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

7 thoughts on “CFIDiscourse #1: A Christian in Favour of Atheist Billboards

    • I clicked through to your link, Veronica, and find it interesting that in response to a pretty bridge-building article by Morrison, you have such snarky things to say:

      “It’s great that Canada has an apologetics organization because religion has a lot to apologize for.”

      “Don’t you feel all warm and fizzy inside? [...] Probably not.”

      Is it any wonder that religious people get defensive when confronted in such a way? Communism has a lot to apologize for, but we don’t attack modern-day unionists and the socialist NDP for the acts of extreme dictators in the 1930s. For the same reason, it’s unfair to launch words like “religion has a lot to apologize for” on a moderate article like this from Mr. Morrison.

      Mr. Morrison is not responsible for the ills of religion any more than a Canadian unionist is responsible for a union bus-burning in Brazil; despite their similarities in world-view and thought, their actions are not the same.

      Secondly, your words show a lack of forethought, as that’s not even what “apologetics” means. If you want an intelligent discussion, it’s best to start with an intelligent invitation. An “invitation” like this is sure to lead to trolling and name-calling from the get-go.

  1. This seems to be a good-natured comment in furtherance of civil dialogue. But it is a pretty mundane point, that we should be civil to each other? That we should have free speech? I mean, do not expect us to praise you for saying that while you disagree with athiesm, you don’t think our billboards should be banned. This should be the default.

    But the sentiment of civil discourse and tolerance is a good one. I don’t think this should mean turning a blind eye to discrimination or abuse. Where religion harms people, we will point it out and state our view that such harm is unnecessary. We will challenge public policy justified on theological grounds and demand that public institutional favouritism for one or some religious perspectives end. Thiests will rightly decry hate, abuse and discrimination against them as well, and defend their rights.

    • I didn’t read his statement the same way you did. I didn’t see him making a statement that he was against banning the billboards. I can’t find anything that alludes to banning or not banning billboards in this article. His statement “I am in favour of the campaign” expresses a much different sentiment in my opinion. To me, that means he thinks the billboards are actually a good idea. His reasoning appears to be that they will give him the opportunity to speak of his faith… Something that most Christians feel the need to do to “convert” non-believers.

  2. I am sorry for the lack of faith we (the church) have shown to our culture. Canada is declining. I believe that we don’t need discourse and debate, but true faith in the Living God and His Word. When the church truly knows God, then the ‘secular’ world can see Him in action. Debates don’t accomplish very much in my opinion (whatever that’s worth). People need to encounter God. That’s what Jesus did when He walked the earth: provided people with an encounter with God. We (the church) are called to the same. People will still reject us, but the power of God working through His church will create a polarizing effect. Hey, I’m not saying I’ve arrived or anything, but I have deeply encountered God and His love for me and others and I believe that He can reach people through us, far better than we can reach people for Him. We just need to learn to trust Him, believe Him, and obey Him. I think we (the church) have been influenced by the humanistic religion in our culture than we realize. I for one am going to learn to yield to God and believe Him and trust Him (and most importantly KNOW Him) enough to let Him live through me.

    • Cam,
      I’m not sure I see your point. Aside from your comment “Debates don’t accomplish very much in my opinion”, it appears to me that you are simply expressing your strong faith while expressing a disappointment in the Christian segment of Canada as a whole. I’m not sure I see how that connects with this article in reference to the billboards or the campaign in general.

      And, if you feel that debates don’t accomplish very much, why bother to post an opinion or a comment on a web article that is certainly open for (and most likely will attract) debate?

  3. Kenny: Good Point. Cam: Cat got your tongue???

    The middle East has the most Religion: It’s also the most war and turmoil.

    Where there is less human misery, there is less religiosity.
    Any most people are a lot more moral than god:

    If you knew someone would Rape a child you would do anything to stop it.
    God would let it happen. And then punish him later…

    Mma Dave

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