Anticipating a presidential debate unlike any other

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Anticipating a presidential debate unlike any other

June 27, 2024 -

Bob Reilly, crew chief, and cameraman Chris Hanson, above, both of CSpan, setup for the upcoming CNN Presidential Debate between President Joe Biden and Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump in Atlanta, Wednesday, June 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Bob Reilly, crew chief, and cameraman Chris Hanson, above, both of CSpan, setup for the upcoming CNN Presidential Debate between President Joe Biden and Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump in Atlanta, Wednesday, June 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Bob Reilly, crew chief, and cameraman Chris Hanson, above, both of CSpan, setup for the upcoming CNN Presidential Debate between President Joe Biden and Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump in Atlanta, Wednesday, June 26, 2024. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)

Tonight’s televised presidential debate is the earliest such event in US history. Debates between presidential candidates are not legally required—there were none in 1964, 1968, or 1972.

Some are more pivotal than others: Sen. John Kennedy’s performance in 1960 likely legitimized him with viewers and contributed to his victory, while former Gov. Ronald Reagan’s confidence and likeability helped him win in 1980.

Since roughly 10 percent of US voters are still undecided, tonight’s event could prove especially pivotal. Wall Street Journal editor-at-large Gerard Baker writes:

There has probably been no occasion in the modern era when the stakes of a presidential debate have been so high, the competition so close, or the candidates’ performances so unpredictable. The direction of the long campaign, its outcome and even the ultimate identity of one of the party’s candidates could hinge on this ninety-minute encounter in Atlanta.

When the candidates’ personalities match our own

Your views regarding tonight’s debate likely reflect your views of the candidates before it begins. This is not just the case with your partisan positions, which will obviously influence your opinion of the event. It turns out, your personality is a major factor as well.

A recent study reported that “candidate and voter traits are systematically linked to each other, in such a way that voters are more likely to support candidates with personalities that ‘match’ their own.” It added that the effects of candidates’ personality traits are often stronger for voters who display a weaker partisan attachment.

In other words, we all view the world through the prism of our personal beliefs, traits, and experiences. This is not new information. Philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) theorized that we filter our sensory experiences through innate interpretive categories in our minds. In his view, which dramatically affected Western culture, we cannot know “the thing in itself,” only our experience of it.

As a result, philosophers eventually concluded that all truth claims are subjective, since they result from the subjective way our minds interpret our subjective sense experiences. Accordingly, multitudes who have never heard of Immanuel Kant or the postmodern thinkers who eventually followed him are convinced by our post-truth culture that “your truth” is just as valid as “my truth.”

In a world where all truth is personal, tolerance is the one universal value left. And those who seem to be intolerant of others, such as evangelical Christians who declare and defend biblical truth and morality, are (paradoxically) rejected as intolerant.

Is God “either impotent or evil”?

Now let’s relate this discussion to our weeklong question: How can an all-knowing, all-loving, all-powerful God allow innocent suffering? In the minds of many skeptics, the existence of such pain precludes the existence of such a deity. Atheist Sam Harris speaks for many in concluding that, in the face of innocent suffering, God, if he exists, “is either impotent or evil.”

Of course, as we noted this week, such diatribes recounting the evil of the world (and blaming God for it) fail to account for the good it contains (and fail to credit him for it).

Nonetheless, I understand why many are frustrated with those of us who persist in believing in God despite evidence to the contrary. In their minds, since nothing can apparently persuade us that he does not exist, our beliefs are non-falsifiable and thus mere opinions.

If I cannot talk you out of believing that Martians visited you last week, despite conclusive evidence that Martians do not exist, I am forced to conclude that your belief is based merely on subjective supposition. And I am free to discount it as a claim to actual truth.

“If Christ has not been raised”

Here’s what such critics overlook: Christianity is objectively and rationally falsifiable. The Apostle Paul was blunt: “If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:14). If archaeologists could prove that they had discovered the earthly remains of Jesus of Nazareth, Christianity would be rendered null and void.

But the opposite is the case: such remains have never been discovered because they do not exist. As Paul continued, “in fact Christ has been raised from the dead” (v. 20). Jesus’ empty tomb is an empirical fact skeptics have never sufficiently explained. (For an extended discussion based on historical facts and logic, see my website article, Why Jesus?)

As a result, we can know with confidence that Jesus Christ is alive and at work in our world today. We can trust him to weep as we weep (John 11:35), to pray for us in every moment and challenge (Romans 8:34), and to redeem even our deepest pain in ways we cannot imagine today (cf. Romans 8:28; 2 Corinthians 12:9–10; 1 Corinthians 13:12).

Paul assured us:

“The sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Romans 8:18).

When Satan’s “cause is never more in jeopardy”

In the meantime, trusting in Jesus despite the suffering of our lives and world can be our most persuasive witness to the relevance and power of his life in us. It is easy to believe in God when all is well. But if we say with Job, “though he slay me, I will hope in him” (Job 13:15), the skeptical world takes note.

In The Screwtape Letters, C. S. Lewis writes that Satan’s “cause is never more in jeopardy than when a human, no longer desiring but still intending to do [God’s] will, looks round upon a universe in which every trace of him seems to have vanished, and asks why he has been forsaken, and still obeys.”

Will you threaten Satan’s “cause” today?

Thursday news to know:

*Denison Forum does not necessarily endorse the views expressed in these stories.

Quote for the day:

“Faith is a sounder guide than reason. Reason can go only so far, but faith has no limits.” —Blaise Pascal

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