Beliefnet
Faith, Media & Culture

Here’s today’s dispatch from the crossroads of faith, media and culture.

The Second Biggest Question. Behind, of course, whether or not God exists is whether belief in Him actually benefits the world. I use a capital “H” in “Him” because I believe in Him. I’m also among those who believe that putting one’s faith in a loving Higher Power offers a whole lot more hope than putting one’s faith in the benevolence of human beings who don’t believe they only have to answer to the rules of the world.

The countdown is on for tonight’s live event from NYU’s Skirball Center, streaming from 6:45 PM to 8:30 PM (ET). Intelligence Squared U.S. (IQ2US) is sponsoring a debate tackling the proposition that “The World Would Be Better Off Without Religion.” Journalist John Donvan of ABC News Nightline will moderate.

Arguing in favor of the motion are author/filmmaker and Science Debate President Matthew Chapman and noted atheist and author A.C. Grayling.

Arguing the opposite view are King’s College President Dinesh D’Souza (author of What’s So Great About Christianity) and Rabbi David Wolpe who, in 2008, was declared by Newsweek to be the “#1 Pulpit Rabbi in America.”

Members of the studio audience will vote on which team they believe makes the better case. Tickets are going for $40 ($12 for students w/ID). To purchase, visit www.iq2us.org. To watch the event life at 6:45 PM, click here.

While waiting for the big event,  you can read my interview with Dr. D’Souza (whose new book is titled The Roots of Obama’s Rage) in which he discusses his views regarding the value of religious faith and his participation in tonight’s event. Be sure to return here tonight to watch the debate live.

A conversation with Dinesh D’Souza

JWK: Can you tell me about your religious background?

DR. D’SOUZA: I grew up Catholic in India. I came to America at the age of 17. I sort of rediscovered my Christianity in adult life. I’ve been mainly a secular writer for twenty years. I’ve written on a number of subjects, mainly political. My latest book is about Obama but I have in the last three years put one foot of my career in the God debate…I have a book coming out early next hear called Godforsaken and it’s about God and suffering. And I’m a writer, speaker, and President of The Kings College in NYC.

JWK: Why have you put one foot in the religion debate?

DR. D’SOUZA: I started out writing about money and about politics and foreign policy. Then I began to write a little bit more about the so-called values issues and I think those alerted me to the fact that underneath the political debate is a moral debate and underneath the moral debate is the prime question of belief or unbelief. In other words, is there a kind of transcendent base or root to our values or not?

And so I began to rethink in adult life some of the things I’d obviously been taught in a simple way to answer as a child…Crayon Christianity has to give way to a kind of adult or mature Christianity.

JWK: What is the difference?

DR. D’SOUZA: Part of the difference is that you realize as an adult a lot of things you didn’t know as a child. First of all, as a child you basically get your values from your parents. It’s really their values, not yours, and you take them on faith. As you’re an adult…you know more about the world. You’re exposed, certainly in school and college, to a secular way of thinking so you recognize that as a real alternative. You are also exposed to people from other beliefs and faiths.

Now, for me, this happened from a young age because I grew up in a Hindu country with a lot of Muslims. So, it’s not like that was a discovery for me but the fact is when you’re an adult you begin to process all this and you begin to say “Well, look, how do we know there’s a God? He’s invisible! How do we know it’s this God and not that one? And how do we know it’s this holy book and not that one.” So, that’s what I mean. As an adult you have to think anew. You have to ask…if your parents beliefs are beliefs that you’re willing to affirm or reject.

JWK: Why is religion positive in your view?

DR. D’SOUZA: It’s positive because, first, it offers us a hope of a life after death. Now, none of us knows what’s coming after death…Death is something we have to face in any case. So, we can face it despairingly – looking, you might say, into the abyss – or we can face it hopefully with the expectation that something better is going to come at the end of it. Now, obviously, the people who are in the second camp are going to be happier and death is going to be easier for them.

And, so putting side whether there is life after death, it’s simply a fact that it’s more consoling to believe in life after death than it isn’t.

So, right there, the first benefit of religion is giving hundreds of millions of people hope that is not available to those who don’t believe in life after death.

That’s number one. Number two is…life, after you overcome necessity, which is to say you have enough food to eat and a roof over your head, is about a search for the sublime – something that’s truly great, truly wonderful, something that raises you above the pedestrian everyday level of life. In ordinary secular life the experience of the sublime is quite rare. It may occur in a great film, or watching a great piece of art. It may occur in the throes of sexual excitement. But, the truth of it is, it’s very transitory. It comes and, basically, no sooner than it comes, it’s gone.

