This is the Best We Can Do?

Times squareThe lengths to which some will go in order to avoid having a real conversation never ceases to amaze me. On the other hand this is America, a country whose elected officials find sitting down together in order to create a  budget to be almost more than they can handle. But that's just politics. There is better evidence of the depths to which public discourse has fallen. One need look no further than New York's Times Square. This is where a large, electronic billboard proclaims, "To Our Atheist Friends: Thank God You're Wrong," for 15 seconds every two minutes. Of course this message is in response to a series of billboards sponsored by atheist groups and placed in high traffic locales. You may have heard about one particularly provocative ad challenging passersby to "Keep the Merry" and "Dump the Myth" last Christmas. Far be it from institutionalized religion to allow such thoughtful, well-reasoned, and persuasive affronts to faith in God to go unchecked. The "friendly" response to atheists comes courtesy of a Christian organization called Answers in Genesis. They coughed up what must have been a small fortune in order to purchase their own publicity campaign. Not to be outdone the Freedom From Religion Foundation has already countered with another surpassingly intellectual appeal, "OMG! There is no god." This latest ad like it's predecessors no doubt begs for a rebuttal, but that will be tough. It is endorsed by and includes the portrait of a former cast member from that wellspring of meaningful philosophical discourse, NBC's Saturday Night Live. One can only hope that before their next billboard goes up Answers in Genesis will have the forethought to consult with Kirk Cameron.

I'm trying to remember the last time I spoke with a friend via billboard. Wait...I never have. For one thing it is much too costly. Most of my friends are just as happy to be invited to lunch or receive a text message. Furthermore billboards, even flashy modern electronic ones, do not impress me as an overly endearing means of communication. In fact if I were an atheist I would find the effort of Answers in Genesis far from engaging. Condescending and insulting seems about right. Then I'd think of the amount of money they have wasted and laugh.

Granted as a Christian I am equally if not more insulted by exhortations to "Keep the Merry and Dump the Myth" this Christmas. (For some reason I don't find, "OMG! There is no god," particularly offensive. I just find it...stupid.) Had they printed, "Friends, Keep the Merry and Dump the Myth," that only would have made it worse. They don't know me and I don't know them. We've never spoken. Therein lies the entire problem. We can't be satisfied to let a few people with more money than they know what to do with trade anonymous insults back and forth across major metropolitan areas. Nor can we be content to stick a Jesus fish on our back bumper, assuming that because we signal before making an illegal left hand turn across three lanes of traffic others will be compelled to give their lives to Christ.

Christians of all people should be committed to raising the level of discourse rather than contributing to its demise. Athletes often reference the phenomenon of playing to the level of their competitors. Some may think dueling billboards indicate Answers in Genesis is rising to meet a challenge presented by competitors. I disagree. I think they are playing down to the level of their competition. Conversations, the real, meaningful, and productive kind, are generally speaking the results of relationships. And in regard to certain topics or questions they can in fact be difficult. But they are necessary and it seems our willingness and ability to have them is quickly dissipating.

Fortunately, and I dare say by God's grace, we are still provided with a wide variety of conversation starters that we can employ if we have in fact taken the time to actually cultivate legitimate friendships with atheists. Have you heard about those billboards in New York City? As a Christian I'm also convinced of the power of the Holy Spirit. Thus in the interest of full disclosure I must admit that I am crazy enough to believe that God could actually use a bright blue flashing billboard in Times Square to bring someone to faith if he so chooses. He's so powerful he can even use human stupidity to accomplish his purposes. The Bible contains plenty of examples of that. In fact I myself am living proof.