Intriguing new Apps for the iPhone help people debate the existence of God. What’s that about?
A recent article in The New York Times noted: “In a dozen new phone applications, whether faith-based or faith-bashing, the prospective debater is given a primer on the basic rules of engagement — how to parry the circular argument, the false dichotomy, the ad hominem attack, the straw man — and then coached on all the likely flashpoints of contention.” (See, “You Say God Is Dead? There’s an App for That.”)
There is general agreement now among those who study such issues that, after centuries of efforts to prove god exists, or does not, we have settled into an uneasy truce. Agnostics have the better arguments, though they may not have the numbers. Some school boards may still get hot and bothered about teaching Darwin, or they may want to see some version of “creationism” in the curriculum. But fewer and fewer people really seem to care. It’s become a matter of opinion – and politics.
The appearance of the Apps seems to trivialize the issue. Scoring points, vanquishing opponents – what does this have to do with real faith? It’s clear that no one will be converted into a believer or a skeptic as the result of a quick jab or a clever riposte.
Moreover, polarizing the issue leaves out some of the more nuanced ideas one could entertain. What is God’s relationship to the human race? Is he a man? A woman? A hermaphrodite? A group? Is he still around? What’s really at stake with these portable debating points?
But the appearance of the phone Apps is probably more about neutralizing the issue even further. If the existence of God is in the category of a debate topic, then it is a set of disagreements we have come to accept. Heresy no longer bothers us. It doesn’t even exist in the sense that society is not outraged and mobilized to protest. Apostates no longer alarm us. You take your choice. We can live with it.
Those who wait for the Second Coming are indulging their private interests and passions. Important, yes, but only to them. It is not longer a matter of public significance.
Like a sports match. People take sides, feelings get inflamed, but no lives are likely to be lost as a result. As in all forms of play, one wants to win, to be sure. In a sense, so long as one is playing by the rules, it’s the effort and skill that matter.
Spectators and players like to say, “Let the best man win.” When the match is over, the participants start planning the next match, hoping to win next time. Most important of all is being a good sport.