Clearing the Heart to See the Truth
A couple of nights ago, my dear friend and colleague (and co-blogger) John-Mark Miravalle participated in his third debate in a year sponsored by SOMA (the Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics) at the University of Kansas. The topic of the debate centered on whether or not one can tell the difference between right from wrong without the existence of God. For some reason, SOMA is quite interested in pursuing ongoing debates with Christians of whom they openly despise. Praise God! They are willing to do what Christians too often lack the interest or courage to do–engage opponents on important points of divergence.
As in the past, folks at SOMA brought in another professional debater and invited John-Mark to debate him, a backhanded compliment to John-Mark if there ever was one (both previous debates are still on You Tube.) This time, John-Mark was joined by his dad, Mark Miravalle, one of my former professors when I was in graduate school at Franciscan University in Steubenville, OH.
As in previous cases, the atmosphere prior to the debate was tense, as the crowd of some 500 people filled Woodruff Auditorium at the Kansas University Student Union. Although the Christians were well represented (I would say over half), there were enough folks from SOMA or fellow travelers of SOMA to create a sense of anxiety visible on all involved. The debate was video- taped yet again and will be posted on the School of Faith website once it is posted on You Tube, so I won’t recount the entire two hours here. Instead, I would like to offer some brief reflections on the night:
– What’s that metallic hissing missile sound I hear ripping through the water…Direct hit!! Direct hit!!
When the debate was over, one of my teen aged sons and I took to opportunity to discuss the event over a burger. Both of us felt wasted and emotionally drained, and we were only in the audience! I also felt a little sick. Being confronted with such hatred towards God in someone unnerves me a little. For one reason, I love God and can’t stomach hearing such blasphemy aimed at one who has been so generous to me. For another, I toyed with atheism myself at one point in my life. It was truly terrifying for me to seriously doubt God’s existence. I concluded that if there is no God then there is no real purpose to life. Purposes we give life are merely illusory. If life is without purpose, I figured, then there is no reason to live; in fact, there was no difference between living and dying, other than just how molecules organize themselves. The only reason why I chose to live was because I was afraid to die. In other words, I concluded that to live in a purposeless world was simply an act of cowardice, an act of fear. To kill oneself was to at least go out bravely. It was then I began pondering suicide, even trying it once by ingesting a bottle of aspirin. Had I watched this debate back in the late 1980’s, the atheist presenters offered me no hard evidence to keep me from killing myself. They simply assumed that human life was good, a point on which I of course agree, but a matter of which they never proved but only assumed as a given. I didn’t assume it as a given when I toyed with atheism.
I take from this debate the sad reality that persons created by God out of love are filled with hate for Him, and are filled with hate for His followers. I sense that in these poor folks that there is pain in their life, perhaps pain caused by parents or other influential people in their life who claimed to be Christian, or, at least, claimed to be religious. I pray for their healing and a renewed confidence in the love and mercy of God.
I see that the atheists do with reason what fundamentalists do with the Bible: fundamentalists restrict Divine Revelation to solely what’s found in the sacred text instead of what’s contained in the whole of Sacred Tradition, and expect you to debate them on their terms, even though the Bible clearly teaches otherwise. Atheists similarly reduce knowledge to only what’s materially verifiable, what’s empirically established, and expect you to debate them on their terms, even though reason clearly demonstrates otherwise (how many of us have personally demonstrated that the world is round, or proved it through logical syllogism or mathematical formula, versus simply accepted it based on visual or oral testimony?) As Catholics, we realize that knowledge comes to us in various ways that are certain and sure, in addition to material verification (like the certainty derived from visual or oral testimony.)
Finally, the readings in the Easter season take us through the Acts of the Apostles. This book is filled with the stories of the persecutions of the followers of Jesus Christ, as well as their steadfast witness. Peter, Phillip, Paul, Barnabas, etc. had similar encounters with the pagans. Like them, the Miravalle tandem offered a beautiful witness to me of fidelity and steadfastness. I know for a fact that comments from atheists in the YouTube comments box on John-Mark’s previous debates are filled with the vilest and most disgusting vitriol, aimed at hurting and belittling him, and yet he entered the debate anyway! May God bless him and his father as noble witnesses to their love of Christ and His Catholic Church, following in the footsteps of the early Christians!