Civil dialogue seems to be a thing of the past. More and more, we divide ourselves into camps, turn every issue into Us vs. Them. Pro-Life vs. Pro-Choice. Democrats and Republicans. Cubs vs. Cardinals. And increasingly in our culture, Christian vs. Atheist.
When we polarize our positions, we eliminate any real opportunity for dialog.
I understand why we end up polarized: the convictions we hold are strong and mean a lot to us. We deeply care about whatever position we’ve assumed. But in our passion, we often dehumanize the person who does not agree with us. An opponent becomes an enemy.
That’s why we need genuine, civil dialog. We need interactions that don’t forsake kindness and charity for truth. We must remember that engaging the Other violently, without respect to their personhood, experiences and positions is wrong no matter how right our positions may be.
We don’t have many examples of civil, truth-seeking dialog with the Other, especially in the realm of religion. Until now.
Randal Rauser is a Christian who teaches history and theology. John W. Loftus is a former-evangelical minister-turned Atheist apologist. These two men are friends and colleagues who deeply, passionately disagree about fundamental truths. And yet they’ve co-authored a brief, fun, profound book that can and hopefully will serve as the basis for bridges between Atheist and Evangelical communities.
God or Godless is a debate-style book. John and Randal each chose ten statements to debate – topics like “If there is no God, then life has no meaning” and “The Biblical God commands genocide”. Each author gets an 800-word opening statement, a 150-word response, and a 50-word closing statement.
In other words, each chapter is short, sweet and packed with rhetorical goodness. Both Randal and John are experts in their field, so their arguments are tight, clear and very accessible (though a few of the later chapters sent me scrambling to Wikipedia to look up one term or another).
God or Godless gives us a clear model for moving forward in honest, truth-seeking relationships across the religious divide.
What makes the book really good is the quality of the questions both John and Randal bring to the table. Sometimes Randal is the clear winner; other times it’s John. Always, both men have clear, well-thought-out positions and treat each other with kindness and respect (excepting the occasional fun snark).
I’m currently rereading the book with a group of 20-somethings. Some of us are Christian, some are atheist or agnostic. But reading and discussing God or Godless together is helping us to build transformative friendships founded on mutual love and admiration. Plus, it’s a lot of fun.