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Is it worthwhile to debate street preachers?

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Hello all!

The following exchange took place on my Facebook wall today:


Hell yeah!

Brandon Christen debating Brother Jed: Monday, April 16, 2012

Ed C:

As much as I love debate.. I don’t feel people like Jed ought to be given such respect.


I’ve [formally] debated him the last two years in a row. It’s gotten our group a lot of new members, at the least. Worth it in that regard, if you ask me.

Also, I respect Jed as a person. People don’t need to earn respect; it’s a virtue of being human, and I’m a humanist. Now, a person’s *beliefs* are another story. When it comes to beliefs, respect must be earned, and beliefs earn respect by virtue of being reasonable. Jed’s beliefs are not worthy of respect, but we should be careful not to confuse someone’s beliefs with his/her identity.

Ed C:

I don’t care how many members you got.. the price is too high, in my opinion.


I’m surprised to hear you say that, Ed. Debating Jed helped show a lot of of the Christian attendees that their own beliefs have (just as) little basis in reality, and helped some people on the fence or with doubts learn more about what the word ‘atheist’ really means. From where I sat, the whole event was nothing but a step in the right direction as far as showing Jed’s beliefs to be irrational, and to clear up misconceptions about skepticism/atheism, as well as growing our group.

Ed C:

I’m not confusing anything. There is nothing whatever disrespectful (in a personhood way) about not being invited to a debate. Such speakers should be subject to consideration of merit and decency and Jed has neither of those.

If a Christian is not capable of understanding Jed’s deep, deep flaws after 5 minutes of listening to him bark on youtube or college campuses, a protracted debate will not help him. The Christians who are not aware that some Christians are nutjobs are simply not worthwhile outreach targets; they are both too soft and too few.

Meanwhile, you’ve padded his resume and given him proof of his own legitimacy to the world. He uses you to sell himself as normal, and it works, too, no matter how badly he looks at the actual events, one day a year.


I respectfully disagree. Jed, in a debate setting, is very cordial–professional, even. He employs fallacious reasoning and incorrect information, but he’s very much a decent person. When he’s preaching in public, he uses an intentional strategy he calls “confrontational evangelism” to get attention. He actually wrote a book about it, called “Who Will Rise Up?” He explained to me his reasoning once: Basically, he doesn’t have a captive audience the way professors, et al do. So, if he wants people to pay attention to him, he has to be outrageous. This is why he sometimes uses the “You Deserve Hell” sign & t-shirt, etc, and calls people whores. I have spoken to him at length over dinner and can vouch for the fact that he doesn’t really think all us college students are whores – it’s just a way to get people to stop and listen to him.

Jed actually is pretty consistent biblically with his preaching, in my experience. More than a lot of street preachers, at least. I also know for a fact that several people who were only culturally Christian (but who identified as Christian when asked) are now either on the fence as atheists, or out-of-the-closet atheists, as a result of attending the second debate. And it did give me experience – at the first one, I had only been out of the closet a few months, and had never done any kind of debate before.

I tend to think of it this way: If I can help just a small number of people free themselves from religion, it’s worth it. Jed is not a young-earth creationist or anything like that. And even if he was, some of the greats like Hitch, Dennett, and Peter Singer have debated, for example, Dinesh D’souza, who IS a young-Earth creationist. Dawkins declined to debate him, and I understand his reasoning, but I’m not Dawkins, you know? 😉

Ed C:

I met and even had some one-on-one conversations with Jed when he visited here. I know there is a difference between his sign-waving screed and more conversational Jed. This changes nothing. Doing something disgusting then calling it a strategy doesn’t make it not disgusting- it makes you a crass, selfish opportunist indifferent to the outcome so long as you get your way (attention). Jed does indeed have a theological consistency, that is not my issue with him. His little hate-plays are beyond the limits of acceptable behavior. I think a great deal of debate, and inviting someone to the chair next to yours says a lot more than “this person gets basic human respect”, it says “this person is a legitimate, worthy speaker on behalf of his cause”. Sorry, I must respectfully maintain my disagreement that this is the case.

As a matter of pure strategy, I think there are much more fruitful avenues in terms of both Jed (you already know how we handled his visit, I’m sure) and debate. I would not compare Brother Jed to Dinesh D’Souza (although I don’t care for D’Souza and also would never invite him to debate). I don’t have evidence he is a YEC, in fact he has said the creationists are mistaken about evolution and called it “correct as far as it goes, but doesn’t explain everything”.