I do think that, for people who are seriously religious, the experience of the sublime is a part of everyday life. And that is a truly great feeling because it situates your life within a cosmic drama. You’re not an insignificant nothing in the middle of nowhere. Your life is meaningful, purposeful and it’s connected to the great events of the universe.

JWK: What do you say to people who say religion divides the world rather than unifying it?

DR. D’SOUZA: I say that we are all at the foot of a mountain, we human beings. And the…truth is at the summit and none of us can see the summit but there are many rivers coming down the mountain. Those are the different religions. They’re all human attempts to reach the summit. To me they’re all flowing in the right direction and they’re all coming from the same source. Some may go higher than others…My point is that because these are human efforts to apprehend the divine, they make mistakes. They have disagreements. They’re ultimately trying to capture something that’s not visible to us…There are differences among religions. They are important but, on the fundamental issues of the existence of God, life after death and, also, morality, most of the religions of the world are in a high degree of agreement.

JWK: But how about all the wars fought over religious differences?

DR. D’SOUZA: Religion goes to the core of human identity. In that sense it’s a little bit like nationality, tribe, even race sometimes. So, when something is really at the core of your being, it appeals to the best and the worst of human nature…I think patriotism is a good feeling but people, in the name of country, have done some terrible things. Similarly, the belief in God is a great thing but wrongly used it can be a pretext or an excuse for persecution, lording it over other people or conflict. Now, that being said – and this is a theme I intend to stress in the debate – the crimes of religious regimes have been infinitesimal in comparison to the crimes of atheist regimes.

So, in the world, it’s a matter of religion or no religion. You always have to measure something against the alternative.

JWK: What do you say to people who equate the Nazis with Christians?

DR. D’SOUZA: The Nazis were neither Christians nor atheists. They were a weird hybrid. Basically, in the early thirties, Hitler tried to win over the churches. He knew that he was in a largely Christian country. He tried to win over the Catholics in Bavaria and the Lutherans in the rest of Germany…In Mein Kampf he as a line about doing the Lord’s work, so he kind of hoping that the churches would go for his view….When Hitler discovered that the churches were not going to go on his side he turned against them.

So, the truth of Hitler was that he was trying to revive some ancient Germanic religion that was essentially pagan but would substitute for Christianity in people’s loyalty. He realized that people need deep foundational beliefs and even myths and so he was into the occult though this kind of ancient paganism. So, bottom line of it is, I wouldn’t call Hitler a straight out atheist. He certainly wasn’t. But he was also a hater of Christianity.

JWK: Do you feel atheists have become more aggressive in recent years and, if so, why?

DR. D’SOUZA: My own view is that there have been a couple of….events that have given a boost to modern atheism and one of them, of course, is 9/11. The fact that the radical Muslims do bad things in the name of God allows the atheists to erroneously try to smear all the other religions as being in the same boat.

So, you have a lot of efforts to say, well, (the radical Muslims) flew the planes into the buildings after reading a holy book. But that’s exactly what the Christians think and so on. Even though you can’t find a Christian bin Laden or a Christian al-Qaeda or even a Christian country like post-Khomeini Iran today. So, that’s one fact that I think has boosted the New Atheism is this whole phenomenon of Islamic terrorism.

But I think the other fact – and this is a broader fact – is that the atheists in the ’60′s, ’70′s and even early 1980’s were kind of hoping that the world would become less religious anyway. And this was thought in every college and university. The basic premise was secularization — – that as countries became more educated, more wealthy they automatically become more secular. They look, after all, at Europe. Now, this prediction of sociality in the last generation has turned out to be false. Europe is an anomaly. No other country in the world is going the way of Europe. Even America isn’t…A Hindu PhD is no less religious than a Hindu janitor. Similarly in Islam, a professional Muslim is not less likely to go to the mosque or to Mecca than a Muslim servant.

So, the point I’m trying to make is that you’re actually seeing a revival of religiosity in much of the world. And I think this has panicked the atheists who thought they were winning by default…So, they’re getting more bellicose and more aggressive and they’re using their strengths which are often in education and in the sort of high-brow media to make their case. So, I welcome it. I think it’s a great challenge and I love debating these guys.

ABOUT INTELLIGENCE SQUARED DEBATES (IQ2US)
Based on the highly successful Intelligent Squared debate program in London, Intelligence Squared U.S. has presented over 50 debates on a wide range of provocative and timely topics. From global warming and the financial crisis, to Afghanistan/Pakistan and the death of mainstream media, Intelligence Squared U.S. brings together the world’s leading authorities on the day’s most important issues.

Encourage one another and build each other up – 1 Thessalonians 5:11

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