The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

The official student newspaper of University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire since 1923.

The Spectator

What a scoop: Ending the God debate

Lyssa Beyer

With the return of spring comes many familiar sights to UW-Eau Claire students. There’s melting of the towering snow banks, the flooding of our sidewalks and the always welcome appearance of temperatures above 20 degrees. But with these comes another tradition, one perhaps not so hotly anticipated. This, of course, is the return of the shouting preachers.

I’m sure you know who they are by just that last sentence. Those campus preachers who look to spread the good word by calling students sinners and heathens, situating themselves in the middle of the campus mall so they can catch all the student traffic in between classes. For hours on end, they’ll argue and belittle students who are foolish enough to be ensnared by their combative words. I admire these preachers’ tenacity and often impeccable attire, but that’s all there is to respect concerning these people and their tactics.

This spring, may I suggest something to our campus community? Ignore these people. Ignore their condemnation of your beliefs, their insults, and their wild antics. Walk on by to class or to somewhere quiet so you can read a book, eat your lunch or pick your nose – anything is infinitely more constructive than engaging these preachers in debate.

But now here’s the next step in this plan of mine, an understandably tougher but much more essential one – don’t debate religion with anyone. Ever, to be blunt. The shouting matches these preachers instigate are a microcosm of the shoving match between various faiths in our world. This seems brash, I know, but if we were never to debate what religion is correct or if God exists, much of the tension and strife on this planet would melt away just as the ice on our sidewalks is doing now.

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I’ve watched these debates go on. I’ve seen how furious and illogical these discussions can become. They rarely remain civil and common ground is found even more scarcely. Be it between two different religious ideologies or atheists and believers, these conversations never go anywhere close to what could be considered constructive territory.

The debate of the correctness of theology is a wholly useless practice. No side is willing to acknowledge the other’s evidence; atheists won’t consider any holy book and believers don’t trust scientific findings such as carbon dating or the writings of other religions. The discussion can’t go anywhere if neither side can even take into consideration the other’s arguments. I’m always reminded of two children trade “nuh-uhs” and “yeah-huhs” back and forth when watching two people debate religion.

And what are they always arguing? What happens when we die? Call me silly, but wouldn’t you have to die to be an expert on that sort of thing? All people, religious and atheist alike, seem to speak with quite a bit of authority on this topic despite most of them being very much alive. Would you consider speaking as an expert on the topic of living in Mongolia if you had never been there? The argument makes as much sense as vehemently debating on what color aliens might be.

The problem is we’re debating beliefs, not facts. You can believe in your heart that God is waiting for you at the pearly gates when you die, that there will be 72 virgins waiting for you upon your death or if you’ll simply be digested in the bellies of worms – the fact is you merely believe these things, you don’t know them. People in our society seem to confuse belief with knowledge, arguing ferociously for something they can’t possibly know is true. Opinions are becoming facts in our public discourse, and this debate over what happens when we die is a prime example of it.

Being a firm believer in sound, undeniable evidence, I can’t see how this topic could ever be resolved save for a ghost or angel holding a press conference. Believers are left with the “trust me, it’s in the book” argument while atheists can’t physically disprove God, merely suggest the unlikelihood of His (or maybe Her) existence. I can be swayed in one direction or the other, but I know I can’t speak definitively on divinity until I die, and I’m none too anxious to do that very soon.

It would be one thing if these discussions just didn’t lead to anything useful, as debates on the best this or that of a particular sport often are. But these arguments on faith lead to tensions unmatched by any other type of discussion. People get riled up beyond reason when their beliefs are called into question, no matter how well-reasoned they normally are. The only product of these debates are ill will toward the opposing side.

I never understood what the point of these debates is – if you were to somehow convince someone of your viewpoint, then what? Are we supposed to be acting differently if there is or isn’t a God? I know I wouldn’t treat anyone differently if I found out any particular God was real, which ultimately is the only thing we can be judged on in this world. You can pray for however long you want, wear whatever pendant around your neck or read whichever holy book, but at the end of the day it’s only the respect you show other living beings that means anything.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t learn about other religions; in fact, I recommend taking a religions studies class here at the university as a means of understanding why people in other cultures act the way they do. Discussing divisive topics such as abortion or gay rights also shouldn’t be avoided either because there is at least some possibility for a moderate decision in those instances. But to debate the validity of one religion over another is useless at best and destructive at worst. It can only lead us to more hate and violence in a world where there is enough of both to go around as it is. Can’t we just observe our faiths with ourselves or with other believers and leave others alone?

Langton is a senior print journalism major and editorial editor of The Spectator. “What a Scoop!” appears every Thursday.

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What a scoop: Ending the God debate