Why do so many people oppose debating about religion?

Consider this article by Barbara Johnson in the Dallas Morning News. Her title is “Don’t bother debating faith”.

Full article:

Recently Prestonwood Baptist Church invited Christopher Hitchens, a renowned atheist, to debate his views with William Dembski of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. While I applaud Prestonwood for having the courage to expose their young students to views which are so unlike those taught in their very conservative school, I question the idea of debating religious views at all. Debate or argument, while exposing us to the beliefs and convictions of others, can breed animosity, partisanship and an “us against them” mentality, as each side fights to defend a predetermined stance.

Because religious or spiritual views and experiences are deeply personal, I don’t believe they belong in the debate arena at all.

The spectacle of religious thinkers arguing and cutting down one another’s beliefs, practices and spiritual experiences makes little sense and is a detriment to what religion should stand for. Each individual must be allowed to walk his or her spiritual journey without outside pressure and condemnation. When one is pressured to “believe” a certain set of doctrines, or operate within a pre-set paradigm, true expression is suppressed.

Psychologist Carl Jung notes that “many of our institutions throw obstacles in the way of the individual’s self-discovery” and that through the institution of the church “people are effectively defended and shielded against immediate religious experience,” an experience I feel cannot be imposed upon anyone through argument or even reasoning.

The vast majority of the world’s population understandably practices the religious traditions of their own childhood. Having grown up Christian in the largest Muslim country in the world, surrounded by its good people, I have the privilege of a broad world view. Consequently, I feel that the all-too-prevalent idea that one entire group is misguided and needs to be enlightened with the ideas and dogmas of another group possessing a monopoly on truth is off the mark.

I don’t have the answer to the mystery and purpose of life, and I am convinced that no one else on earth does either. I like to heed Václav Havel’s advice: “Keep the company of those who seek the truth – run from those who have found it.” All people of the world must be free to practice their culture and religion as they please or to define their own individual spirituality through the wisdom they accumulate with life experience. Too much time, energy and focus is spent by many “religious” folks trying to figure out who is right and who is wrong; who is saved and who is doomed; who should be included and who should be excluded from their institutions.

If they are honestly seeking a personal relationship with the divine, they are wrestling with the wrong angel. True spirituality will never be achieved this way. More time should be spent searching for and recognizing the glimpses of God that are available each and every day in such things as expressions of love, acts of kindness and beautiful moments in nature.

As Henri Nouwen so perfectly puts it, “My highest vocation is to be a witness to the glimpses of God I have been allowed to catch.” I so admire the Zen Buddhists who don’t expend energy defending dogmas or condemning those with varying practices or beliefs. They concentrate on inclusiveness, peaceful meditation, private introspection, acceptance, and respect for people and environment. They see glimpses of the divine in the simple miracles around them every day. How can anyone argue with that?

Here’s a short bio of the woman who wrote the article:

Barbara B. Johnson is a life coach living and working in Dallas. She is also a Community Voices volunteer columnist.

I think that people with expertise in philosophy, a science, history or even engineering are more likely to disagree with her. But I think that her view is shared by many leaders in the church, and by many parents of children who attend church (H/T Tory Ninja).

Refuting her view is simple, it takes only one line. If she is saying that debating with people to persuade them of your view is wrong, then she should not be debating with we narrow-minded believers in truth to persuade us that she is right and we are wrong, that her view is… true, and that our view is… false. But maybe being good at recognizing self-refuting statements is not a prerequisite for being a “life coach”. Certainly a developed ability to reason logically is not a prerequisite for being published in the Dallas Morning News. One the one hand, she is telling us to accept her view, and on the other hand, she claims not to know anything.

And the worst thing is that it is people like this who protest apologetic debates, lectures and book studies who have marginalized the church from the public square. It is because the church is populated by people like Barbara, and because the pastors cater to the Barbaras in the church, that I struggle enormously with church attendance. I see her attitude everywhere in the church. In fact there is an entire movement called the emergent church, which is dedicated to reinventing Christianity based on Barbara’s view of religion.

Instead of reading books like “The Case for Christ”, “The Case for a Creator” and “The Case for Faith”, we have a generation of church people reading “The Shack”, “Conversations With God”, “Blue Like Jazz”, “Left Behind”, “The Da Vinci Code”, “Twilight” and other nonsense.

By the way, if you want to here someone like Barbara in a debate with a Christian Philosopher, check out this debate.

9 thoughts on “Why do so many people oppose debating about religion?”

  1. It is not only dangerous for religion, but dangerous for democracy as well to breed a culture where people are reluctant to engage in debate. In Nietzschean terms, it leads to a weak, decadent society where people no longer think for themselves, let alone act creatively. Ironically, this was Nietzsche’s original critique of Christianity: that it ‘calms’ society too much, robbing it of its life-stimulating impulses.


  2. Have you seen the debate between Hitchens and Tony Blair? this should satisfy Barbara, one can hardly call it a debate, more a ‘who can be the nicest of them all’. Hard to believe that this is the nation that once produced men like Churchill….


  3. This woman annoys me SO MUCH. Good analysis, WK. She’s trying to convince us that trying to convince people is bad! She thinks we shouldn’t care about people’s eternal destiny. She wants us to LIE to them and tell them all’s fine when it isn’t. She’s not a Christian, whatever she may call herself, because she rejects the Great Commission and the exclusive claims of Christ.


  4. It seems pretty obvious to me that too many are afraid of what such debates might expose. Namely, that they are indeed wrong in their beliefs and understandings, and the ramifications of those improper beliefs include a major shift in their behavior. The more ambiguous we can keep religion, and the more we can stifle those who would boldly proclaim the plainly revealed truths of Christianity, and the more we can deny the distinctions between the faiths, the better it is for the Barbie Johnsons of the world.


  5. Great call on her self-refuting position! At a law office I worked at I was speaking to one of the attorneys and she told me she cannot believe people would debate religion, “why don’t people just leave other people’s religions alone” or something along those lines. I thought to myself, yikes!


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