Ravi Zacharias - University of California, Los Angeles (Q&A)
Question: This question is: why did you try to end your life at 17? What about Christ made you want to live on?
Ravi Zacharias: I told a story in my book "Walking from East to West". It was one of the most difficult books I ever wrote because I wrote it as really my own personal journey. My dad, a highly placed individual in the government of India in the home ministry, very successful. He was a tough man, tough tempered, tough in every sense of the term. Extremely disciplined to have gotten to where he did, he'd done his work in industrial relations of the Nottingham, came back quite highly placed and influential, and out of us five brothers and sisters, I was the most underperforming individual. I never made it through anything. I lived for two things. I lived for the cricket field, I lived for the tennis court. I want to play cricket, I dreamed about cricket, I drilled about cricket, I imagined cricket.
And now here on my end, all these years, having left India four decades ago, I still dream about cricket, and I enjoy the game so much. It's a beautiful game. It's really a beautiful game. But the result, I concentrated very little on my studies. My life could be described as "Punctuated failure". That's what it was, punctuated failure. And in my book, I tell the story one day of taking the most severe thrashing from my dad. It's the way they knew how to do it. It was a time and culture in which they felt this is how they change you. I'm not blaming him. I'm just telling you it's the way it was. If my mother hadn't intervened, I think some bones would have been broken, the results would have been very costly. I was a very slender kid, small kid, and my dad really took it out on me that day.
And the more I pondered this, I thought to myself, why? What's all this about anyway? You know, if you don't like the way you feel, why do you want to keep on feeling? And if I could describe it in one sentence: I really didn't want to feel anymore, because what I felt, I didn't like. And I took from the science lab some poisons and tried to end it all. Very, very nearly succeeded. I mentioned the fact that in India this happens quite often. My closest friend had doused himself with kerosene and burned himself to death because he had not succeeded in the exam. We live with that tension. Things are slightly changed, but the most suicidal time of year is when the results are out at universities.
When I came to know Christ, I wanted to put life together. There are four questions in life for all of us: origin, meaning, morality, and destiny. Where do I come from? What gives life meaning? How do I differentiate between good and bad? What happens to a human being when he or she dies? Origin, meaning, morality, and destiny. You have to find answers that are correspondingly true to each of these questions, and all put together, it has to cohere. There has to be coherence in this, there has to be a skin that pulls it all together. In reading John's Gospel, I couldn't read it actually, the gentleman who brought the Bible to me lives about ten miles from here, but he himself is pretty close to the end of his life. I wanted so much to bring him here. I spoke to him on the phone about two months away. He said, "Please let me come, please let me come". But his situation is so weak right now.
And he often said, on the phone, he said to me that day, just after Christmas, he says, "Sometimes I think I came into this world just to be able to give you a Bible. Just be able to give you a Bible". And that transformed my life as I walked out of there, John chapter 14 was read to me. "And Jesus said, 'because I live you shall live also.'" If I can take a tail-ender to this, Jesus said, "Because I live you shall live also". I knew it wasn't biological life. I trusted in him with the little prayer that I prayed and walked out of there and followed up with it with men and women who could teach me the scriptures and life changed. One by one, the rest of the family, including my father, mother all became followers of Christ. Even though we'd come from a priestly background, we'd lost the message of Christ somewhere along the way.
When my mother died in her 50s, my dad asked me if I would preach at her funeral in Toronto. I struggled with it, and he said at the gravesite, he said, "Son, what would you want to put on her gravestone"? I said, "The verse that she first read to me without even knowing what it meant". So I put John 14:19, "Jesus said, 'because I live, you should live also.'" That was in 1974. In the 1990s, my wife and I, my wife's from Canada, went into Delhi. She said, "Can I see your grandmother's grave? You talk so much about remembering as a little boy going to that funeral". I said, "Honey, I don't know if you can find it".
I tracked it down, went to the only Christian cemetery in Delhi, went to the registrar, found the registrar tracked it down, tracked it down, tracked it down, found out I was only nine years old in the mid-50s when she'd passed away, walked over to the plot, there was nothing visible. I hired a gardener with a shovel. I said, "I'll be happy to pay you. Please dig this soil and find the stone". So he's digging and digging and digging, and all a sudden he strikes a stone. So he's gently moving it away, pouring water, moving it away, pouring water, and all of a sudden, the words begin to emerge. The name of my grandmother, the date of her birth, date of her death, and then these words, "Jesus said, 'because I live, you shall live also,'" John 14:19.
