The Dogma Debate recently asked comedian Jay Mohr, who had been on the show, if he could write up a piece about what he wanted to say to atheists. Mohr, who would likely consider himself a “cafeteria Catholic”, has witnessed a number of debates between theists and atheists, and hasn’t been to impressed by what he saw/heard. Mohr’s piece, “Comedian To Atheists: A Message From Jay Mohr”, is a well crafted, humorous, assessment of the ongoing and often tumultuous arena of religious discourse.
I was expecting to like the piece less then I did, honestly. I think Mohr makes some excellent points and does a good job of not taking any particular side, but considering both positions. His call for more dialogue and less argument is an important one. The need for more understanding and compassion is something both sides of the debate need to hear. Mohr rightly points out that very often these debates become very binary – very black vs white, right vs wrong – and this can be problematic.
I do have a couple of issues with Mohr’s article that I want to address.
Mohr questions the validity of debates at all. “Why always an argument?” he asks, “Rarely does the religious person walk away from the debate with a changed mind and throw their faith into the nearest trash can.”
I think the point that Mohr is missing is that with these sorts of debates, it’s less about the two people debating and more about the audience that is listening. He’s right; rarely if every do either person in a debate walking away having changed their minds. However, often times there will be someone in the audience who does change their minds. At the very least, many people will walk away with a different or better understanding the issue.
A good example of this can be found in the Intelligence Squared debates. The audience is asked to vote on where they stand on the issue being discussed, either “For”, “Against”, or “Undecided”. The audience is then asked after the debate where they stand. In almost every debate, a certain percentage of the audience will have changed their vote.
“So, what’s the point?” Mohr seems to imply. “…what is the victory of reversing someone’s belief system that works for them?” Well, Mohr answers his own question late in the article where he states, “If Christians weren’t always trying to explain to you how you were going to hell, or how you’re living your life incorrectly, or trying to write legislation controlling your behavior…” THAT is precisely why it is so important to work towards reversing people’s belief systems! Nobody lives in a bubble – beliefs have consequences. And many of these beliefs, regardless of how well they may “work” for the person holding them, are detrimental to personal and societal well-being and often hinder humanity’s progress.
Lastly, while I appreciate Mohr’s take on evangelizing (or as he puts it; “the dreaded ‘SHARING’ of their religion”), I think he’s being a little too optimistic here. Most Christians feel called to preach at anyone who will listen. In some camps, you aren’t considered a “TRUE Christian” unless you’re actively trying to save people’s souls. I fully agree that “sharing” is just another way of saying “recruiting”. It’s offensive, it disregards personal boundaries, and is rarely as effective as Christians would like to claim. This is all the more reason why we need to work on correcting false beliefs, and debates are often an effective tool for doing so.
I like Mohr. I consider him one of the “good ones”. If he and I sat down for a beer, we would agree on far more then we disagreed on. And likely the topic of God’s existence wouldn’t even come up, as is often the case when I hang out with my Christian friends. I’m happy to see Mohr’s post making the rounds across social media, and I hope it continues to be a catalyst for conversation. People on both sides of the debate could benefit from it.
Next time we’ll be talking about another person that both sides can learn from; Jordan Peterson. Thanks for reading.