My Afternoon with the Atheists | Dr. Eric Cunningham | CWR
Note to self: Next time, bring Christ
Shortly after Christmas, I was invited to take part in a “friendly discussion” at the monthly meeting of a local chapter of self-described “freethinkers.” I’m not sure how they decided to approach me. Possibly they went window shopping on the websites of local universities, saw my name somewhere on the Catholic Studies page, and figured that I would be a suitable target—I mean, honored guest. I learned from Mr. F., the nice fellow who contacted me, that this meeting would be a special one: It would be graced by the presence of Dan Barker, internationally known atheist-convert and co-president of the Freedom From Religion Foundation (FFRF), the parent organization of their own group.
A wary acceptance
I told Mr. F., by way of declining his offer, that I didn’t think any group of people so stridently bent on the eradication of free religious speech would really be capable of free thought or friendly discussion. I also shared with him my impression (formed from the FFRF website and several YouTube videos) that Dan Barker was a manipulative propagandist who seemed more interested in preaching the gospel of atheism than in exchanging ideas. “Thanks,” I said, “but no thanks.” As a person who says “yes” to almost every request and winds up regretting it too often, I was impressed with myself for so decisively sidestepping this engagement.
However, Mr. F. was politely persistent, and true to my nature, I did reconsider the invitation, thinking that maybe some good could come of my going to this meeting. For a week I exchanged e-mails with Mr. F. and did further research on the Freedom From Religion Foundation. I was struck by the contrast between the cheerful goodwill of Mr. F.’s e-mails and the one-dimensional bigotry that suffuses Barker’s website. There is a great deal more to the FFRF than its purported civic mission to promote the separation between church and state. The Freedom From Religion Foundation is a full-fledged anti-crusade, not content with merely articulating the philosophical basis of atheism—which it does embarrassingly poorly—butrather seeking to vilify the religious worldview and the people who hold it. Having lived my life in a confused, divided, and often dysfunctional Church, I can understand why people get upset with religion and want to check out—but for the life of me I don’t know why anybody would spend his life trying to destroy something he thinks isn’t real.
I tried to get Mr. F. to tell me what the format of the event would be. I’ve participated in public lectures, conference panels, round-tables, keynote addresses, after-dinner talks, and debates,and I’ve learned that it’s very important to know exactly what’s going to happen when one is speaking on potentially hostile turf. Unfortunately, I could get no solid answer, so I proposed a format of my own: I would speak for 15 or 20 minutes on a variety of themes related to consciousness, virtual reality, and the spiritual world, all under the provocative title “Christianity Is the Only Truth,” and let the chips fall where they may.
I want to make clear that the purpose of this reflection is not to bash or belittle the “freethinkers” of my community, or even Barker—although he is indeed a manipulative propagandist by any measure—but to make a public confession of my own shortcomings as a Christian.