Dinesh DíSouza has been no stranger to controversy, whether editing the Dartmouth Review as a student or taking on the American left. D'Souza has worked for the Reagan Administration, the Heritage Foundation, and the American Enterprise Institute. A native of India and now a U.S. citizen living in California, he has written several notable volumes, including Illiberal Education. D'Souza sparked outrage with his 2007 book, The Enemy at Home, in which he argued that the American cultural left bears responsibility for provoking militant Muslims into the September 11 terrorist attacks. Facing a firestorm of criticism from the left and the right, D'Souza refused to back down.
Since then he has begun writing works on Christian apologetics and debating atheists such as Christopher Hitchens and Peter Singer. In 2007 he authored What's So Great about Christianity for Regnery. And recently, Regnery released D'Souza's latest, Life After Death: The Evidence, in which he attempts to make the case for an afterlife without resorting to religion, "because I am making a secular argument in a secular culture."
I served as an editor and consultant for D'Souza on Life After Death and interviewed D'Souza about his life as a Christian apologist.
Breakpoint: You've worked for a president, Ronald Reagan. You've debated some of the world's greatest minds. Now you've made the move into Christian apologetics. First you write "What's So Great about Christianity" and now "Life After Death". What has brought you from there to here?
Dinesh D'Souza: My faith has deepened over the past several years, since we moved to California in 2000. But my work remained secular. When I saw the new atheism, and saw how it was being lionized in the media, I suddenly recognized I had an opportunity to bring my Christian faith and my intellectual work closer together. So I am delighted to be focusing now on Christian apologetics, although I still have one foot in secular culture. I don't see this as a problem because I'd like to take the apologetic argument mainstream, to have it aired out not merely in the Christian media but also on CNN, USA Today, and so on.
Breakpoint: What brought you to Christ?
Dinesh D'Souza: I was raised Catholic in Bombay, India. The Portuguese missionaries came to India starting in the 16th century. Somewhere along the line, they seem to have located one of my ancestors and brought him to Christianity, possibly by whopping him over the head. It was the age of the Portuguese Inquisition. Hey, I'm glad it happened, although I'm not sure my hapless ancestor would agree. Even so I sometimes say I was raised with "crayon Christianity."
This is a simplified Christianity, and too many of us learn this from our parents and never outgrow it. We never develop a mature Christianity that can withstand the assaults of secular culture. I married an evangelical Christian in 1992, and after our daughter was born in 1995, we started attending a nondenominational church in the Washington D.C. area. But my faith remained lukewarm, wounded, you might say, by the influences of secular culture. Only when we moved to California did we start attending a Calvary Chapel church, and I found people who took their Christianity very seriously and whose faith shaped their whole life. This also began to happen with me. Basically I went from being a crayon Christian and a lukewarm Christian to being a mature and passionate Christian.
Skewering is something that I enjoy, and maybe this is why people say I do it well. I have no hesitation in naming names; in fact, I think that one of my most powerful weapons against the atheists is to quote them. Some of the things they say, especially when they navigate outside their fields of expertise, are quite hilarious.
Breakpoint: Was your decision to go into Christian apologetics influenced by all the controversy you faced as a conservative pundit, particularly the response you provoked with "The Enemy at Home"? Did you get tired of all the opposition? And is there anything you would do differently?
Dinesh D'Souza: No. The controversy over The Enemy at Home was nothing new; in fact, it paled before the controversy around Illiberal Education and The End of Racism. Besides, The Enemy at Home sold well, and its thesis has held up well. Today the whole right wing "clash of civilizations" thesis doesn't look so good. Basically my offense for some conservatives was that I departed from this model.
Anyway, I started What's so Great About Christianity intending to write an historical book, but I got drawn into the larger issues of the origin of the universe, the uniqueness of Christianity, and so on. Soon I realized that this full-scale apologetics is pretty far afield from the free market principles of the Hoover Institution and the conservative cause. So I decided to shift my focus. I still have one foot in the secular political world, but my primary emphasis these days is Christian apologetics.
Breakpoint: How is being an apologist contending for the faith different from being a commentator contending for, say, supply-side economics?
Dinesh D'Souza: Well, the supply-side advocate is arguing for a means to an end. It's an important issue, but it's subordinate to the truly fundamental and ultimate questions of life. I enjoyed my involvement in political debate, and still do, but now I feel that I am taking on the truly big questions. It gives my life an enhanced sense of purpose. Ultimately, who really cares whether the top marginal tax rate is 36 percent or 33 percent? Well, that 3 percent difference is not irrelevant to our nation's prosperity. But still, it's a lot less important and a lot less interesting than, say, the question of whether we have life after death.
