Apologetics in the park

Posted in Christianity, Islam, Television by Alex L. on December 6, 2016

To Do With Jerusalem segment header

The internet often seems like one faceless mass of websites and media without any discernible communities. But if you look carefully, one can find micro-communities embedded within this fabric on such websites as Twitch and YouTube. One such example I stumbled into is a small community on YouTube of religious apologists, of different faiths, who often vehemently disagree and try to disprove each other. My first point of contact with this virtual village was the channel of David Woods.

A self-admitted sociopath turned Christian, Woods now practices Christian apologetics on YouTube with abrasive (in my opinion) zeal. But what does it entail to do apologetics on YouTube? I’ve found apologetics videos of generally three different types in my exploration of this community: (a) videos defending certain doctrines of one’s faith, (b) video criticizing doctrines of other faiths, and (c) videos of debates between Christians and Muslims or either of them against atheists. This latter category mostly features formal debates usually on college campuses.

But one interesting subset of this third category are religious debates in the park. I encountered this on the Muslim EFDawah channel, which I found through the grapevine of the apologetics community on YouTube. There, a group of Muslims apologists go to Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park (London) and engage in rapid-fire discourses with all takers who seek such a challenge (usually with Christians but sometimes with an atheist). I watched a few of these exchanges between Hamza Myatt, an Englishman who converted to Islam, and others. 

I had a few initial impressions of these debates. First, they reminded me of verbal versions of chess matches in the park. The quick back-and-forth of the conversation sounded like fast-paced chess pieces being moved across the board. Second, I was impressed with the concept of a Speakers’ Corner, which I had never heard of before. The idea behind a Speakers’ Corner is that there is a place in the park for all kinds of orators and debaters (from socialists to missionaries) to pronounce their ideas to the public. Such places have been hailed, Wikipedia tells me, as prominent examples of free speech in a country. Third, I was awed with the command that the Muslims apologists had of the Bible (Old and New Testament).

After some time had passed, I had second thoughts about these debates. The Muslim apologists, it appeared to me, had only selective knowledge of the Bible, namely learning those parts that helped support their claim. They did not seem to read the Bible with a spirit of learning, but with some contempt. This, though, is to be expected, and Christians likely do the same when they read the Quran. Further, the apologists claim numerous times to seek after truth but also clearly have their own agenda (namely, to win over converts). I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, this can inspire deep investigation into history and literature; on the other hand, it encourages viewing dialogue as a battlefield with winners and losers.

Nevertheless, the adherence to claims supported by evidence in the best examples of these debates is admirable. My lasting impression of seeing some of these videos has been that my pride has been piqued that Muslims apologists know the Bible better than I do. It has inspired me to study the Scriptures more ardently.

2 Responses

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  1. Loving Language said, on December 13, 2016 at 7:30 am

    I’m not a fan of apologetics. I find that discussion requires a text so that both parties have a point of reference. Otherwise, it’s incomplete and biased opinions of something that someone heard one time. I’ve had productive, interesting conversations with Jehovah’s Witnesses when they came to my house. But I had to take their proof-text, open a Bible, and read the whole chapter together.

    I’ve had really pleasant, unproductive conversations with interfaith groups. They were just discussions of feelings.

    I’ve had really unpleasant, unproductive conversations with some Muslims. Sometimes they were just blasting me on straw-man points. Sometimes, it was just, “Islam is beautiful. You’d love it because it’s beautiful.” Sentimental.

    Without a text, the conversation is just emotions, whether negative or positive emotions. But not helpful.

  2. Alex L. said, on December 13, 2016 at 7:40 pm

    I agree with you that having a common text to scrutinize makes for a more productive conversation. My issue with apologetics (in the examples that I’ve seen online between Christians and Muslims) is the inability to acknowledge the good points that the other side makes. There are apparent inconsistencies and odd passages in both the Bible and the Quran, and I wish each side would acknowledge this fact in debates to try to come to some unique realizations about their own religions.

    Maybe this is asking too much (and borders on the “pleasant, unproductive” conversations that you mention). I like your idea (as mentioned on your Twitter bio) of religion as being a kind of language. I wish both sides in apologetics debates would use that language in a more constructive way.

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