by Matt Slick
On March 31, 2016, at the Boise State University student union building, JT Eberhard, of Patheos.com, gave a talk on "advice and insight when it comes to talking to religious groups/people in a positive way." Now, I'm not exactly sure if that was his intended topic since his presentation didn't fit the topic title. Nevertheless, that is the wording of the email I received, so I attended.
JT was dressed in casual sneakers, loose blue jeans, and a green T-shirt with a large cartoon dinosaur on the front. Of course, we're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but I was slightly taken aback by his casual demeanor and mediocre self-presentation. Nevertheless, I quietly took notes and had no intention of causing any trouble whatsoever. I was there for information.
Perhaps he was unaware of the topic at hand about "talking to religious groups/people in a positive way" because his presentation caused me to react very negatively. He accomplished the opposite. He advocated lying, mockery, and disrespect when dealing with Christians.
During his presentation, he showed videos of atheist gatherings with examples of how to use mockery and ridicule to denounce and nullify the message that Christians might be giving to the general populace. I thought it was shameful.
At one point he played a video of a young man at a piano singing a song. The words were blasphemous, and the audience could be heard laughing. So, is this the "positive way" atheists want to employ when dealing with religious people? I certainly hope not. In fact, if we Christians were to use the same techniques against them, they would cry foul. I know because, in my many years of dealing with atheists when they perceive the slightest moral deficiency in myself or other Christians, they are quick to point the finger. The problem is they can't see their own hypocrisy and neither could JT Eberhard.
He continued with his presentation and to illustrate his activism, he mentioned how he was on a school campus years ago, drawing flying spaghetti monsters on a sidewalk. Someone approached him and asked if he was a member of a local student union. He then said, and I repeat this to the best of my memory1), "So being a good atheist, I lied and said I was." The people in the room laughed. He then told us how he made up the name of an on-campus organization to further his lie. His audience received it warmly.
One of the things I found most interesting was when he said that there were plenty of things wrong in the world. But he offered no justification for why his personal opinions about what were problems, were right in the first place. He just made these pronouncements. It appeared that he and his fellow atheists were the self-appointed judges who had the obligation to correct the ignorant religious people who are trapped in mythology. And, since they have reason and evidence, need to make sure that the foolish superstitious people are corrected. This attitude is, in my opinion, self-righteous.
Also, he said that a person cannot choose what he believes in. He hinted at the idea that people are forced to believe in things. Well, aside from his implied materialistic, atheistic position from which this philosophical approach stems, he is simply wrong. Of course, you can choose what you believe in. Let me show you how.
Let's say that you have a good friend who has done something and you are suspicious about the whole thing. But your friend adamantly denies any wrongdoing and tries to explain what really happened and why he is innocent. His explanation is plausible, but not proof. All the loose ends are not tied up. But, because of your friendship, you make the choice to believe that he's telling the truth, even though he can't prove to you he did no wrong.
As I said earlier, I had no intention of causing any problems. My purpose of attending was to learn what the speaker had to offer. When I arrived, they quickly learned that I was a Christian, since I was wearing a cross. After his presentation, he asked if anyone had any questions. I remained silent. After a few atheists had made some inquiries, one of the atheists asked if I had any questions. I then responded that I would present a question because one of the atheist's had asked me to do so.
I asked, "Why the mockery? If this was supposed to be a presentation on how to interact with religious people in a positive way, then why the mockery, the ridicule, and condescending attitudes?"
To my surprise, JT Eberhard justified mockery as a valid form of argumentation. He tried to say it was as a means of substitution, where something is put forth as a representation of something else and then is mocked.
Okay, so lying, mockery, and ridicule, with a smidgen of misrepresentation, are the methods that Mr. Eberhard said are proper methods for talking to religious people in a positive way. Okaaayyy...
It should be obvious that our conversation did not proceed well. I mentioned how, in my opinion, when someone uses mockery, it suggests that he doesn't have a good argument. He didn't like this, and within about a minute our conversation was, shall we say, energetic. At one point he was trying to control our dialogue by speaking over me so I could not complete my sentences.
I managed to ask him if he would come on my radio show. After accusing me of being intellectually dishonest in how I phrased my questions, he said he would have to contact Matt Delahunty (an atheist with whom I'd had previous interaction). He said he wanted to ascertain my worthiness as a person with whom to speak. Okaaayyy...
This, of course, is problematic. First, he accused me of being intellectually dishonest. Really? Can we say, ad hominem? He's the one who promoted lying in his presentation. In my opinion, when he accused me of "intellectual dishonesty," it was as an excuse to avoid radio air time where his views could be cross-examined. I gave him my email address and after four days have not received any correspondence from him.
So, I would not take advice from Mr. Eberhard on how to talk to religious people in a positive way since he doesn't seem to have the foggiest notion of what that really means.
- 1. I wrote his statement down right after he said it.