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Apologetics Conference: Part 1


As the conference date grew closer I began to regret agreeing to go, for obvious reasons: the content, the speaker lineup, the venue, the crowd- it was by Christians and for Christians, which I am not. But I had decided to go for several reasons which still remained: I am genuinely interested in knowing why these people believe as they do, even if their reasoning is vacuous or degenerates into persecution complex. It serves to reinforce my rejection of religion. I'm mostly compelled to go because I'm confronted with religiosity whenever I spend time with family. The disparity is like a herd of elephants in the room and I welcome any opportunity to open the dialog between us.

Nevertheless, I couldn't shake my reluctance until the drive through the fall splendor of the Virginia mountains into North Carolina provided a much needed opportunity to clear my head and prepare for the event. I checked into the hotel, met my folks and brother-in-law (who all drove in from another part of the state), and headed off to the church where the conference was being held.

We arrived to a scene of total chaos, scores of people trying to park and find their way into the monstrosity that is the church. We waited in a 'line' which was actually just a room full of people facing all directions, and we registered. We were given a wristband (the thought of anyone trying to sneak into this thing made me laugh openly), a bag full of glossy pamphlets from different organizations responsible for the conference in some way, and even a couple of paperback books.

There were two 'stages' with different speakers, and we opted for Hank Hanegraaf who was supposed to tell us "Why the Church Needs Apologetics". Fortunately we were late- it turned out to be a sermon. Off to a bad start. There were bible verses and long dramatic pauses and appeals to fear and ignorance, then finally a prayer and a call to commitment. I began to worry again. If the whole conference follows this trajectory I won't make it past the third hour. I told my father, if this represents the state of apologetics, it's doomed.

Let me take a moment to acknowledge the church itself. This thing is huge. As we walked from the lobby to the 'sanctuary' we passed through different corridors, in and out of buildings, eventually arriving in a huge auditorium replete with stage lighting, an incredible A/V setup, balconies, sound-proof child rooms, and all the other amenities that tax-free money can buy. I'll refrain from digressing on this point, but it was a rather ostentatious display of how much money this church took in and how they chose to spend a large portion of it..

Anyway, my growing disappointment did not remain lonely- next speaker on the list: James Dobson! He was introduced with a lengthy recollection of various awards and accolades he's received over the years, a book endorsement, and then the awarding of an 'honorary doctorate' for his contribution to the world of patriarchy and discrimination evangelical Christianity.

I have to admit that I rather enjoyed parts of his talk. It was certainly not a lecture, and it didn't even qualify as a sermon. He told some stories about his kids and grandkids and showed some pictures and he made a few jokes, all of which came across as very congenial and genuine. The problem, of course, was with his message. He overtly, repeatedly grouped all non-Christians into a 'them' category. Us versus them. They wanted the children. There is a culture war and if they win, the children will be their prize. He peppered his talk with condemnation of homosexuality and abortion, each time eliciting applause. Then he invoked the fear and guilt: if you don't remain vigilant and instill Christian beliefs and values in your children they will drift away, possibly forever. Every time he pursued this line I grew more agitated. I was sitting right next to my mother who undoubtedly feels some level of fear and guilt regarding my rejection of Christianity and Dobson just poured salt in the wounds. Apologetics indeed.

So this was strike two for Christian apologetics, stepping up to the plate without a bat. I suppose the idea was to prime the crowd for all the solid reasoning they would receive, but in my opinion it fell totally flat. I assumed that everyone there thought apologetics was important because they showed up for a conference under the banner of apologetics- so why not jump right in? Maybe atheist-turned-Christian-by-the-evidence Josh McDowell would kick things off. He was next up to the plate.

Strike three. Bad first inning for the home team (and with that I'll retire the baseball analogy). I didn't last ten minutes through McDowell's talk. It was theology for teens: Who is god? What are his attributes? What does the bible say? No thanks. I came for the apologetics, all the sound evidence and reason with which the Christians would be girding themselves against the faith-smiting, dangerous atheists like myself. The first three hours had been given over to basic theology and preaching, tenderizing the masses for maximum saturation.

I retired to the room where sponsors had set up booths to promote their organizations. This was a gold mine of creationism, campus and prison ministry, legal organizations, etc. I was impressed and dismayed at how well some of these things were represented: huge booths with glossy banners and expensive brochures, buttons, and other such promotional materials. I stopped at the first table, Alliance Defense Fund, to see if they had any apologetics on offer. They were happy to oblige.

Coming up: emboldened homophobes realize I'm not one of their own, creationists backpedal, Dinesh D'Souza recycles his old jokes and someone actually discusses real evidence!

Comments

( 1 comment — Leave a comment )
mandiblemerc
Feb. 21st, 2009 07:20 pm (UTC)
that was really interesting to read, thanks alot

will
( 1 comment — Leave a comment )

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