The verse that brought me to him, that's on my mother's grave, was originally put on my grandmother's grave about something which none of us as a family actually knew. The threads all came together. When Jesus came into my life, he didn't change what I did merely, he changed what I want to do. And I must tell you, because my father if he were here, would tell me (he passed away) he said tell him this truth too. I left from the bottom of the class to the top of the class after I came to know Christ and never left the top. Prior to that, my father used to say, "Center forward in football and fullback in studies". He never said that afterwards, so that's part of the story.
Question: Thank you very much for being here. I'm a long time listener, big fan of both of your work, of your ministry. Thank you very much. Back to the topic of intolerance, I wonder if you care to kind of discuss intolerance on the personal level versus intolerance on like the institutional level. Because it seems that intolerance on the personal level, it's like, okay, I can walk away, and I won't see that person again and that's that. But when it gets into the institutions, whatever that may be, whether it's the local rotary club or the government or anything like that, quite a hierarchy, just wonder if you care discuss a little bit.
Ravi Zacharias: Yes, and I think, and Michael please feel free to pitch in here. My response will be fairly brief on that. I have found no better way than to sit down with the people, institutions. Evil does not harm through the heart of institutions, it runs at the heart of people, men and women. It doesn't go through states or governments or organizations. It runs through the heart of every man and every woman. If I find somehow that there is something dishonorable here, I'll sit down and talk to the individual, go and see the powers that be.
The best you can do is voice and say, "Look, this is what's happening. I don't think this is right. I don't think this is fair. If the reverse were done, I don't think you would tolerate it very much either. So I ask you, sir or ma'am, would you please consider looking into this subject and changing the reality for us who feel the demise by an institutional pattern here? And I'll be most grateful to you. Thank you for just giving me these few minutes of talking to you". You build that relationship gradually, but you never do it by lawlessness or anarchy or rudeness or disrespect. You do by drawing the best instincts out of people.
And I have found some of the toughest of them change just by a period of relationship. Whenever I go and stay in any hotel, I'll always go in and ask to meet the manager. I'll go and meet the front desk person, I'll go and meet the maître d', introduce myself. I say, "I'm here for the week. I look forward to enjoying this hotel," and so on. You know what? Through the middle of the week, they'll come to you and ask you if there's anything they can do and if they can serve you. And it works that way even in institutions. Befriend the powers that be, and you'll be surprised how some of them will open up and say, "Even though this is not what I would like to do, out of respect for you, I will do it". This gets most serious in academic subjects, thesis, dissertations. You can find yourself being Marked out because you're not sharing the ideas that one wants to share. You just have to be wise how you move in this and endure the tedious journey. And you do it in an honorable way, in the end, you will find truth.
Michael Ramsden: I mean, I may have been interpreting your question slightly differently. But when it comes to tolerance at an institutional level, I think, I know certainly in Europe, we've got ourselves in a little bit of confusion here. I got a letter from the British home office which is, well, it used to be called the home office, which deals with justice as a part of its, in the British political system, it looks after the police force, and they used to have a little motto that said "Breathing — building a free, just, and tolerant society". And I can remember the first time seeing that logo, thinking, "I have a feeling that only two out of these three are possible".
Let me just explain to you what I mean by that. The way tolerance, the word "Tolerance" has come to be defined today, we're not quite sure exactly what it means. Either it means, well, we just accept and agree with everybody. But historically, that wouldn't be right. In the past, when you talked about tolerating someone, the first thing you are assuming is you disagree with them because you don't tolerate what you agree with, right? I mean, if you agree with someone, you're not tolerating them, you're agreeing with them. But if you disagree with them, then you're actually passing judgment, "No, I think what you're saying is wrong," and that could be morally or intellectually or whatever way, but you feel that it's important for you to allow that other position even though you personally disagree with it.
But when you talk about justice, and justice being upheld and enforced in a society, you're not normally asking for tolerance to be exercised. So in a rape case, that's argued before a judge, for a judge to rule at the end of the rape case, "Well, we caught the guy and he's definitely guilty, but, you know, we just have to tolerate these kinds of things. They just happen. And we've had laws against rape for hundreds of years. We've never eradicated it, so we just have to learn to deal with it". At that point, we have, it would seem to me, a contradiction potentially there, which I think most people would instantly react against.
The other problem we also have with tolerance is most of us think of it positively today: tolerance is a good thing, even though most of us actually define it negatively. So, I mean, I'm only in Los Angeles just for a very short time, so I arrived this afternoon, I leave tomorrow morning and then I'm going to cairo, which will probably be my last speaking engagement this year. So just imagine that you hear that I'm just briefly in town, you come to me and say, "Michael, you're only in Los Angeles just for a few hours, and I would like to extend some hospitality to you. Let me take you to the very best restaurant here in Los Angeles". And, obviously, for that kind of invitation, I'll extend my sleeping hours beyond, it's now 5:00 A.M. In england, I mean, "I'll be happy to step back so we could have breakfast together, and I accept your kind invitation".
