

Isn’t this wonderful? Well, not really. You see, the faith that Sam Harris is presenting in his book is actually no faith at all. Harris is an atheist. He is one of the leading “evangelistic atheists” of our day. Of course, in the real sense of the word, Harris cannot be an evangelist.

The religious atheist strawman does not seem to make his entrance after all. Avant quite correctly states that an atheist cannot be an evangelist - he is right, because an atheist doesn't have a religious fundament to be evangalistic about. However, it seems that Avant thinks this for a different reason.

As you know by now, if you read my columns, I define evangelism as sharing good news with friends.

The good news being "yay, we're not going to burn in hell"? So, apparently when a friend recently told me that he got a new and better job, it was evangelism in action? I think we need a more precise definition.

Harris doesn’t have any good news to share. He is passionately committed to leading everyone he can to believe that they have no eternal purpose at all. According to him there is no God, no ultimate meaning or purpose in life, no design for the universe, no ultimate justice from the hand of God and no loving plan from the heart of a Redeemer-God. After just a few short years on a small insignificant place in an accidental universe, it will all be over for you. You then will rot in the ground, just like any dead animal you see by the side of the road. Not exactly good news.

Ok, this is where I don't get religious people. What's bad about realizing that you live in the now, and don't have to focus on some weird definition of afterlife (be it heaven, reincarnation or something else)? What's bad in seeing the universe as the marvel it is, without thinking that there is some purpose to it all? What's wrong in not being some kind of pawn in some supreme beings games, subject to his whims and so-called justice?

Personally I think it's healthy to live life as it's the only one, even if you believe in an afterlife. What does it matter if there is something afterwards? You are in the now, after all. But then, I'm the type who are planning on the small details, but impulsive in the big things in life (careers, studies etc.). I am trying to learn to be more impulsive in the small things as well.

Three things jumped out at me as I read Harris’ book. First of all, I admire Sam Harris. I know that may shock you, but how can you not appreciate the passion he has?

But if I really believed what he believed, I would be in despair. I would be living every moment in emptiness and maybe even terror –- the dread that all that matters is ticking away with every passing second. No hope. No future. But he believes it so strongly, he is willing to tell his belief to everyone, to risk ridicule and personal attack, to do anything it takes to get people to hear his message. I admire that. This is the second passionate book written by an atheist that I have read recently. I am beginning to wonder if atheists are becoming more serious about their faith that leads to nothing than Christians are about their faith that leads to everything.

Damn, the religious atheist strawman just showed up again.

And how poor a life do you have, if you have no hope unless you believe in a supreme being who doesn't involve himself in your life? I have many hopes, dreams and even fears - none of which requires a supreme being. And what's more, since I don't believe in such a supreme being, I don't depend on it to make my hopes and dreams come true. Instead I work, some times quite hard, to make it happen, as do many religous people, I'm sure - but why do they then need to believe in a supreme being to have hope?
Oh, and we all have futures. In some cases, those imediate futures invovles becoming part of the eco-cycle, but that's another matter.

The second thought that occurred to me is how much easier it is for us to evangelize than it is for Sam Harris. After all, we actually have good news to share. And yet, the vast majority of believers rarely if ever share their faith. I have to admit that this just amazes me and leaves me scratching my head. I have to ask you if you really believe what you say you do. If so, then why would you miss out on the greatest joy in life -– seeing others embrace the truth that has transformed you? Let’s start. Right now. Today.

What is this good news you will share? That unless people believe the same as you, they are going to be eternally tortured in hell? That they have no real purpose in life other than to serve the whim of a supreme being? How can you consider such messages good?
Oh, and maybe some of these people realize that religion is a private matter. That many of us don't appreciate having other peoples' faith pushed upon us.

Ask God to help you make a friend who needs to know His Son. Open your eyes and watch and pray as you live out this day. He will lead you to that friend and help you to share the good news. And when you get started, it will be hard to remember why you ever lived any other way before. It will be contagious as other believers around you see how full life is when you stop keeping the best thing in your life to yourself.

Is this some kind of code for taking drugs? Sounds like the effect is pretty similar.

The rest of the column is about what Avant sees as the real problem for the Southern Baptists - basicly that they are not converting enough atheists.

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Blogger Tyler DiPietro said...

I especially love love it when he insists that if Christians "really believe" they should incessantly evangelize. It would seem that there is a linear progression from that to "if you really believe, you'll blow up the infidels."

And even so, the whole "atheism is a religion" strawman isn't going to go away. It's really an effective pitch to the choir, which is mostly what religion is all about. Challenging the intellect has never been a strong point of theism.

March 26, 2007 3:34 AM  
Anonymous Seale said...

Dr. Avant is writing to believers, not atheists. A believer would know what the good news is; however, so would a well-read atheist.

