From the book: "I don't have enough Faith to be an Atheist"
Isn't That Just Your Interpretation?
Atheist: Okay, I went back and read this entire book just like you asked, but I don't think you've made the case that Christianity is true.
Christian: Why not?
Atheist: Because it's just your interpretation.
Christian: Of course it's my interpretation, but that doesn't mean my interpretation is wrong.
Atheist: I say it is wrong!
Christian: Is that just your interpretation?
Atheist: So you're turning the tables on me.
Christian: Yes. All conclusions involve making an interpretation, including yours. And in order for you to know that my interpretation (Christianity) is objectively wrong, you would have to know what is objectively right. So what is that right interpretation?
Atheist: There are no objective interpretations.
Christian: Forgive me for doing this again, but is that an objective interpretation?
Atheist: Stop that!
Christian: Stop what, being logical? I'm just using the Road Runner tactic from chapter 1. When you say something that's self-defeating, I feel compelled to point it out. So how can you make the objective interpretation that there are no objective interpretations?
Atheist: Okay, so maybe there are objective interpretations.
Christian: Yes, there are. While you may interpret the evidence and conclude that Christianity is false, I may do the same and conclude it's true. But since opposites cannot both be true, one of us must be right, and the other one must be wrong. So who is right?
Atheist: I am.
Atheist: I just think I'm right.
Christian: But that's just an assertion. You must give evidence rather than just make assertions. In this book, we didn't make assertions that Christianity is true—we gave evidence every step of the way, from the question of truth all the way to the inspiration of the Bible. What evidence do you have that atheism is true?
Atheist: Evil and science.
Christian: That's not positive evidence for atheism but merely perceived obstacles to belief in Christianity. As we have seen, the existence of evil doesn't disprove God (appendix 1), and scientific discoveries actually support the Christian worldview (chapters 3-6).
Atheist: But if Christianity is true, it excludes too many people. After all, millions of people are not Christians.
Christian: That doesn't determine whether Christianity is true or not. After all, truth is not determined by how many people believe it. Truth is discovered by looking at the evidence. Is your interpretation (that Christianity is false) necessarily wrong because it excludes millions of Christians?
Christian: Neither is mine, then. Besides, as we saw when we talked about evil, Christianity doesn't exclude people—people exclude themselves from Christianity. Everyone knows that God exists. But because we all have free will, some people choose to suppress that knowledge so that they can follow their own desires. Paul talks about that in Romans chapter 1.
Atheist: Maybe so, but I find your conclusion extremely judgmental. And you know, you ought not judge!
Christian: Forgive me again, but if we ought not judge, then why are you judging me for judging?
Atheist: What's the matter, Mister Holy—you'd rather play logic games than believe what Jesus said?
Christian: It's not a mere game but an observation about the way things really are. It's self-defeating to tell me, "You ought not judge" when that's a judgment itself. Furthermore, you are making a judgment when you say Christianity is not true!
Atheist: Okay, but what about my second point. Don't you believe what Jesus said?
Christian: Why are you quoting the Bible? Do you believe it's true now?
Atheist: No, but you do. So why don't you believe what Jesus said?
Christian: I do. The problem is you don't know what he said. Jesus did not tell us not to judge. He simply told us not to judge hypocritically. He said, "Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you" (Matt. 7:1-2). He then went on to say, "Take the plank out of your own eye, and then your will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother's eye." In other words, when you judge, don't judge hypocritically. The Bible also commands us to make judgments when it tells us to "test everything" (1 Thess. 5:21), and not to "believe every spirit" (1 John 4:1) but to believe in Jesus Christ for eternal life (John 3:16).
Atheist: Are you done?
Christian: No. There's one more point: it would be impossible to live very long if you didn't judge good from evil. You make hundreds of vital decisions every day that can either hurt you or help you. When you make those decisions you are making judgments!
Atheist: Alright, I see that everyone makes judgments. And you are making judgments by interpreting the Bible the way you do. Who's to say that your interpretation is right?
Christian: You need to look at the context of the passage to discover the objective meaning.
Atheist: If objective interpretations are possible, then why are there so many different interpretations of the Bible?
Christian: Why do so many people get their math sums wrong? Is there no right answer to arithmetic problems?
Atheist: Language is different. I think that there are many interpretations of a sentence or a Bible verse that are true. That's why you get so many denominations.
Christian: So you are saying that sentences can be interpreted in only one way.
Atheist: No! . . . Didn't you hear what I just said? I said exactly the opposite is true. There are many valid interpretations.
Christian: If there are many valid interpretations, then why did you just correct me for misinterpreting what you said?
Atheist: I did?
Christian: Yes, you just told me that I misunderstood you. In effect, you said that my interpretation was wrong! Why did you do that if there are many valid interpretations?
Atheist: Because I knew what I meant, and it should have been obvious to you.
