Atheism on Trial with Mark Lanier

Mark Lanier

Mark Lanier stops by to talk about his new bookAtheism on Trial: A Lawyer Examines the Case for Unbelief (IVP, 2022). 

Lanier is one of the top trial attorneys in the nation and he founded the Lanier Theological Library (along with his sweet wife, Becky).  Today, Lanier Foundation governs the mission and practices of this ministry.

Lanier has one foot in the world of law and another in the church. He seems to move seamlessly through both realms.

That’s why it made sense these days as unbelief is trendy and atheism is on the rise for Mark to put atheism, agnosticism, and unbelief on the scales of justice and see if they meet the burden of proof.  

This is book two in a trilogy of books that began with Mark’s first InterVarsity Press book, Christianity on Trial: A Lawyer Examines the Christian Faith(InterVarsity Press, 2015). 

That book has done extremely well since its publication.  Now Mark has submitted his manuscript for the third book in the trilogy.  You have to wait and see who and what is on trial next.

This is what I wrote about the book:

“In Atheism on Trial, Mark Lanier has produced a clear, concise, and worthy companion to Christianity on Trial. With the sensibilities and skills that come with being one of the most successful trial lawyers in US history, Lanier carefully dissects and deconstructs the arguments posed by advocates of atheism and its more congenial sister, agnosticism.  After closing arguments, the underpinnings of atheistic philosophy are found wanting, and a case for the Christian faith prevails.”

Mark will lecture on his book in the Stone Chapel during the weekend of Oct 7-9, 2022.  For more information about the lecture click here.  Be sure to register soon. We expect this lecture to fill up.

Stay tuned to the end of the podcast to hear Mark’s nugget of wisdom.

To see Mark’s 2015 lecture on “Christianity on Trial” click here.

For more books by Mark Lanier, click here.

For more information about attending Mark’s lecture or future lectures at the Library, click here. 

For a transcript of today’s podcast, click here.

To hear the podcast (20 min.) click here.

Bill Maher, What’s in Your Pool?

I don’t watch Bill Maher.  I don’t find him particularly funny (if I’m in the minority, I don’t mind.  I don’t like potty humor either).  I think he is boorish and lacking in insight.  To paraphrase Ecclesiastes: there’s nothing new except the TV audience.  Unfortunately, today’s crop of militant anti-theists, like Maher, cannot hold a candle to thoughtful atheists of the past like Bertrand Russell or Friedrich Nietzsche.  Now, let me be clear, I have great respect for humble, reflective atheists and agnostics.  I have a number of friends and colleagues with whom I disagree on matters of faith but the disagreements are agreeable.

Jim Wallis, founder and president of Sojourner’s, appeared on Bill Maher’s program recently and, as could be predicted, Maher took him to task.  To be frank, I don’t agree with Wallis on all matters of theology or politics but I do regard him as a warm, sincere Christian.  Like many he is following Jesus the best way he knows how.  I don’t have time or inclination to deal with the entire exchange between Maher and Wallis but let me deal with two statements made on both sides.Swimming-Pool 

In response to Maher’s attacks, Wallis made the point that religion has been used for great good in society. Most people who talk about the Bible, he said, haven’t actually read it.  He pointed out how religious people were rallying for immigration reform and how Martin Luther King was inspired by the biblical prophets.  He emphasized how often the Scriptures speak of God’s care for the poor and instructs his people to feed, clothe and care for “the least of these.”  Maher interrupted: “You’re cherry-picking the good parts.” 

Maher proceeded to criticize the Bible: “It’s pro-slavery, pro-polygamy, it’s homophobic, God in the Old Testament is a psychotic mass murderer—I mean, there’s so many things in it, and I always say to my religious friends, you know, if a pool had even one turd in it, would you jump in?” (Maher’s words not mine)

Two responses which are . . . easy.

First, Mr. Maher, you’re a classic cherry-picker.  You rant against all the stuff you don’t like.  You ignore the vast majority of the Bible which speaks of forgiveness, love, charity, and hope.  You accuse Jim of cherry-picking the good parts.  You’re doing the same thing.  Have the decency to recognize it.

Later in the conversation, Maher said, “Fundamentalism is just people reading what’s there and taking it literally.”  True enough, which makes Maher the biggest fundamentalist of all.  He reads the Bible without knowledge, nuance or sophistication. He reads it as flatly as any flat-earthed fundamentalist I’ve met.  More than that, he thinks that’s the way everyone else reads it too.  He boasts that he has read the Bible, but he has done so for the point of condemning others.  And here is a principle for a thoughtful person of any creed:  Whenever you learn about something for no other reason but to criticize it, then you can’t help but misunderstand it. This is why Maher cannot understand religion in general or Christianity in particular.

Maher condemns the Bible for being homophobic while he is biblio-phobic or Christophobic.  Apparently Maher thinks a person can help being religious but can’t help being homosexual.  Again, Maher misunderstands the religious aspect of human existence and how deeply people “feel” their religion.  They can no more simply hang up their religion than a gay person hang up his/her orientation.

Second, and again, this is . . . easy.  Maher criticizes the Bible: “if a pool had even one turd in it, would you jump it?”

There is a Buddhist meditation that invites devotees to take a journey inward—not just into their mind but into their bodies.  Think about what is in your body.  There are organs, muscle, fat, blood, bile, feces, gas, and urine. This is what we are made of.  This is what is in us right this moment.  Mr. Maher, you may not want to be in waste, but waste is in you. 

The point of the meditation is to come to grips with the messiness of human life.  To be human is to be, by definition, messy.  Our lives are messy.  Our relationships are messy.  Our sexuality is messy.  Our politics are messy.  And yes, our religions are messy.  We may wish to swim in a totally clean, chlorinated environment but the minute we jump in we have fouled the waters.  What human institution or organization is without some measure of messiness? 

Whatever the Christian Scriptures are, they are God’s attempt to meet us in the messiness of our human existence.  They portray us as we really are: broken, deeply flawed, angry, contentious, lustful, arrogant, insecure.  The  Scriptures come to a particular people of a particular culture in a particular language.  This is part of the messiness, for language and culture are incapable of expressing the heights, depths, and breadths of the Divine or human existence.   Ultimately, we see in the cross the depths to which God will go to meet us in our brokeness.  Fortunately, God does not leave us where he finds us.  He calls us to something greater. This is why every great university (until the 1900s) was started in the shadow of a cathedral; why hospitals have names with words like Saint, Methodist, Baptist, Catholic, Episcopal, etc.; why when disasters hit, the first to respond are people of faith; why believers give and create charities at a pace which far outstrips those who don’t.  

When comedians and celebrities attempt discussions on serious topics, they often show themselves to be ignorant and bigoted, the same qualities they decry in others.  They prefer sound bites and banal zingers to true understanding.  They are able to get away with their prejudices because such low-level discourse is currently fashionable. Fortunately fashions change.