New Atheists are contentious. They believe they are at war, fighting ancient traditions and ignorance in favor of a more advanced secular future. Evangelicals believe they are at war too and are fighting for Christmas and Marriage among other things. The media is kerosene for this flaming contention – setting up, as Timothy Keller says, “protagonists and antagonists” for whatever political issue is hot.
While I appreciate the need for having a “coming together” mission statement on my blog, I’d rather not represent the minority of sane disparate voices. I found myself saying, “Yes, Yes,” out loud in my living room after reading this paragraph in the Introduction of Keller’s Reason for God book:
“Each side should accept that both religious belief and skepticism are on the rise…This would eliminate the self talk… in each camp, namely that it will soon be extinct, overrun by the opposition. Nothing like that is imminently possible. If we stopped saying such things to ourselves it might make everyone more civil and generous toward the opposing views.”
Since Christopher Hitchens died a few weeks back, I keep thinking of the fake war in terms of the two Hitchens’ brothers. Peter, a Christian activist, says he and his brother Christopher were always at odds, even in their youth, and managed to have a 50 year feud, settled finally in their elder years after a 2008 debate in Grand Rapids, Michigan.
It’s not a great reconciliation story to be honest, their “war” ended like most do, with a exhausted fizzle and long “occupation” represented by careful exchanges about safe topics. But the success is that they finally found common ground by having mutual respect for how they approached the world and not why.
When I talk with Atheists about Christianity, the most compelling focus of conversation is always how Christians interact with the world, not why. The whys become circular, predictable, and polarized – ending at the end, with the currently popular “Creator God (everything needs a cause) vs. Science will soon prove this out too” argument.
But a focus on how we each live is so much more interesting. This is why I am excited to write fiction in this sphere. My fiction is an illustration, a snapshot, of how the people representing each of these sides interact with the world.
Peter also, in his Memorial to his brother, came back to that respect for how Christopher interacted with the world.
“The one word that comes to mind when I think of my brother is ‘courage’. …Courage is deliberately taking a known risk, sometimes physical, sometimes to your livelihood, because you think it is too important not to. My brother possessed this virtue to the very end, and if I often disagreed with the purposes for which he used it, I never doubted the quality or ceased to admire it. I’ve mentioned here before C.S. Lewis’s statement that courage is the supreme virtue, making all the others possible. It should be praised and celebrated, and is the thing I‘d most wish to remember.”