The Death of God Is Greatly Exaggerated: An Interview With Eric Metaxas

Eric Metaxas
Eric Metaxas

The happy warrior for a muscular Christianity on why faith and science are not opposed, and why the public square benefits from expressions of belief.

If religion in America is dying, then someone will have to explain Eric Metaxas. The happy warrior for a muscular Christianity displays nothing but confidence about the durability of belief in modern America. In fact, he seems to hope more Christians will ignore the pressure—from the media, the courts and other liberal bastions—to keep clear of the public sphere. The message has made him especially popular with evangelical Christians.

“Part of my life’s thesis is that we live in a culture that has bought into the patently silly idea that there is a divide between the secular world and the faith world,” he says, the idea that religion can be walled off exclusively into private life or pitched altogether, particularly when 70% or so of U.S. residents identify as Christian. “Culture presents us with this false choice between channels that are exclusively faith-based” versus those that are “exclusively secular.” Yet “that’s not how most Americans process the world.”

Mr. Metaxas plays his multichannel part as a best-selling author, radio host, public speaker and humorist. In his Manhattan apartment hangs a document signed by William Wilberforce, the 18th-century Christian abolitionist who was the subject of Mr. Metaxas’ 2007 biography “Amazing Grace.” Nearby is a framed letter from filmmaker Woody Allen, calling one of his short stories “quite funny.”

His work is a “strange amalgam,” as Mr. Metaxas puts it. He churns out poetry, children’s stories and 600-page tomes; he is a devout follower of Jesus Christ who doesn’t want for a sense of irony. This is a guy whose endeavors include a nationally syndicated radio show “about everything” and a New York event series, “ Socrates in the City,” that explores “life, God and other small topics.”

An unwillingness to talk publicly about matters of faith and ultimate reality has left “tons of people dissatisfied,” he says, in an expansive conversation this week. “You’d never know that from watching TV or listening to radio. You’d think the only thing people argue about is politics.” He puts everything into a blender on his radio show: On Wednesday he sized up the Republican foreign-policy debate; on Monday he included a “Miracle Mondays” segment in which he chats with guests about extraordinary phenomena.

Mr. Metaxas pushes back against what he calls the “lie that faith and science are somehow opposed to each other.” He thinks the two work in tandem. As he wrote last year in these pages: “There are more than 200 known parameters necessary for a planet to support life—every single one of which must be perfectly met, or the whole thing falls apart.” In sum: “Can every one of those many parameters have been perfect by accident?”

This resonates with people. “They say: ‘You know, it didn’t make sense to me that the universe made no sense.’ ” In his book about the miraculous, Mr. Metaxas cites the Christian scholar C.S. Lewis, who wrote in his 1952 book “Mere Christianity”: “If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be without meaning.”

But Mr. Metaxas says he’s “keenly sensitive that there are people listening who don’t share my point of view. And I want to talk about whatever we’re talking about in a way that’s respectful of those people.” That isn’t the conservative talk-radio model—venting about the latest political outrage, with a financial incentive to foment anger among loyal listeners.

Those who call for “civility” are often uninterested in taking hard stances or are looking to shut up those who do, but Mr. Metaxas has a way of prizing civility while both staking out strong positions and defending the right of others to speak out.

He says unequivocally that he thinks the constitutional right to religious liberty is in peril, with Christians told they aren’t permitted to object to broad cultural changes—for example, Catholic nuns forced under ObamaCare to countenance contraception they find objectionable.

His free-exercise advocacy finds him emphasizing that the First Amendment is not merely a right to think what you want: “It means you must be able to exercise your faith in the market place, in the public square, not just on Sunday.” He takes it further, arguing that America’s founding fathers knew that “the whole nation hinges on that idea,” and that the success of the American experiment depended on, as he says, a “virtuous and moral populace.”

He points out how little this message is appreciated: “All you hear about today is that people used the Bible to justify slavery,” he says. President Obama even offered that critique of Christianity this year at the National Prayer Breakfast. Mr. Metaxas notes that there would have been no abolition of slavery without “passionate, devoted, serious Christians,” including Quakers. “Largely the people driving abolition did it because of what they believed from the Bible” and that’s the case “in England and in America. Period.” The civil-rights movement, he adds, “came totally out of churches” from “overtly Christian” figures, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Rosa Parks.

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SOURCE: The Wall Street Journal
Kate Bachelder

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