If you received a promotion, a million dollars, etc., would you not want to share your "good news"? Then why is it so hard to share the best news that a supreme being who is interested in only what is best for you, who loves you, and who died for you so that you can go to heaven rather than hell?

Okay, suppose you do not believe in hell--you just cease to exist. That's fine; but what if you are wrong? Then there is no turning back.

Avant is not pushing his faith on anyone nor did Jesus Christ. Both are gentlemen. It is your free will to decide for yourself.

But if there is a better way to live, a better way to die, a hereafter, would it not be wrong to hide this from you than not to tell you?

Evangelizing is not beating you on the head with a Bible; it is simply telling you the good news that Jesus died for your sin, was raised on the third day, and if you believe, you will have eternal life . You are still left with a free will, which was given to you by the Supreme Being--a right to make a choice.

Christians founded this country. Prayer was part of all actions in the formation of the United States and was bathed in prayer. Christians who founded this country also gave us freedom of religion which is something the infidels do not.

The Koran says if the infidel does not believe and become a Muslim, kill the infidel. I'm glad Christianity is not like that.

Christianity is about loving your neighbor. If you love your neighbor, you will share good news with him. But he still has the right to not act on it. But a Christian has done his part if he has shared.

As far as intellectuality not being a strong point of theism, Tyler DiPietro has never read C. S. Lewis (and perhaps does not even know who he was). Of course, there are thousands more like Lewis.

As far as calling atheism a faith, read the dictionary. An atheist does believe in something; he believes there is no supreme being. Christians believe there is a God who loves us, is holy, perfect, and does not have whims--God is constant and never changes.

October 15, 2007 9:18 PM  
Blogger Bobby Sharp said...

"That many of us don't appreciate having other peoples' faith pushed upon us."
-I must say, I don't get this position at all. If a person desires to seek the truth in any situation we must be willing to listen. What is it offensive about one person with a differing point of view sharing that point of view? So you may disagree, you are not being forced to profess any belief, attend any service, or participate in any activity. It's the free exchange of ideas. I think people should welcome Christians who 'evangelize.' Then again... I am a Christian. But I also think that same freedom should be given to others as well. But why say that religious people are the ones who have to be silent while others go around stating what they believe. i.e. disagree, fine... sensor, NO.

June 16, 2008 10:14 PM  
Blogger Kristjan Wager said...

Bobby, if we were only talking about discussions, I would agree that people should go around talk about what they want. But we are not - often the religious views are pushed at us through laws, or through people actively going to other peoples' home and talk about it (e.g. Mormons).

On top of that, people push religious views by going against science, often trying to get their own views taught as alternatives to science, or if that's not possible, to stop sound science to be taught, because it flies against their particular set of religious views.

In other words, it's not just about "one person with a differing point of view sharing that point of view". Had it been that, there would have been no need for the atheist books we've seen in recent years.

June 17, 2008 10:06 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You seem to misunderstand something about our faith, my friend.

We've committed a horrible crime. God created us, and when he did, he created us perfect. 100%. He was so in love with us though, and he wanted us to love him in return. Not because he NEEDED us too, but because he WANTED us to. So he gave us the choice, because if Love is forced, than it isn't love at all. We chose not to love him. When we chose not to love him, we chose the OPPOSITE of perfection. It's called Sin. We've all done it. Now, since God is life, love and goodness. We chose the OPPOSITE, so that leads to death, hate and evil. So, long before we were born, our ancestors chose death, not just for them, but for us(Note: We've all sinned on out own, so we can't blame them for our grim future) Now, even though we chose NOT to love God, it didn't lesson his love for us. He chose to give us another chance. So, he came to earth as Jesus Christ and took our death for us, yet, he had never sinned, so he didn't deserve it. This undeserved death was a pure sacrifice, and can cover all of our sins, if we only choose to let Christ's payment be OUR payment.

What we as Christians call Good News is NOT that if you don't conform to our way you'll go to hell...its that there IS a way that you CAN be FREE from hell.

February 26, 2009 4:49 AM  
Anonymous Seth said...

I was really enjoying your blog, until I found that you were doing the same thing you slammed Avant for! You say, alas! Avant has made a good point! But unsurprisingly, he runs off on a religious mumbo trail.

As I was reading your blog, I thought, alas! He is making good counterarguments! Until you started putting complete relentlessly biased, uneducated comments about Christianity. Avant may make claims that he doesn't defend, and by all means capitalize on his mistake! But what you digressed into was anti-religion hate slander that was hardly constructive in any way. I deeply, sincerely apologize if Christians have given you that picture of our religion. It is not such, I beg you to believe me.

If you want to learn more from a man you know will be apologetically and argumentatively sound, I would recommend CS Lewis' Mere Christianity. He was an atheist for many years, so maybe you can relate.

February 26, 2009 5:06 AM  

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