A recent lecture by Christian speaker Eric Metaxas made me wonder what could heal the rift in American society. What value is a reach-across-the-aisle attitude if conservatives are determined to burn it all down?
In the wake of the Dobbs ruling against abortion, I wonder if there’s room for compromise on the social issues in the conservative crosshairs in this country.
Let me illustrate the problem with an event I attended a few days ago. Conservative radio host Eric Metaxas is flogging his latest book, Is Atheism Dead?, and I attended his lecture at a local church. The question in the book title seemed odd when the news is actually full of the falling support for Christianity and the rise in the unaffiliated, but we mustn’t underestimate the power of bravado and confidence. Metaxas has plenty of both.
The way he described his research process—that he is often surprised by what he uncovers—made clear that he was a newcomer to apologetics. I’m guessing that, as with fellow bestselling author Lee Strobel, he studied only Christian books and was impressed at how they all supported his Christian presuppositions.
Metaxas admits that he still has lots of unanswered questions about Christianity and the Bible, but he’s still solidly on Team Jesus. He tells us that while Christians and atheists both have their own embarrassing lists of attacks on their worldviews, there is no symmetry. No, the open questions are much more devastating for atheists. The script has flipped, and science now points to God. It’s game over for atheists. They might as well be arguing for a flat earth.
But when we step back and look at his overall argument, we find reassuring pat-on-the-head claims but little evidence. He might’ve been surprised at the arguments, but experienced atheists would feel at home with the Bible as history, Big Bang, fine tuning, and abiogenesis. In my back catalog I’ve responded to these and many more.
Curiously, he fumbled several dates and historical events. For example, he struggled for a few seconds to give some anecdote about Fred Hoyle and isotopes of copper but gave up. (Something to do with Hoyle’s work in stellar nucleosynthesis, perhaps?)
At another point he marveled at a convent built in Nazareth in the 1880s that may have stumbled on the childhood home of Jesus. He spent a long time discussing different angles to this story, but he misstated the name of the book that documented it.
We’re all forgetful now and then, but for an author on a book tour this surprised me. I had to wonder—did he use a ghost writer?
The Christian apologetic argument was abysmal, but there’s more.
The other part of the lecture
Metaxas wove a second theme through his lecture, and he didn’t fumble this message. If lite Christian apologetics was the main course, this was its side order of despair.
He didn’t take a victory lap to celebrate the recent conservative gifts from the Supreme Court. Rather, he labeled conditions in society today “horrible,” which brought applause. (Yes, they are, but I’m sure I would cite different horrible examples.) And that’s the problem with conservative victories—focus on the celebration and you lose that the-sky-is-falling fear that delivers those conservative votes.
Christian political conservatives in the U.S. have cleverly wrangled an unfair share of the political power. When I look at the gulf that separates the left from the right, my first instinct is to try to find common ground. To reach across the aisle. To see things from their viewpoint. And aren’t my fellow citizens with different viewpoints doing the same thing?
In a word, no, if Metaxas has anything to say about it. He’s striving to maintain that gulf, and compromise isn’t helpful.
He quoted Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian and dissident who was killed by the Nazis just before the end of the war, “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil: God will not hold us guiltless. Not to speak is to speak. Not to act is to act.”* He paralleled Bonhoeffer’s struggle with his own, saying that when he asks about the Big Steal** or covid vaccine, he’s told to shut up. But he won’t. “I have honest questions,” he said.
He said that American Christians are as silent as Germans were in 1933. Bonhoeffer’s friends told him to be quiet, too, but good Christians today must reject that advice. “If you keep your mouth shut now, you are really guilty.”
Is there no room for common ground on the social issues that inflame the country—abortion, same-sex marriage, church-state separation, and more? Metaxas did his best to make sure that this audience of perhaps a thousand said no.
I despair for my country.
*Actually, this is an apparently invented quote from Metaxas’ biography of Bonhoeffer, and it doesn’t appear in Bonhoeffer’s writings.
**The “Big Steal” is the false claim that Donald Trump won the 2020 presidential vote.
The ultimate test of a moral society
is the kind of world it leaves to its children
— Dietrich Bonhoeffer