The environment in America for debate on controversial subjects is replete with incivility, exhibited chiefly by politicians and news media. As a result, greater understanding has been lost in the turmoil. No less has debate concerning topics of religion, especially matters pertaining to Christianity, been caught in a Charybdis that inevitably leads to the disappearance and destruction of constructive debate in which the hearers could learn more about the subject at hand and the issues at stake.
This project, funded by the John Templeton Foundation, seeks to promote greater understanding and civility among Christians and atheists as they dialogue on matters pertaining to the Christian faith. The blog and response will test our ability to foster mutual respect on a subject that delves deeply into what is most important to human beings, the meaning of our lives in this world. It is not assumed that this is the first attempt. Of course, it is not. But, it is a fresh undertaking that may or may not result in new insights. If it fails in this, it is hoped that it will at least provide a forum for the respectful exchange of views. A small guide book for those in dialogue or seeking it will be produced as a result of this effort. Its primary purpose is to advise Christians. But, atheists intent on positive dialogue will hopefully find it beneficial.
The Scriptural basis for this endeavor is found in I Peter: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil.” (I Peter 3: 13-17 ESV. Christians also should feel a sense of shame for failing to show “gentleness and respect.” We are called to love our neighbor. Not on this occasion, but in the next post, the biblical passage will be interpreted in a manner that relates to the purpose mentioned above.
What are the specific goals, susceptible to revision as we proceed?
We will endeavor
1. to foster greater civility and understanding on matters pertaining to the Christian faith and atheism.
2. to avoid contempt and, at all times, to show respect for one another.
3. to acknowledge our lapses of civility and to pledge to do better.
4. to reduce misunderstandings that come from lack of knowledge of the subjects of religion and atheism and to clarify what participants believe.
5. to commit to research on matters we know little about.
5. to explore religious and non-religious views of the world.
5. to emphasize the importance of accurate historical, scientific (natural science), philosophical and theological knowledge.
6. to commit ourselves to promoting understanding and civility among people whom we know.
A committee has been formed to develop the resources to meet the above goals. You will be hearing from them on this blog.