On the Road with Atheism
Day 1, October 29, 2008
Last year, Christianity Today hosted a lively online debate between pastor and author Douglas Wilson (my father), and Christopher Hitchens, popular author and leading atheist. Both authors have a flair for the humorous and the literary, and the popularity of their debate led to its publication as a book (from a Christian publishing house). Is Christianity Good for the World? was released last month, and now both authors are on the road, debating and discussing the topic in New York, Philadelphia, and Washington, D.C. Because of the uniqueness and value of their exchanges, a documentary film crew is following them, led by MTV music video director Darren Doane.
As for me? I'm tagging along. Day one was remarkable. The two men met in the morning over coffee, debated in a town hall-style encounter at the King's College in the Empire State Building, signed copies of the book in the Union Square Barnes & Noble, and then divided for different events of different flavors in the evening. Hitchens debated Rabbi Wolpe in Temple Emanu-El — said to be the largest Jewish house of worship in the world — while my father addressed the atheist clubs of Columbia and NYU in an event called "Stump the Preacher Man."
But to be honest, the most interesting moments have all been outside the formal events — discussions over meals, in cabs and elevators. Both men share a love of poetry (over lunch, they gave an antiphonal recitation of "Jabberwocky"), a love of the English language and the well-turned phrase, and have spent a good ten minutes spouting favorite lines from the British writer P. G. Wodehouse to mutual laughter. And both men have a respect for each other — though clearly not for their conflicting opinions of God and the nature of the world.
At the King's College debate, Hitchens professed disdain for the biblical admonition to "love your enemies," calling it total nonsense. And yet, as he appears in Christian forums, wrangling with a Christian man, that is exactly what he is experiencing firsthand. The exchanges are heated. No punches have been pulled, and no one is pretending like the gulf between atheism and Christianity is anything but dark and profound. Yet underlying it all, there is an affection shown to him that is just as profound.
Hitchens said he wanted all his enemies destroyed. Wilson countered with qualified agreement, saying that God destroys all his enemies, but doesn't only destroy them in the traditional way, as understood by man, but also destroys his enemies by making them friends.
Last night, the two will debate "Beauty and the Existence of God" at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.
And you will be hearing more from me.
Copyright © 2008 Christianity Today. Click for reprint information.