The actual techniques of advocacy are quite similar in politics and apologetics. In a sense, I have steered a whole set of skills in writing and debate that I developed in the secular world into the area of defending Christian principles. Oddly enough, a secular background is a very good preparation for apologetics. The typical church-bred apologists think in biblical terms, and then they have to translate into secular terms. By contrast, I think in secular terms. This helps me when I debate on the college campus or in other secular venues.
As Christians we shouldn't shrink from satirizing our opponents; ridicule is a powerful weapon, and there are good biblical precedents for using it. I like to make scholarly arguments, but I also want to reach large numbers of people. So I have to find a way to make things clear, and also to make things timely and even entertaining.
Breakpoint: Have you modeled your apologetics writing and debating on anyone in particular, and, if so, who?
Dinesh D'Souza: C.S. Lewis. He was the most successful Christian apologist of the 20th century. Lewis was trained in medieval literature. He brought those secular scholarly credentials to bear on his Christian writings, and that gave him a credibility and authority that was unique in his time. Also Lewis had magnificent range. He could write for adults and he could write for children. He wrote fiction and nonfiction. He was an effective speaker and radio commentator as well as a good writer.
On the other hand, Lewis didn't do debates. The times were different, and of course the issues he confronted were sometimes different. The big question after World War II was why a just God might allow something so terrible as a Holocaust. Today, however, we are confronted with different questions: Does evolution discredit Christianity? Does 9/11 and the behavior of the Islamic radicals show the evil social impact of religion? Has new research in brain science invalidated the possibility of life after death? We need a new apologetics for the 21st century, but Lewis remains our inspiration and guide.
Breakpoint: You seem to me to be much like Chesterton in that you're willing to name names and be very direct in skewering an opponent's position. Plus, you're very quotable. What do you think?
Dinesh D'Souza: Skewering is something that I enjoy, and maybe this is why people say I do it well. I have no hesitation in naming names; in fact, I think that one of my most powerful weapons against the atheists is to quote them. Some of the things they say, especially when they navigate outside their fields of expertise, are quite hilarious.
As Christians we shouldn't shrink from satirizing our opponents; ridicule is a powerful weapon, and there are good biblical precedents for using it. I like to make scholarly arguments, but I also want to reach large numbers of people. So I have to find a way to make things clear, and also to make things timely and even entertaining. It's easier to remember a single telling phrase than to remember a 12-part argument. One of my chapters in Life After Death is on the impact of transcendental beliefs on the core institutions and values of our culture. I say that paradoxically it is the world beyond the world that has made the greatest difference in our world. That sums it up in a way that people remember.
Breakpoint: I've noticed that you're willing to take positions that many apologists don't. For example, you concede, if not embrace, evolution as fact and use it as one of the arrows in your pedagogical quiver. While the new atheists are a constant foil for you, you don't hesitate to challenge young-earth creationists. Aren't you afraid you'll lose your audience?
Life After Death: The Evidence
Dinesh D'Souza: I am not a biologist, but I realize that the vast majority of biologists in the world accept evolution. Since this is true of biologists in China and India, for example, I find it hard to believe that they are succumbing to political correctness or are part of some kind of atheist plot. Clearly there is a good deal of evidence for evolution.
Even so, I cannot go along with Richard Dawkins when he says that evolution is as obvious as mixing hydrogen and oxygen and getting water. That's because we can do this in the laboratory, but we cannot show evolution takes place in the laboratory. I think that Christians rightly object to evolution when it is used as a battering ram to attack the Bible. The best way to fight this is to show the atheistic assumptions that are often smuggled into evolution, and not to oppose the science itself.
Some of the implications of evolution are very friendly to Christianity, and I don't hesitate to point this out. For example, evolution is based on the low, selfish view of nature that is very close to the Christian view, and very different from the liberal view of human nature as good and wonderful. In Life After Death I also show that evolution shows a very interesting transition from simple matter to complex mind. This by itself is a clue, because nature is saying that there is a built-in progression from material things to immaterial things. Now material things like bodies perish, but immaterial things like thoughts don't. Isn't it reasonable to believe that we, who are part of nature, might make a transition, as nature does, from the perishable to the imperishable? For me it's fun to take the things that atheists cherish, like evolution, and turn the argument to Christian ends.
Breakpoint: What are the greatest strengths and weaknesses of the evangelical subculture in the U.S.?
