A new movie titled “My Week in Atheism” came out today – it’s a MUST SEE for Christians, and especially for Christian parents. I had the opportunity to see a pre-release copy and I couldn’t recommend it more.
“My Week in Atheism” is a documentary about a friendship caught between the two opposing worldviews of atheism and Christianity. As devout Christian John Christy and atheist activist David Smalley travel together to secular conventions, university campuses, and a live talk show, they struggle to maintain a close friendship while protecting their beliefs. Along the way, viewers experience first-hand the most common conflicts between Christianity and atheism today.
Here’s why I love this film so much for Christian parents. We grew up in a vastly different environment than our kids are facing today. The internet has enabled statistically small groups of people like atheists to sound disproportionately loud. The number of people who have a basic belief in God but are spiritually disinterested is far larger than the number of atheists, but those people have no motivation to promote their disinterested beliefs. Atheists, on the other hand, are highly motivated to promote their passionate beliefs and today have a platform for doing so. The problem is that the typical Christian parent in our generation didn’t encounter the atheist worldview so readily growing up and is unprepared to address it now with their kids – meanwhile, it’s the most predominant non-Christian influence our kids will have.
That’s why this film is so important. Many parents don’t have the time to learn about atheist arguments against Christianity from extensive reading. But in just 110 minutes of this film, you’ll powerfully see a very representative sweep of those arguments and start getting up to speed not just for your kids, but for your own faith and Christian witness to the world. If you have teenagers, it’s a no-brainer that you should sit down and watch this with them ASAP.
I had the great opportunity to interview John about the film and I want to share with you his thoughts on the experience and what it can teach us about Christian parenting.
John, thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview. Can you tell us how the concept for your film was born and what you hoped, as a Christian, to accomplish in making it?
For a few years I had been reading atheist books and getting a handle on atheist arguments, but it was all book knowledge. About two years ago, I began listening to an atheist podcast called Dogma Debate with David Smalley. I emailed David and mentioned some differences I had with his historical information on the formation of the biblical canon. He asked if I wanted to come on the show and talk about it. That was in May of 2012 and since then I have been on his show several more times, leading to a close friendship. We get along really well, but we have this one glaring difference that keeps us divided: he is an atheist and I am a Christian. It leads to many conversations between us – both on the air and off – that get very heated. One day I sent him the following email:
TO: David Smalley
SUBJECT: My Week of Atheism in San Francisco
I thought you’d get a kick out of this. I spent the week in San Francisco for a conference, had dinner with David Fitzgerald, read Richard Carrier’s “Why I’m Not A Christian,” and while driving around all week listened to David Smalley’s audiobook “Baptized Atheist”…can’t claim I’m not giving you guys a fair shake.
Not long after that, I thought to myself, “Man, this relationship is really compelling and would make a great movie.” That email came to mind and I thought, “What if I did fieldwork in atheism and learned straight from the atheist movement what it’s about?” A few months later I was booking airline flights and planning visits to atheist conventions. I originally intended to spend a week on it, but it got so good that it turned into a month, and eventually a year.
As a Christian, I honestly wanted to learn about atheism from the source. Ultimately what I hope to accomplish with this film is to challenge Christians to examine their beliefs and not be afraid to wrestle through the hard questions we all have in life. I believe we have the truth and, as such, it can and should hold up to scrutiny and doubt.
One reason I wanted to feature your film on this blog is that I think many Christian parents would benefit from visually experiencing the clash between the Christian and atheist worldviews that our kids will face. If readers here watch your film, how do you feel it will better equip them as Christian parents?
It will expose them to the most popular arguments against Christianity, and that’s where we need to begin. We need to know what we are up against and be prepared to give an answer for our faith, as 1 Peter 3:15 says. We live in a world where our kids are listening daily to very influential people who are promoting these same arguments – their teachers, celebrities, and even their friends. As a parent of three teenagers myself, I find it my greatest apologetic challenge to disciple my own children and talk with them about why and how Christianity is the worldview that makes the most sense of the universe we live in. I realize not every parent wants to spend time researching the atheist perspective, but this movie is a great introduction for Christian parents to see the worldview that will undoubtedly challenge their kids at some point.
Something people won’t know from watching the film is that you had your 18-year-old son, Chandler, with you for the whole year of production and travel. You were willing to expose him in-depth to atheist belief during that time. Tell us about that experience.
My wife and I were in agreement since the beginning of this project that as an 18-year-old entering college in fall of 2013, we couldn’t shelter him from the worldview of atheism. He was no doubt going to hear all the claims that God doesn’t exist and Christianity is based on fairytales. The college campuses are filled with that – in fact, his freshman philosophy professor began the semester stating that God does not exist. I have always felt strongly that if my children’s belief is only based on my belief then they have nothing.
