CFIDiscourse #1: A Christian in Favour of Atheist Billboards
discourse [n,v]: the use of words to exchange thoughts and ideas
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I recently read about the Jenn 13:1 ad campaign being banned by the Vancouver based Pattison Group. As a Christian man, I am in favour of the campaign. That might surprise some but I think the provocative message gets people talking. There are things in life more important than the weather, our team, our favourite TV show, or who’s posting what on Instagram. What is most real about this world? Does prayer do anything? Most people are too busy to stop and think about it. I think a billboard would shake us all up a bit and get us talking.
We need to be free to exchange our ideas again. Ideas can be spread many ways: through books, blogs, over cups of coffee, or even billboards. Some people don’t believe in God. Why not? Some people do believe in God? What evidence do they have? Has the atheist and the theist ever had an honest discussion about it. I don’t mind atheists making a case for why people should be atheists. As a Christian, I do that all the time with my beliefs. The atheist has his or her reasons for believing what they do. I have my reasons as well.
My atheist friends would like to think that religious people like me will just eventually fade away into oblivion. As much as they would hope that were true, statistics show that religion is not leaving any time soon. Despite predictions by sociologists in the 1960s, religion continues to be significant part of people’s lives today. Consider the change in perspective in the words of secular sociologist, Dr. Peter Berger:
“By the twenty-first century, religious believers are likely to be found only in small sects, huddled together to resist a worldwide secular culture.” -Berger’s article in the New York Times, 1968
After thirty years of watching his prediction fall flat, Berger changed his tune towards the reality of the steadfastness of religion in the world.
“The assumption that we live in a secularized world is false. The world today, with some exceptions…is as furiously religious as it ever was, and in some places more so than ever. – Peter Berger, The Desecularization of the World, 1999.
Peter Berger was not the first major figure in Western civilization to make this mistake. Some predecessor of Berger were Karl Marx, Max Weber, Emile Durkheim, and Sigmund Freud. These all predicted the demise of Christianity at the dawn of the Enlightenment in the eighteenth century. The forces of reason, science, industry, urbanization and consumerism were all supposed to eradicate religion from society. Such decimation was supposed to start in the West and spread to other continents once they modernized as well. History has shown that this has not been the case at all.
While the past three hundred years has seen the decline of Christianity in the West, it has been growing like a weed on a global scale. Anyone who has visited the Middle East knows that it is still the religious hotbed of the world. Asian churches, despite horrific persecution they face continue to thrive, growing by millions of new believers every week. When Communism in Russia fell, religion emerged from the ashes to be a source of meaning to Russians that were hungry for transcendence and meaning in their life. The statistics: In 1500, less than 100 million Christians lived in just a small region of the world. Five hundred years later in 2000, the UN reported 1.9 billion Christians spread to every corner of the planet.
The Pope continues to make headline news with his election, reforms, and sermons. Secular politicians are likely scratching their heads as they, even in the twenty-first century, discuss religious headware for public servants. Today, social workers, in lieu of the problems of broken families, crime, drugs and pain find themselves with an unexpected enthusiasm for religious charities to be involved in their community programs. Religion is here to stay. It is all around us.
My landlord practices Hinduism. My neighbours are Muslim. Some of my friends are atheists. Canada is a diverse country. We represent all sorts of backgrounds and beliefs. In such a smorgasbord of spirituality, we have to find a way to live in a place where those with differing views of the world should be able to live in peace and exchange their ideas with each other. How do you accomplish that?
A Call to Pluralism:
The challenge for all of us is to build a society where people can hold different conclusions about reality and still be able to live in peace with each other. We should be able to exchange ideas and evaluate truth claims over a variety of mediums be they books, blogs or billboards. The truth is worth pursuing and it is worth pursuing together. Am I too naive to suggest it is possible? Perhaps it is. I’ve seen the Youtube comments that are out there and I conclude that dialogue when it comes to religion brings out the worst in us. As a Christian, I must speak for my own tribe (and myself) and confess our (my) hostility, defensiveness, arrogance and lack of love with those we disagree with.
In a diverse country such as Canada, we must all move into an age of genuine tolerance. I am not an advocate for the so-called tolerance we see pushed for today. It is not “tolerant” to believe that everyone should have one opinion about any given matter – that is assimilation. I do not need to agree with Hinduism to be loving to my landlord. I don’t have to believe in Islam to shovel my neighbours’ driveway when it snows. True tolerance means that despite our differences, we find a way to love one another and remain charitable to each other as peaceful neighbours in this wonderful free country.
If that means accepting a billboard I don’t agree with, so be it.
Jon Morrison is the Associate Director of Apologetics Canada