Ray Higgins is the executive director of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Arkansas. He earned a Ph.D. at Baylor University in religion and ethics, then taught ethics at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth until fundamentalists took the seminary over "and ruined it." He was pastor of Second Baptist Church in Little Rock before accepting his present job. We wanted to talk about atheism with a Christian clergyman of some standing, and Higgins seemed a good choice.
(For non-Baptists, the Cooperative Fellowship is an organization of moderate-to-liberal Baptists who left the bigger Baptist group, the Southern Baptist Convention, after conservatives seized full control of the SBC some 20 years ago. Cooperative Baptists uphold the old Baptist belief in separation of church and state. Convention Baptists do not.)
AT: Are you offended by atheistic advertising on buses or anywhere else?
RH: I might be offended by some atheistic advertising. I am not offended by the fact that some people don't believe in God. I would be offended if they mischaracterized people who believe in God. I am offended by some religious advertising.
AT: Do you think atheists have as much right to advertise as churches?
RH: Absolutely. People who believe in God and people who don't believe in God should be able to advertise their ideas. If a public forum offers a religious group free or paid advertisement, the same right should exist for non-religious people.
AT: Do you think the number of atheists is growing, as might be indicated by the recent activity here in Little Rock? If so, why?
RH: It seems to be true. It may be that more people are willing to admit that they don't believe in God. Also, as our world shrinks, our culture is less dominated by the old-time religion. We are exposed to global expressions of faith, philosophy and spirituality. In the past I think more people called themselves followers of the dominant, cultural faith because that's how they grew up, and that's what their culture promoted, and that's what the majority believed.
AT: Have you ever debated an atheist on the question of whether there is a God? What were the circumstances?
RH: No. I have had conversations. I am interested in their philosophical perspectives and experiences. There are very understandable reasons for a person's beliefs and feelings which make sense in light of their personal stories.
AT: Do you feel obliged to try to convert atheists?
RH: It's not my style to confront people and show them where they are wrong. I prefer to get to know people, understand them, and respect them, and hope that by sharing life experiences and living the most Christ-like life I possibly can, I can both learn from them and be a positive influence.