On Saturday, May 5, I attended the taping for the first-ever Nightline Face Off. In this premiere episode, taped at Calvary Baptist Church in New York City, The Way of the Master co-hosts Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort debated the existence of God with the Rational Response Squad (RSS), founders of The Blasphemy Challenge. (See “The New Atheists Blasphemy Challenge” for my earlier coverage of this venture.)
In the Christian corner, Comfort claimed he could prove the existence of God scientifically without the use of faith. Simply put, if there is a design, then must be a designer – because you can find out the specific person who designed physical items such as buildings, paintings, and cars.
That argument was refuted by the A-team, who noted that if all creations need a creator, then what created God? Throughout the match up, well-worn arguments such as, “We’re all atheists when it comes to Zeus or Apollo” and “Jesus never existed” were thrown about in a feeble attempt to disprove God.
Watching these teams of non-scientists try to explain evolution versus intelligent design proved to be laughable at best. My favorite bit had to be when Kirk Cameron disputed evolution by showing pictures of a “crock-a-duck” and other nonexistent creatures that he claims prove evolution is a fallacy.
Even though the atheists failed to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that God could not have been the spark that set all of creation, they seem to have nailed this debate when Cameron pulled out the get-out-of-hell card. Simply put, this was “what you believe about God will determine where you spend eternity.” At this point, if I wasn’t covering this event, I would have crawled out of the church in shame. While this is supposed to be an ABC news program, I felt like I had entered a rather lame taping of Saturday Night Live instead. I honestly felt that at any moment Cameron was going to demonstrate the Church Lady’s Superiority Dance.
I wish I could say these extremist encounters are few and far between, but the animosity on both sides of the God debate seems to be hitting a fever pitch. When I skim the slew of material refuting these strident “New Atheists,” I’m stuck at how many people of faith are betting on Pascal’s Wager. According to this logic, one should believe in God as a safeguard to avoid spending eternity surrounded by the flames of hell. The overarching emphasis here seems to be on the personal nature of Christianity as a means of guaranteeing one an eternal night’s sleep, with scant attention paid to what it means to implement Jesus’ teachings here on earth. Even Jon Stewart, host of Comedy Central’s The Daily Show, took this heaven-bound approach when he essentially asked Christopher Hitchens, “Does religion serve a purpose to give comfort to people given we’re all going to die someday?”
Given this line of theological thinking present in some Christian circles, I get why someone would give up on the God game for good. Brian McLaren aptly observes that “much of the appeal of today’s popular atheists – from Richard Dawkins to Sam Harris – lies in the corruption of religion.”
Through my travels and travails covering this unique phenomenon called Americana Christianity, I’ve learned that many of those with a deep hunger to be fed spiritually are those souls for whom “church” is not in their vocabulary. Often they’ve been burned by one too many toxic church settings, or they grew up in a household where religion was inconsequential at best. They can embrace the universal message of Jesus but they balk at how his teaching gets corrupted by those prayer warriors who are engaging in some very public and tawdry biblical battles waged in the religious-political arena.
Still, I see glimmers of hope. For example, prior to going to this taping, I sat in on a panel that was part of the Tribeca Film Festival, titled “Prodigies, Nobelists and Penguins: Science and Stereotypes in the Movies.” Here, I found a group of filmmakers and scientists who were open to exploring where we can find common ground between religion and science. Where is there space where we can dialogue with the other? Or are we so concerned about being right that we forget what it means to put Christ’s teachings into practice?
To quote postmodern philosopher Peter Rollins, “The truth of Christianity is life. The implications of this are vast.” I can’t speak for the atheists, but for those of us who profess to follow Jesus, what does it mean for us to live a life that is truthful to the gospel teachings of Christ? Along those lines, how should we interact with those whose hold beliefs that are different from ours?
Becky Garrison is Senior Contributing Editor of The Wittenburg Door and author of Red and Blue God, Black and Blue Church. For those who want to catch this debate, tune in to ABC News Now on May 9 at 2 p.m. Also, Nightline will air a segment that same night at 11:35 p.m. ET/PT, and the debate will be available on the Nightline page at ABCNews.com.