I think that Christians rightly object to evolution when it is used as a battering ram to attack the Bible. The best way to fight this is to show the atheistic assumptions that are often smuggled into evolution, and not to oppose the science itself.
Dinesh D'Souza: Its great strength is its integration of faith into all aspects of life. This is very different from the once-a-week, Easter Sunday Christianity that I saw in India. Evangelicals take seriously the idea that if Christianity is true, it should affect all aspects of your life and it should make you a different kind of person. I love this kind of passionate commitment.
On the other hand, the evangelical weakness is a tendency to shun the mind, to run away from intellectual arguments, to affirm truth simply on the basis that "the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it." Not a bad bumper sticker, but not an adequate philosophy for life. Today we all have one foot -- and sometimes both feet -- in secular culture and we cannot articulate our Christian beliefs in a language that only Christians understand. Even our children have questions and want answers that take seriously the modern knowledge that comes from history, from science, and so on.
I see apologetics not as a substitute for evangelical emphasis on Scripture but rather as something complementary. Both are ways to equip yourself to have a deeper understanding, and to be equipped to communicate that understanding to others. It is the combination that makes you a truly dangerous Christian -- dangerous, that is, to the secularists and atheists in our society.
Breakpoint: Life After Death is a unique book. In it you attempt to make the case for an afterlife using biology, philosophy, physics, morality -- just about every realm of knowledge except divine revelation. You attempt to answer the atheists on their own terms, believing they will not listen to appeals to the Bible. In that you are almost certainly right, but what makes you think they will listen to your appeals to reason?
Dinesh D'Souza: My main goal is not to convert the atheists. I'd love to, of course, and I fantasize about a debate with Christopher Hitchens in which he finally concedes that he's wrong, falls down on his knees, and accepts Christ. Well, that's not entirely crazy. I debated Hitchens in 1989 at Georgetown on socialism. Many years later, Hitchens told my wife that after that debate he stopped calling himself a socialist. So maybe there is hope that he will also give up his atheism as he once relinquished his socialism.
But in general atheists come to my debates not to listen with an open mind but to show me up. My goal is to counter them, to flummox them, and in some cases to expose them as fools. This is necessary to temper atheist arrogance. As long as these guys think they are the "party of reason" and we are the "party of blind faith," they don't see any need to take us seriously. But their attitude changes when we use the techniques of reason to lay them flat on their back.
Now there is a group that I am trying to convince, and that's the group of seekers who may have rejected the institutional church, but who are wrestling with questions and are open to finding out the answers. I also think that secular apologetics is very invigorating and empowering for Christians, because it shows them that there is a good, logical case to be made for Christian beliefs. We are not affirming propositions by faith that run against the evidence; we are affirming propositions that are completely in line with the evidence. Faith itself is something reasonable: it is a reasonable way to discover and affirm truths that lie outside the realm of rational inquiry.
Breakpoint: Where do you think the new atheism is headed?
Dinesh D'Souza: Ultimately it's headed for hell, same destination as the old atheism. But in today's secular culture, the new atheists are rock stars. They are admired by the media, and influentially ensconced in education. Part of the reason is they are a suave bunch, not like the grumpy old atheists. They are also sophisticated in surfing on the wave of current events. Just a few days after 9/11, Richard Dawkins published an article saying, in effect: Look what religion makes people do. Another new atheist called 9/11 a "faith-based initiative."
See how cunning these guys are. We Christians are have to be better prepared for this. The new atheism is going mainstream and is being echoed by comedians, showing up in sitcoms, omnipresent on the Internet, and finding its way into the textbooks.
Breakpoint: Some would say you are making a strategic mistake by not using the Bible more, because Christians believe God uses his divine revelation to convince people of the truth of Christ and of the reality of their own need for Him. Plus, you concede that the historical evidence for the resurrection of Christ, which is based in large part on the witness of Scripture, is very strong. What do you think? Is there a risk that excluding Scripture as a source of knowledge about the afterlife will simply reinforce people's anti-religious prejudice? How close to the kingdom do you think your form of argumentation can get people to faith?
Some of the implications of evolution are very friendly to Christianity, and I don't hesitate to point this out. For example, evolution is based on the low, selfish view of nature that is very close to the Christian view, and very different from the liberal view of human nature as good and wonderful.
Dinesh D'Souza: I don't exclude Scripture, but I recognize that it is not going to convince someone who rejects the authority of Scripture to adjudicate the matter. If I say the resurrection happened because Scripture says so, the non-Christian and the agnostic and the atheist are not going to be persuaded by that. For them, a verse of Scripture would be as convincing as if a Muslim said, "I can prove that Muhammad took his night journey into heaven on a chariot. See, it says so here in the Qur'an."
