A fundamental factor in the interface of those with very differing views about the nature of the world and our place in it, especially the believer with the atheist, is the deep conviction and commitment that the parties bring to the table. The stakes are high in any conversation whether formal or informal. We put before other individuals what we believe and practice in this life. Those beliefs could change because of others’ strength of argument. We are guided in this life by what we believe. Our being is immersed in it. The motto of Phi Beta Kappa, the college honor society, is “Philosophy is the pilot of life.” Indeed, without our deep religious conviction we are lost on the tumultuous seas of this world. The loss of our conviction and commitment as believers would be disturbing and disorienting.
It does not take much for us to get angry at an interlocutor with an opposing view because of the risks to us. We may come to the point of thinking to ourselves, “Before my eyes my world is falling apart.” Now it is true that critical examination of one’s views is a good thing. We can review our perspective and assumptions and come forth with a clearer mind and stronger faith. But, we do not want to come forth from such a conversation without God. He is the foundation and hope of our lives.
We must remember that the atheist may also have deep religious convictions about the world. It may be that we will unsettle him. His life’s purpose has depended on the idea that the universe as a mechanical and material system is all that there is. There is no God; we do not have souls. But, this is exactly what we are trying to do, unsettle him. We wish the other to have hope, not despair. If the believer changes his mind, the atheist moves from despair to hope. The apologist is the instrument by which the Word of God comes to the committed atheist and others.
We have and will be defending the faith and witnessing to Christ before those who have deep conviction and commitments against Christian belief. We must act with “gentleness and respect,” and, at the same time, convince those with whom we speak to confess the Light of the world. (See Charles Taylor. A Secular Age for much more on what was presented here).
Michael G. Tavella
July 4, 2019