Zach C:

“If I can help just a small number of people free themselves from religion, it’s worth it.” —- How is religion hurting my personal life right now?


Was it MLK who said “No one is free while others are oppressed”? Zach, I’m on my phone, but I can give you a quick answer. The very concept of faith makes a virtue out of ignorance. As students, you and I both should be opposed to that right there. There’s also the nearly incalculable opportunity cost of the hundreds of billions of dollars and millions of manhours wasted donating to the vicious circle of churches that simply use the money to grow themselves in perpetuity, when we have REAL problems in this world that we CAN solve if we just address them. Prayer has been proved to be useless beyond placebo effect. It’s like the bumper sticker says: Two hands working do more than a thousand clasped in prayer.

Religion hurts scientific progress. Religion forces the rest of us to waste our already limited education budgets defending why we should teach science in science class, health in health class, and history in history class. Religion encourages and in fact survives by encouraging magical thinking and demonizing curiosity (quite literally!). It is antithetical to social and intellectual progress. And in the words of Christopher Hitchens, “It is not moral to lie to children. It is not moral to lie to ignorant, uneducated people, to tell them that if they believe nonsense, they can be saved.”

Your thoughts appreciated,


(573) 424-0420 cell/text

Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A junior at Mizzou majoring in economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday. His website is

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3 comments on “Is it worthwhile to debate street preachers?

  1. Alex Papulis
    April 15, 2012

    Dave, I’m curious how you would justify the moral components of humanism. Why respect Jed? If it’s simply what you want to do (i.e. respect Jed and other humans), then I understand, but we shouldn’t think that there is some reason to respect anyone. If we don’t want to respect someone, and not respecting them doesn’t hinder some stronger preference/desire, then there’s not problem.
    Similarly, I want to make sure that you don’t mean things like “progress” with some moral sense. The problem comes down to justifying the existence of moral properties. I understand the term “progress” either 1) to have moral weight, 2) to be linked to (possibly shared) preferences/desires, or 3) to be referring to technological sophistication.
    If you mean to use the term in sense 2, then I have no problem. Religion in that sense prevents us from getting what we want, and that’s a problem. If we tie sense 3 in, and say that we desire technological sophistication, again religion limits this and is therefore problematic as it limits us fulfilling our desires.
    If we mean the term in sense 3 but not in sense 2, I’m not sure that that gets us anywhere. Saying religion limits technological sophistication wouldn’t make religion problematic unless we desired technological sophistication. Of course there may be times when we don’t want or don’t care about certain types of sophistication (e.g. very sophisticated dust-machines), but we do want certain types of sophistication (as this allows for the fulfillment of other desires/preferences). I don’t think you mean the term only in this way, but it doesn’t hurt to lay out the consequences if someone wanted to go this route.
    If we mean the term “progress” with some sort of moral weight, then I think there’s a problem. What reason is there to believe that moral properties exist? A moral property gives a reason or requirement to act, but why think there is anything like that out in the world? This sort of property would be metaphysically queer. Of course many people talk as if they believe in them, but that’s hardly a reason to accept that they exist.

  2. Alex Papulis
    April 15, 2012

    I just took a look at the facebook event. Does Brandon hold that moral properties exist? The presentation I gave a couple of months ago dealt with this, and I think it’s clear that moral properties don’t exist, or if they do, we have no way of knowing about them. I would love to hear Brandon’s argument on the existence of moral properties without having to hear Brother Jed.

  3. rocketkirchner
    April 19, 2012

    If i could chime in here as one who has went out of my way to debate and harrass any spreading of the gospel of Christ before my conversion 37 years ago , and who since that time cant shut up about it …let me say this : there is something wrong with an apathetic society that can walk by someone who is preaching the gospel of christ . At least the real Atheists are taking the time to oppose it . Robert Ingersoll , the great Atheist of the 19th century who held Atheist ralleys said this ,”If i really believed what you Christians believed , i would not cease night and day from preaching the gospel ”. Ingersoll really understood the great gulf between faith and unbelief .

    Jed is a freind of mine , and he does what he does as Dave said to get peoples attention . he would not need to do that if he played guitar like i do . ha ! that is my attention getter , and i play in bars secular music , and it gives me a chance to interact with people and talk of my change thru Christ . of course it is worthwhile to debate street preachers. it is a non believers obligation . there must be friction . there is a time for dialogue and a time for formal debate , and a time for just all out speaker circle verbal war.

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This entry was posted on April 15, 2012 by in Author: Dave Muscato, In The News, Web Links & Videos and tagged , , .
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