Am I Crazy? Are You? A Review of Dr. Randal Rauser's New Book

Randal's new book You’re Not As Crazy As I Think: Dialogue in a World of Loud Voices and Hardened Opinions is refreshing in several ways as a reminder that we need more dialogue between opposing sides, rather than more vitriol.

In this important book Rauser comes down hard on evangelicals and atheists alike, and I agree with him quite a bit on both scores. He is mainly writing to evangelicals though. There is way too much vitriol between atheists and evangelicals, he argues. We're not as crazy as each side tends to think of the opposition. Let me highlight some of what he says.

Chapter One: Who Needs Truth When You've Got Jesus?

To evangelicals Rauser claims they are "willing to sacrifice truth for the sake of their beliefs" (p. 4). "Time and again we (evangelicals) have revealed ourselves to be more interested in defending and perpetrating our beliefs on a given issue than in discerning where the truth really lies. Often we have preferred to secure our present beliefs against challenge rather than to embrace the open risk of real dialogue." (p. 4). His goal in the book is "to challenge evangelicals, other Christians, and everybody else to develop characters of truth that are in harmony with their proclamation of truth" (p. 4). In the first part (chapters 2-6) he identifies "core assumptions and practices that tend to inhibit our pursuit of truth, as well as aid us in realizing the pursuit of truth" (p. 8). "The real person of truth," he argues, "is one who expresses a genuine willingness to listen to the other as as equal conversation partner" (p. 8). He endorses a resolution " engage with the other--the liberal, the Dawinist, the animal rights activist, and the atheist--as an equal partner in dialogue and so to treat each one as a person we can learn from and need to listen to" (p. 11). He's calling "for an enduring truce based on a mutually shared desire to know the truth...a truce rooted in the fact that our deepest conviction ought to be the desire to know the truth, as well as a willingness to see this same conviction in our 'enemies.' For too long we have objectified the dissenting voice at the other end of the battlefield as nothing more than a target of conquest...This book offers the first modest steps toward just such a grand vision" (p. 12).

Chapter Two: Truth is Who You Are.

Here Rauser tells evangelicals that truth is a relationship they have to Jesus. This "means that we need to seek not only to acquire beliefs that are true but also to be truthful people" (p. 14). I wish that some Christians who lie about atheists would take notice.

Chapter Three: If Jesus Were Not the Truth, He'd be the First Person to Tell you to Look Elsewhere.

The problem we all face is confirmation bias. "We are typically quite resistant to examining our bias," which is deferring in favor of our presently held beliefs. "As a result, we often end up letting the confirmation bias run amok" (p. 38). Every Christian, he says, "needs to consider his or her confirmation bias in order to determine whether the evidence really supports the conclusion that he or she is a follower of Christ" (p. 40). Rauser rhetorically asks: "If the objective historical record does not support Christian claims about Christ, then shouldn't Christians be the first to want to know?" (p. 39) When it comes to the problem of evil Rauser says, "Christian leaders, including pastors, teachers, and apologists, frequently fail to acknowledge the depth of the problem" (p. 43).

Chapter Four: Not everything is Black and White.

Rauser explains the common characteristics of indoctrination (or brainwashing) and claims "indoctrination typically leaves critical thinking skills uninhibited in many areas" (p. 58). He argues: "The single most effective way to protect a core set of ideological claims from critical introspection is by positing a simplistic binary opposition between two sides while placing the views we seek to protect on the correct or true side and all views hostile to the core ideology on the incorrect side" (p. 58). Exactly!

Chapter Five: Those I Disagree With Are Probably Not Ignorant, Idiotic, Insane, or Immoral.

After describing the rhetoric on both sides between atheists and Christians Rauser tells us that "the only way to break this kind of standoff is by taking the risk of lowering our own rhetorical guns" (p. 90).

Chapter Six: This Conversation Could Change Your Life.

If we are all serious about the truth, he argues, we must risk listening to each other. "Whenever we engage with another person honestly in such a way that we present our own opinions as well as listening to the opinions of others, we are placing ourselves at the risk of the unknown. It could lead to us converting the other, but, for all we know, it could just as well result in the other converting us. That is the final unsettling consequence of a character formed by truth. We just never know which conversation could ultimately change our lives" (p. 100). But we must risk this conversation if we are truly interested in the truth, he argues.

The final four chapters seem to be self-explanatory and written for the smug evangelical Christian who claims to have all of the answers.

Chapter Seven: Not All Liberal Christians are Heretics
Chapter Eight: Not all Darwinists Are Monkeys
Chapter Nine: Not All Animal Rights Activists Are Wackos
Chapter Ten: Not All Atheists Are Fools

The bottom line is as the title to his book suggests, that our intellectual opponents are not as crazy as we might think.

I highly recommend his book. And I am very happy to be co-writing a book with him tentatively titled God or Godless, since his goal is to know the truth to the point where he is willing to risk a discussion with me, "the other." I likewise welcome this discussion.