These are in-house kinds of arguments and they are successful only when those who already accept the premises. We have to recognize that we no longer live in a society where Christian assumptions are taken for granted. This is the true meaning of secularism. In Life After Death I make an argument for the resurrection by saying: Let's look at the historical facts that are in the Bible and that even mainstream historians accept. Christ was crucified, the disciples found the tomb empty, they claim to have seen the risen Christ, and they started a movement of Christian conversion that brought much of Europe, and eventually much of the world, to Christianity. Now how do we make sense of this?
I am trying to show that even considered historically, the resurrection is the best explanation for the data. It would be as though an archeologist, digging in the Middle East, were to turn up new evidence for Christ's miracles or resurrection. The Christian world would find this exhilarating. Why? In one sense you could say: No big deal, we already know that from Scripture. But it is a big deal, because now we have something we didn't have before, which is independent corroboration of the claims of Scripture. Even people who reject Scripture would have to take this seriously. And this may lead them to change their minds about Scripture and take it more seriously.
Having said all this, apologetics is not a substitute for faith. It is the task of removing the intellectual obstacles so that people are open to the experience of faith.
Breakpoint: Outside of Scripture, what do you think is the single most compelling evidence for life after death?
Dinesh D'Souza: The best empirical evidence comes from Near Death Experiences, although these do no more than to show that some form of consciousness survives death. In Life After Death, I offer three independent arguments for the afterlife.
The first is the argument from brain science, the second is the argument from philosophy, and the third is the argument from morality. The argument from brain science examines the question of whether the mind and the brain are simply the same thing. If the mind is simply a name for the operations of the brain, then it's hard to envision life after death. The brain dies, and the mind dies along with it.
But if the mind cannot be reduced to the brain, and if minds are immaterial and brains are material, then we are talking about two different things. Of course they are interdependent -- here in life the mind manifests itself through the manifold of the brain. But this is like saying that music manifests itself through the manifold of my CD player. Smash the player and the music stops. But the player isn't the cause of the music; it is merely the mechanism for the sound waves to be expressed. If my CD player dies I can still listen to the music on another player or in an open-air concert. In the same way, brains can perish but consciousness can live on.
I am only giving you a hint of how these arguments ago. It's really exciting to follow them, because you learn a lot even while getting thrilling confirmation of your Christian beliefs.
Any one of my three arguments is decisive, but taken together they make a formidable case. Of course it is in the nature of the subject that we cannot be absolutely sure. We can be sure on the basis of faith, but we cannot be sure on the basis of reason alone.
For this reason I say that I can prove life after death by a preponderance of the evidence, but I cannot prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. Consequently, I also include in the book practical arguments: does it make sense to believe in life after death, would belief make my life better, has belief been good for society and so on.
The atheists act as if they are defending the "round earth" position, and we are defending the "flat earth" position. . . . When we avoid these issues we concede valuable intellectual and cultural real estate to our enemies, who are using it to take over our children and our culture. I, for one, want to do my part to prevent this.
Breakpoint: What's it like always being the smartest person in the room? How do you keep your bearings?
Dinesh D'Souza: I don't care about being the smartest person in the room. I do try to outsmart my atheist opponents in debate. It's important for them and for the audience to see that the Christian position can answer not only the weak points of the other side but also its strong points. The atheists act as if they are defending the "round earth" position, and we are defending the "flat earth" position. If this is so, then they should win every debate.
So if we can challenge them on their own terms, fight them with their own weapons, and force them to tap out, that's a very good thing. It isn't just a defeat for the atheist, it's a defeat for the whole paradigm that says that Christianity is based on illusion, Christianity is based on wish fulfillment, Christianity is against science and reason, and so on. When we avoid these issues we concede valuable intellectual and cultural real estate to our enemies, who are using it to take over our children and our culture. I, for one, want to do my part to prevent this.
Stan Guthrie. "Q&A with Dinesh D'Souza." BreakPoint (November 12 & 19, 2009).
Reprinted/posted with permission of Prison Fellowship.
BreakPoint is the worldview ministry of Prison Fellowship Ministries. Our mission is to seek the transformation of believers as they apply biblical thinking to all of life, enabling them to transform their communities through the grace and truth of Jesus Christ. BreakPoint provides a Christian perspective on today's news and trends via radio, interactive media, and print.
Stan Guthrie is freelance writer, editor, speaker, and teacher, and a Christianity Today editor at large. He and his wife, Christine, and their three children live near Chicago.
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