While reading a debate from 1829 out of curiosity for the Christian Restoration Movement and skepticism before Darwin, the real choices between agnostic atheism and Christian faith stand apart. The debate is one between a Christian preacher, Alexander Campbell, and a skeptic, Robert Owen. Owen opposed all religion as false and Campbell defended Christianity. Each man was more than qualified to defend his position. Now, I may have more favorable points from this debate later, but for now, one point stands out in the context of the early spread of the Christian faith in contrast to opposing beliefs. Campbell’s words are revealing,
“On the one side superstition and the sword, the mitred hand and the sceptered arm combine; on the other, almighty truth alone pushes on the combat. Under these fearful odds the truth triumphs, and shall the advocates of such a cause fear the context now?
Yes, my fellow-citizens, not a king nor a priest smiled upon our faith until it won the day. It offered no lure to the ambitious; no reward to the avaricious. It offered no alliance with the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, nor the pride of life. It disdained such auxiliaries. It aimed not so low. It called for self-denial, humility, patience, and courage, on the part of all its advocates; and promised spiritual joys as an earnest of eternal bliss. By the excellency of its doctrine, the purity of its morals, the rationality of its arguments, the demonstration of the Holy Spirit, and the good example of its subjects, it triumphed on the ruins of Judaism and idolatry. The Christian volunteers found the yoke of Christ was easy and his burden light. Peace of mind, a heaven-born equanimity [composure], a good conscience, a pure heart, universal love, a triumphant joy, and a glorious hope of immortal bliss, were its reward in hand. An incorruptible, undefiled, and unfading inheritance in the presence of God, with the society of angels, principalities and powers, of the loftiest intelligence and most comprehensive knowledge, brighter than the sun, in the glories of light and love eternal, are its rewards in future.
But now, let us ask, what boon [blessing], what honor, what reward have our opponents to offer for its renunciation? Yes, this is the question which the sequel must develop. To what would they convert us! What heaven have they to propose! What immorality to reveal! What sublime views of creation and a creator! What authentic record of the past! What prophetic hope of the future! What account of our origin! What high ultimatum of our destiny! What terrors have they to offer to stem the torrent of corruption! What balm and consolation to the sons and daughters of anguish! To these and a thousand kindred questions, they must, and they will answer, none; none at all. They promise to him that disbelieveth the Founder of the Christian religion; to him that neglects and the salvation of the gospel; to him who tramples underfoot the blood of the New Institution, and insults the Spirit of favor; to him who traduces [slanders] Moses, Daniel, and Job; to him who vilifies Jesus, Paul, Peter, James, and John; to him who devotes his soul to the lusts of the flesh; who disdains heaven; who defies his appetites; who degrades himself to a mere animal, and eulogizes philosophy; to this man they promise eternal sleep, and everlasting death. This is the faith, the hope, and joy, or which they labor with so much zeal, and care, and pain” (Campbell Owen Debate. Nashville: McQuiddy Printing Company, 1946.)
What really is the alternative to Christ? What are the great things that one looks unto apart from Christ? Even though “all that is in the world” appeals to my own desires, “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life”. These do not appeal to my conscience with my thoughts accusing or even excusing me while Christ’s Law is written on my heart. I would rather have a pure conscience than satisfied flesh, eyes filled with pleasure, and all the power and possessions of the world, which I can never obtain for the desires of a body that will eventually turn to dust. “For what is a man profited if he shall gain the whole world and lose his own soul? Or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”
The non-believer will try to extract some of God’s ideals, love and truth, from this world, but they will never strive to live apart from “the lust of the flesh and the lust of the eyes and the pride of life”.