Spending an Evening with Atheists

by Douglas Groothuis

A number of years ago I received an email from Justin Bosch who was sponsoring a screening of the film, The God Who Wasn’t There at the historic Oriental Theater in Northwest Denver. Mr. Bosch screens films related to media reform and social ethics, but on this occasion, he was venturing into the religious deep. Since the film is very critical of Christianity—claiming that Jesus never existed and that Christians are dangerous simpletons—he wanted to give some response time to a Christian as well as to an atheist. So, at the last minute it was arranged that Will Providence, a local atheist of the Objectivist stripe (a follower of Ayn Rand’s philosophy), and I would make some brief comments after the film and then answer questions.

Although I seldom participate in highly-charged public forums with little notice, I was interested in doing this because, without me. there would have been no Christian response. Further, I was familiar with the basic arguments of the film and was able to mine quite a bit of material on it and the producer online prior to the event.

The event nearly filled the theater. The first half hour or so was taken up by an audio presentation of a comedian who recounted her loss of Catholic faith and her turn to atheism. It was the most uncharitable presentation of the teaching of the Bible I had ever heard in one sitting. The Old Testament is nothing more than a moral mess. Jesus isn’t as nice as she thought. After all, he was impatient with his disciples, and so on. The Catholic priest who taught her the Bible was a fideist who said she had to have faith and that he would pray she had faith. That was not good enough, and eventually, “God disappeared” for this poor soul.

A 62-Minute Affront to Honesty in Documentaries

The best thing about The God Who Wasn’t There is that it was mercifully short: sixty-two minutes. The film advances the solidly refuted claim that Christianity was started by Paul who invented a Jesus out of whole cloth—the cloth of mystery religions. There are so many inaccuracies that I don’t know where to begin, so I won’t. However, Mike Licona has written a long and thorough piece on the movie. Christians were presented as rapture-bedazzled nincompoops who wanted to take over America and persecute as many infidels as possible.

A Christian and Atheist Respond

After this torment was over, Will and I took the stage before about 125 people. I made an opening statement that focused on the films three basic arguments (if I can so dignify such propaganda):

  1. The claim that mystery religions influenced our understanding of Jesus
  2. The claim that Christianity leads to persecution
  3. The claim that Christianity is intrinsically irrational

Will spoke for just a few minutes on what atheism meant to him. It wasn’t much of an argument for a debate, however. He did not address the film at all. We then took questions from the audience for about 45 minutes. Most of the questions were aimed at me…

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