Christian: You're right. So let me ask you this: why is it that when you make a statement, you expect others to know what you mean, but when God makes a statement in the Bible, you give yourself the option of pouring any meaning you want into it?
Atheist: Okay, so maybe there are objective interpretations. But if there are, then why are there so many denominations?
Christian: For the same reason there are a lot of non-Christians. It's not because the truth is not perceived, it's because the truth is not received. In other words, we believe our own traditions and desires over the Word of God. Jesus spoke forcefully against doing this (Matthew 15; 23).
Atheist: Alright. I'm going to come clean with you.
Christian: It's about time!
Atheist: The real problem I have with Christianity is that it leads to intolerance. You Christians all think you have the truth!
Christian: Haven't you noticed that everyone thinks they have the truth? Those who say Christianity is false think they have that truth. Even those who say every religion is true think that's the truth!
Atheist: Okay, okay, you're right. I think atheism is true. But I'm not intolerant like most Christians!
Christian: Even if Christians are intolerant, that wouldn't mean Christianity is false.
Atheist: I realize that, but it's still a practical problem.
Christian: How so?
Atheist: Because people who think they have the truth want to impose that truth on others.
Christian: Do you mean politically?
Christian: I've got news for you: everyone involved in politics—including every non-Christian—is trying to impose what he or she thinks is the truth. So what's your point?
Atheist: My point is that Christians want to take away the rights of people!
Christian: Actually, Christianity is one of the few worldviews that can justify absolute human rights because it affirms that those rights are given to us by God. As our founders recognized, governments aren't meant to give or take away rights: governments are meant to secure rights that the people already possess. That's what we affirmed in our Declaration of Independence.
Atheist: But what about tolerance?
Christian: Christianity is one of the few worldviews that not only offers but champions religious tolerance. Since God doesn't force anyone to believe (in fact the purpose of this life is to make a free choice), most Christians recognize that government shouldn't try to force belief either.
Atheist: But during the Crusades, some Christians obviously thought differently!
Christian: They may have called themselves Christians, but they certainly were not following the teachings of Christ. Jesus never condoned such conduct.
Atheist: I think a completely secular government is the most tolerant of all. After all, there is religious freedom in secular countries in Europe.
Christian: Those countries do exist, but most of them are living off the remnants of the Christian worldview from previous generations. How much religious freedom is there in a self-declared atheistic country such as China, or how much was there in the former Soviet Union? Not much. And if you go to most Muslim countries today, you'll also find very little religious freedom. Last I checked, churches are not allowed in Saudi Arabia, and most other Muslim countries treat Christians as second-class citizens.
Atheist: That may be true for religious tolerance, but most Christians are not very tolerant about certain moral issues.
Christian: Do you think tolerance is an absolute moral obligation?
Atheist: You're trying to connect moral obligations with God again, aren't you?
Christian: There is no other connection. As we saw in chapter 7, there are no moral obligations or moral rights if there is no God. So why should anyone be tolerant if there is no moral obligation to be tolerant?
Atheist: Because it's the right thing to do.
Christian: That's just another assertion. As an atheist, you have no way to justify why anyone should be tolerant.
Atheist: Maybe not. But as a Christian, you do. So why don't you believe that we ought to be tolerant?
Christian: Actually, the supreme moral obligation is love—not tolerance. Tolerance says, "Hold your nose and put up with others." Love says, "Reach out and help others."
Atheist: Why can't you be tolerant and loving?
Christian: You can, but sometimes love requires you to be intolerant. For example, wouldn't it be unloving to tolerate murder, rape, theft, or racism?
Atheist: I suppose so.
Christian: Good, but we're getting a little off the subject. The focus of Christianity is spiritual, not social salvation. While Christians certainly have social obligations, Christ came to free us from our sins, not to free us from "the Romans."
Atheist: You wouldn't know that by the behavior of some Christians today.
Christian: You mean you don't like their biblical views on moral issues like abortion and homosexuality?
Atheist: What do you mean, so? Those issues are important to me!
Christian: Are those issues so important to you that you're willing to give up truth itself in order to keep them?
Atheist: What are you talking about?
Christian: The issue is truth, not what you find politically or personally attractive. Do you think you ought to believe what's true?
Atheist: Of course. Every reasonable person would say yes to that!
Christian: So if Christianity is true, you ought to believe it regardless of the impact you think it might have on politics, moral issues, or any other facet of your life.
Atheist: That's hard to do.
Christian: Maybe. But it's a lot harder in the long run to believe error. Christ said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?" Do you really want to exchange your eternal soul for temporal political positions or personal preferences?
Atheist: If Christianity is true, that's the choice I have to make.
Christian: Yes. And God wants you to choose him. But he loves you so much that he'll respect either choice you make. Just remember that either choice you make will have consequences here and in eternity. And that's not just my interpretation.