A couple months ago, I got an invitation to participate in what would have been my first ever face-to-face moderated debate before a live audience. I didn’t get all the details, so I’m speculating a bit. I think the idea started with a high school debate team wanting to pit theism vs atheism, and someone decided to tap me. Rather than pressing me for pointers, they decided to have me come on down and do it myself. That’s how I think this got started.
Well if I’m coming to their school to debate my position, they can’t have a student debate me; they’d have to get another adult. I was told they’d selected a minister who wanted the topic to be “the source of morality”. Matt Dillahunty told me once that no matter what the topics of his debates are advertised to be, they always turn into that one. My wife told me not to do it because that subject is where theists always feel at their strongest. I didn’t care, didn’t matter. I was all over it. I was already salivating. I accepted the challenge as-stated, and the more I thought about it, the more I was fired up and anxious to jump into it.
The thing is, this high school was located in a little town in rural east Texas, triangulated between Dallas, Houston, and Shreveport Louisiana, equidistant from anywhere big enough to show up on my map. I’ve never been that way, but I’ve heard reports that there are churches out there who teach that dinosaurs never existed, and to rely on prayers rather than medicine. Whenever I told other Texans where this debate was going to be, they said encouraging things like, “Dude, you’re gonna get yourself shot“. Just think about the scene in Easyriders where Jack Nicholson got clubbed to death in his sleep. It’s pretty close to there.
The next report I got was that there were three ministers competing to be the one to take me on. I was flattered. By then they had decided the debate couldn’t be during school hours anymore; it had to be an after school event, because so many parents wanted to be involved, and a lot of other citizens too. There was reportedly so much interest, they might even have to move the venue to an off-site location like one of the larger churches. I was told the local media might be there too. I was glad to hear it, and determined to give ‘em a good show.
A week or so later, the story changed. Once my three ministers looked me up online, they all backed out immediately. They said they needed to get a professional apologist. I was tickled at that. A few days later, I heard they found one. But then he checked out one of my videos, and he backed out too.
So we had the venue secured and the date was already set, but suddenly there was no one willing to debate me even on their topic of choice. Would I win by default? Where is the fun in that?
Eventually they did find someone, and I have to say, I was impressed by their choice, even a little intimidated. I was of course going to have all this recorded for my YouTube channel, and I expected to debate some bombastic evangelical idiot with a thick hick accent and colloquialisms denoting both his ignorance and bigotry. Just imagine every stupid lying bastard who was famous in the GOP last year, and any of them would have fit my bill. But that’s not who they found. They couldn’t get any of the locals to debate me, so they brought in an import. They found a 70 year-old international missionary with an eloquent English accent. He was gorgeous. No doubt he would show up with an elegant ascot to off-set his thick waves of silvery hair. Compared to him, I would be the one with the red-neck Texas accent, dang it. How would that look? A sophisticated aristocratic gentleman against a seemingly satanic southern rocker. That wouldn’t play well for me down in Mayberry.
I’ve always said that it does not matter who they pit against me, and that is still true, but what little I saw of this guy make me think he was about the best choice they could have made. I’m convinced he still couldn’t win even with an audience already in his pocket, and his demise wouldn’t have been pretty, but at least they didn’t pick someone who would have been too easy.
Today I wrote to the organizers of this event because it’s only a couple weeks away, and I haven’t seen any promotions yet. The response was another surprise. The debate is off. I don’t know why, but the high school that was so ready to roll initially have since withdrawn, reportedly afraid of political backlash. How? I have no idea. The church that was once available is now restricted. Now all the churches in town have refused to host this debate, if they responded at all. The reason that was explained to me was that this town isn’t interested in being involved in any event that promotes or permits looking at multiple sides of any issue relevant to religion. So in a sense it seems that the town shut down that debate. And it’s too bad, because I was really looking forward to this.