What I teach my children is that doubt is not bad, and they don’t have to be afraid to test the Bible. But I always tell them they need to be well informed, not just read a couple of internet articles. They need to research many perspectives that surround an argument and apply critical thinking, following every claim to its logical conclusion. When they do that, I am confident they will see that Christianity shines above all other truth claims (naturalism, atheism, humanism, and all other religions).
On a more personal note, Chandler and I grew in our relationship as a father and son. Not just because we spent a lot of time together, but also because he was watching my behavior, how I responded to insults, and how I handled my emotions when things weren’t going so well. I was constantly aware that my actions would be the biggest testimony to my son, more than any argument I could win. He got to see all the behind the scene interaction and I think it helped him to know that this isn’t about winning arguments. He has been very encouraging all along the way. He’s a very smart kid and I was proud to have him in my corner the whole time.
What atheist views and/or experiences were most challenging for Chandler during the filming?
Chandler really grew from this experience. I’ve seen his time spent reading the Word increase to a daily practice and he has said that because of this experience he became much more interested in Christianity. Atheists would challenge him, stating they are atheist because they read the Bible. As Chandler put it, “Challenge accepted and so far the Bible is winning.” His words to this question were: “I really don’t remember any argument that stood out to me. When I heard any of their challenges, I just talked with you and there was always a rational explanation. There was nothing that seemed devastating to me. If you have the truth, what can you present to challenge the truth? They really have the harder job of promoting their theories. The one main thing I really noticed was that they didn’t talk about Jesus. They just didn’t go there.”
You mentioned the need for kids to learn to apply critical thinking to claims about religious truth. After your experience in making this film, what are a few of the most common atheist claims you feel the average Christian kid wouldn’t be prepared to think critically about?
Probably the most common error that is all over the Internet and has become increasingly popularized by movies like Bill Maher’s Religulous is that Jesus is a copy of ancient gods like Horus, Osiris, Mithras, and others. Using a little historical research into these claims and applying basic critical thinking skills will quickly show that these myths are simply a distortion of facts and not true in any way. However, these claims have become so popular online that many people believe them without even looking into the facts. This exact question comes up in the movie, and I address it showing that before Christianity those gods had nothing in common with Jesus. It wasn’t until after Christianity was becoming a popular religion and threatening the mystery cults of the Greco-Roman period that writers like Plutarch, who was a priest of one of these mystery religions, began copying Christian claims and attributing them to their gods. So there was definitely copying going on in the first and second centuries, but it was the pagan gods whose newly reshaped myths were copying Christianity and not the other way around. Again, this is a perfect example of how a little critical research can easily debunk anti-Christian propaganda.
If parents were to watch this with their teenage kids, what would you say the biggest take-aways would be for the kids?
I want kids to walk away thinking about Christianity and not to dismiss the Christian faith because of emotional claims that bypass logic. A lot of the claims against Christianity are based on the experiences that people feel are unfair or painful and so they decide there couldn’t be a loving God. That is just not logical. Kids are smart and they like to be challenged, so challenge their thinking. Appeal to their sense of justice and ask why they think there should be justice in a random universe where things are a product of chance. While many atheists disagree with the way Christians claim God manages the universe, that in no way removes the existence of God and, in fact, puts the atheist in the position to judge. Christianity makes the most sense of the universe we live in because it includes a definitive judgment. I want kids to think about Christianity and not be afraid to investigate it deeper and deeper, study the Bible and not just read it, and ultimately see what this Jesus character is really up to.
I know there are many Christian parents who would be hesitant to watch a film with their teens that boldly shows the clash between atheism and Christianity. Some parents would fear that it would put ideas or doubts into their kids’ heads that weren’t there yet. What would you say to those parents?
I would tell them that most likely those doubts are going to be put there anyway, if they’re not already. We can’t control what our kids see and hear in the world – now we even have billboards that are attacking Christianity! Christians need to engage the culture where it is at and not hide from it. We have the truth and we need to be prepared to present it. In fact, I don’t refer to myself as a defender of Christianity, but rather as an advocate of Christianity. There are great resources out there that are presenting the Christian worldview with logic, reason, and science; sites like Reasons to Believe (reasons.org), William Lane Craig’s bethinking.org, and groups on college campuses like Ratio Christi (ratiochristi.org) are equipping students with the knowledge of how to articulate the Christian faith. We need to stop hiding and hold our light up high on a hilltop. Yes, the light of Christ exposes darkness, and yes that darkness will react harshly, but if we are afraid to answer the challenge we risk losing our kids to lies and deception. I’m not willing to let that happen.
Many thanks to John for this interview! Please share this post to help get the word out about this important film.