Pharyngula

August Berkshire in the news

August Berkshire of Minnesota Atheists gave a talk at Northwestern College, one of our regional evangelical Christian colleges, and the Star Tribune has a story about it. He gave the students a list of very poor religious rationalizations—it’s a strange and interesting story, and a little sad, since the students don’t seem to have learned anything at all.

There are also peculiar little twists to everything that reflect how blinkered people can be. Berkshire was invited by the instructor in a theology class, and look how unaware this guy is:

Johnson told the group that his association with Berkshire began when a student went to a debate at the University of Minnesota and brought him Berkshire’s card. “I had a strong urge to call him up and tell him to leave my student alone,” Johnson said. “But I was curious, too — I’d never really rubbed shoulders with an atheist.

Isn’t that odd? The student had gone to a debate and met Berkshire, and the instructor’s first thought is to tell the atheist to leave the poor kid alone. And then for a theology teacher to have never met an atheist…these people are all hothouse flowers, aren’t they? They get brought up in avoidance of anything that might challenge their delicate beliefs.

He shouldn’t have worried. There’s a series of student responses at the end of the article, and it’s clear that they have all developed very strong denial mechanisms, and not a word sunk in.

“I appreciated that he was very approachable, not hostile,” said Andrew Olson, 20, of Long Prairie, after class. “I was curious about his motivations, though. Why was he here? I felt like he came to try to convince us there is no God, even though he said he hadn’t.

Yeah, and like he didn’t have fangs and claws or anything. I thought the article clearly laid out why he was there: the instructor invited him, and as usual, August laid out his case quite clearly:

Berkshire told the students he wasn’t trying to talk them out of their beliefs. “I don’t care if you accept my arguments or not,” he said. “I just want to show you that yours are based on faith, not reason. And that’s OK, as long as you don’t try to force them on me or our government.”

Pay attention, take better notes, and think, kid.

“I wanted to ask him more about the Bible, if he thinks it’s all deluded,” Olson said. “He groups all religions together. I’d have liked to discuss the merits of salvation by grace, a truly unique concept.”

Maybe thinking isn’t an option, then. He didn’t follow Berkshire’s points 1 and 2. “Salvation by grace” is nothing but unjustified dogma, a bit of empty noise. I am a little curious what possible arguments he would use to justify it, but I suspect it would be nothing but a bunch of quoted Bible verses.

Krista Baysinger, 20, of Benson, Minn., said, “I really enjoyed it. He was noncondemning and presented his arguments well. But nothing he said shook my faith — not at all. Actually, this is a way to help us strengthen what we believe, by thinking it through.”

Unfortunately, none of the students quoted are actually thinking.

Betty Kraus, 20, of Prior Lake, wondered why Berkshire “has invested so much of his life in this. I mean, he comes in and lays out argument after argument that he wouldn’t accept from us. What would he have us do?”

Wait a moment…a student who has enrolled in a Bible college is wondering about an atheist spending so much of his life on something? Does she think he spent his childhood going to atheist school on Sundays and atheist camp in the summer, after high school he went off to atheist college to get a degree in atheism, and now goes to atheist services a couple of times a week and sings in the atheist choir? These kids really need to get more exposure to the non-Christian life.

Oh, well. One can always hope that there were a few kids there who were using their brains…but they were probably not the ones who would glibly parrot a string of rationalizations to the reporter afterwards.