Saturday, November 9, 2013

A Lesson Learned From An Atheist

       The debate ended up taking a surprising twist.  I came into class and instead of a formal debate full of Cross-X, rebuttals and flowery statements, our teacher had decided to play the role of an Atheist and asked us to challenge him. I was utterly terrified because I had never had the opportunity to debate with an atheist (even a pseudo-one) at this level--that is, the very existence of God. 

The few so called “apologetic” articles and books I had perused about Atheism made the world much more confusing, complicated, and frustrating than seemed necessary.  What and who would I be facing? 

Of course, you have to have arguments--good old logic, right?  That pithy stuff in our brain that helps us win disagreements. 

So I used a few... 

Pulling from the acclaimed C.S. Lewis, I worked my way through a discussion about how man cannot find ultimate satisfaction on this planet--not limited to himself. 

Do you agree, sir? Yes. 

Moving on, then.  Do you believe that this lack of ultimate satisfaction has an ultimate solution? 


That solution implying an outside and transcendent source of satisfaction? 


       I kept trying to prove a knowledge beyond the mind--a knowledge not entirely tangible, but around us all the time.  Relational knowledge.  If he admitted that we were creatures who contain relational knowledge and pursued relationships, it would be an easy ride to “prove” God. 

       Then it hit me. No matter what I said, my arguments were unconvincing to him. My ideas were either “logically impossible” or “completely superfluous.”

I realized something quite shocking... no one can win a debate with an Atheist. 

If I do convince him in that short period of time, either he is not a true atheist or I am unconsciously placating to his philosophy. 

How in the world do you “win” a debate with an Atheist? 

That’s the thing--you don’t “win” it. 

The solution to ever bringing an Atheist out of atheism is found in relational knowledge, not proving a series of arguments.

There comes a point when, if you can't get the atheist out of his mind, then you must wait for him to experience something which is outside of his mind...

Or, you treat him in a way which is not simply rational. 

You don't give up on him, you don't become exasperated with him, you don't leave because he's too smart.  

You show, instead of tell, that knowledge is more than just rational. That there is something which cannot be explained or warded off by the mind. In essence, to convince an Atheist that relational knowledge (and thus God) exists, you must do more than just argue.

You must give him an experience.

An Atheist, at heart, is not looking to defeat you or prove the irrelevancy of the world. He is asking for you to knock on his heart, instead of strangle his mind.  Atheism is not a stance, it is a plea.

How do you handle an Atheist in real life?  You become their friend--truly their friend, not to convince or convert them. It takes significantly more time than a simple debate does... but that’s the most beautiful part of it. 

It is a series of building blocks, not a pre-made home.  It is a growth, not an explosion.  It is a refining, not a demolishing.

And perhaps this applies to far more than just Atheism. 

(Special thanks to Mr. Bart Martin and Fr. Andrew Stephen Damick) 

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