As far as Internet debate is concerned, I am a relative newcomer compared to some; I have been surfing the Web in search of intellectual engagement for about seven years now (since the supposed “turn” of the millennium), and even that relatively short period of time has allowed me to encounter lots of different people. I’ve learned a lot about debate from this – particularly, how to engage others’ arguments (and how not to do so) and how to deal with people who are less than fair with others that have different beliefs than them.
Part of my time has been spent on an Internet forum (that will remain anonymous, but some of you who read this might know what I’m talking about) where I have had chance to meet with some rather interesting people, one of whom fits the bill for someone who is often unfair in his characterization.
Enter Ben. Ben is a former Christian, born into what one could call a dysfunctional conservative family in Canada, who rejected the Christianity he knew for full-blown atheism. I can’t say Ben is a special case these days, of course, but knowing his background has done wonders for my personal understanding of the way he thinks. I don’t feel the need to go any more in-depth than that for privacy’s sake, but suffice it to say that Ben hasn’t had the best experiences with Christianity.
Ben and I have been frequenting the same online forum for a number of years now, and I have been actively engaging him in intellectual discussions for probably around two or three years now (I lose track of time easily). I confess that I have lost patience with him many a time (and likely he with me), and our relationship is rocky at best.
But more recently, he started a blog called Talking to Theists (name inspired by the “Talking to Americans” segment by Canadian broadcaster Rick Mercer), where he posts debates he has with theists (although it is more generally Christians that he talks to, presumably because of his former faith) at places like Youtube and Godtube. He also posts videos on these sites, trying to elicit debates with theists. A few minutes perusing the debates or watching his videos (although, with the length of his videos, a few minutes won’t buy you much time) will make it clear that, all else aside, Ben is very convinced that he is right – not to the point that he’s unwilling to concede defeat, but very confident nonetheless.
When I found out that Ben had this blog, I started checking it out. Initially, due to frustration on my part from some past encounters, I was hesitant even to read much of what he had written, but I decided to put that aside and read it. Some of what he says in response to his opponents is right on the money, but I mostly attribute that to poor debaters. Again, one does not have to look long and hard to see how skilled his opponents are – or rather, how unskilled. Catching these errors is child’s play for anyone with even a remotely careful mind, and Ben is certainly not dumb. In comparison to most of his opponents, Ben is mindblowingly brilliant.
So seeing these debates, all under the subtext “Theism is full of holes, silly, and irrational. Here are discussions that show this,” left a bad taste in my mouth. I decided then to jump in with comments both affirming the points that Ben was right on and questioning those that were questionable. One such entry proposed that Jesus had actually sinned (and thus was not a worthy sacrifice), and since my experience with Ben had been that he is a Jesus-myther (I sometimes like to call them “Jesus-deniers” – has a nice ring to it) and I know enough about the NT to make a good counterargument, I jumped in to do just that.
Since this is getting long, I’ll spare the boring stuff except to say that the debate has been a disappointment: I posted my last response on 6/7, only to have no response as of today. I’ve reminded Ben on a couple occasions since, but the responses have been off-putting: “I’ve been busy” (which is likely true) or “I’ll get to it soon.” Maybe he’ll respond, but I’m not holding my breath.
For many reasons illustrated by this blog, I don’t like lumping groups of people together. However, Ben is a good example of the sort of atheist I don’t always like arguing with, the sort who is willing to take examples of bad thinking in a group and apply it to the majority, if not the whole. He unfairly bashes religious people (like Hitchens, but with less flair), and after a certain point, I start to wonder if I’m doing anyone any favors. In the end, I keep going, either in an egotistical pursuit of victory or maybe – just maybe – in hopes that grace is worth giving, even to Ben.
I just hope I’m right.