Guest / Limited Access /

After twenty years of listening to the punk band Bad Religion, I sent the group's front man a note. I greeted Greg Graffin, told him that he had fans among Christian college professors, and I asked about his doctoral work at Cornell University.

I was surprised to get a note back—and then another. After a few months I printed our emails. They came to over 100 pages.

Very little of the written conversation between Greg and me concerns the music of Bad Religion. He gets enough fan mail. Instead, we discussed what my students would call the "big questions." What is life for? What are people for? Why do people think God exists? If you listen to Bad Religion's lyrics, you know that these kinds of questions are important to Greg, who is an atheist.

In time, Greg turned his focus to recording another Bad Religion CD, and I had to face the mounting number of students in my classes. Our correspondence became casual and remains that way. But I learned a lot in those intense months.

For one thing, I realized that the kind of sustained written conversation Greg and I had is rare. It's rare because it takes time and mental energy. It also takes a commitment not to let the discussion turn into a debate. I've held to this commitment through radio interviews that followed the publication of Greg's and my correspondence. I've tried to resist the construal of our correspondence as a "debate." Yes, we disagreed and went at each other, but we didn't debate.

Debate is about winning, and that's important in many contexts. But I didn't care about winning. Nor did I care about "listening" in the gushy, politically correct sort of way associated with people-friendly evangelism.

Mainly I cared about learning. I wanted to learn how Greg sees the world, ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Read These NextSee Our Latest
RecommendedMy Train Wreck Conversion
My Train Wreck Conversion
As a leftist lesbian professor, I despised Christians. Then I somehow became one.
TrendingMelinda Gates: ‘I’m Living Out My Faith in Action’
Melinda Gates: ‘I’m Living Out My Faith in Action’
One of the wealthiest and most controversial women in the world believes that all lives have equal value. She’s willing to spend $3.6 billion a year to prove her point.
Editor's PickMeet the Filmmaker Exposing Planned Parenthood
Meet the Filmmaker Exposing Planned Parenthood
How a 26-year-old founded the undercover operation to take down the abortion giant.
Comments
Christianity Today
Lessons from a Punker Ph.D.
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

September 2006

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.