And the next morning you hear me talking to a friend of yours, you're standing behind me, I can't see you, and your friend says to me, "I hear someone took you out to la's nicest restaurant last night. Did you enjoy meeting them"? And I say, "Yeah, they were tolerable". If you heard that, would you be happy? They say, "Did you enjoy the food"? And I say, "I could tolerate it". It's very interesting. We talk about tolerance, but I know very few people in this world who want to be tolerated, but I know a lot of people who want to be respected. But here's the key thing, because I said, the idea of tolerance, freedom, and justice, maybe only two of those are possible.
I'm not sure in that sense a common acceptance of the definition of tolerance is even compatible with freedom. In the sense that, if that is the way we're now going to take tolerance, we just simply accept what anyone says, we need to understand therefore that's also the end of all free society and all free discussion, because you cannot tolerate someone and disagree with them. Because at the point of disagreement, if it doesn't mean acceptance, you're no longer tolerating them. But you can respect someone and disagree with them. And since the means by which we find to be able to disagree with one another over certain issues becomes foundational to all civilized society, I'm wondering whether at times rather than having huge debates about what tolerance is or isn't, we should begin to ask what actually does it mean to treat other people with respect, because I desperately want to live in a society where we learn to respect one another as individuals even though we may disagree at certain level of ideas.
Question: This question is for both speakers. If the transformative power of Jesus Christ is so great and it's the only way to live an abundant life and to never thirst again, how come we do not see more Christians living this transformed, abundant spirit-filled life?
Michael Ramsden: That's a really good question. If you would like to give me a name, a list of names and addresses of all the hypocrites you know, I will be happy to go and pay some visits. I think your question is a very fair one. I think, as a matter of fact, I think it's more than fair. I want to be careful how I phrase this because I am part of the church, and that's part of my identity, ever since I myself became a Christian. But it does seem that the Bible has some very challenging words for the church. As a matter fact, just before coming up here, I was just reading through a speech that Dr. Martin Luther King, gave. Is that right?
Ravi Zacharias: That's right.
Michael Ramsden: Sorry. I'm in America, right? I'm in the right, just checking. And when he was put in prison, he very famously wrote a letter from prison, which is a very impressive letter to read, his letter from Birmingham jail. All the more impressive when you remember he wrote that letter from memory, and I always knew he was a political activist, and I knew various things about him, I had no idea how well read he was. And you can always tell something about someone when they're writing a letter, and they're making reference, both to philosophy and to law and to theology, and he does it so well. But part of his letter, and I think it's something that needs to be heard today.
He says, "We're living in America where the church is espousing one thing with its lips but it's not living it with its life". He says, "And therefore, we are breeding a generation of people who've absolutely lost faith in the church. Many of them are losing faith in America as a country". And he shudders to think about the violence it may hold and the division it may cause in the United States of America as it went forward from that point. And he ends his letter with the words along the lines of, "And now God's judgment rests on the churches as never before. And I pray it may raise up in this decisive hour, and its voice may be heard. And what's more important is that it may actually live the moral values which it espouses".
And so I think there has to be a challenge, and I think scripture it's very challenging to Christians about the way in which we live and the means by which we live and the values by which we live. And I'm going to have to confess that I think in the western church, we've excused ourselves from a lot of that, and we've claimed comfort and convenience as being a highest ethic. Rather than the principle of laying down your life in service for others, we're expecting everyone to lay down their lives in service to us, and that can't possibly be right.
I think Ravi would probably agree with us and say: I know my experiences, when I'm visiting, when I'm with the church in very poor parts of the world, when I'm visiting the church in parts of the world where you can be killed for simply becoming a Christian, the church I meet there is often very beautiful, very attractive, very humble, and very clear both in its message and in its lifestyle, but our affluence seems to have choked the purity of that message. And so I think we need, if you'd like a challenge to the church, and if you are a Christian here today, I think maybe one of the challenges since we're talking about tolerance, would be that we are called to live a thoroughly uncompromised life.
Now this may be sad, but when most people in this room, if you were to close your eyes and imagine a thoroughly uncompromised Christian, someone who was totally uncompromising in their Christian faith, we would immediately think of someone who is very harsh, very difficult, and very unpleasant to spend time with. But the Bible invites us to pass judgment on everyone who claims to be a Christian, and part of that judgment we're told is to look at the fruit of their life, and the fruit of their life, we're told, for everyone who claims to follow Christ should be love, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, self-control, and so on.
So let's be thoroughly uncompromising about that. Let's just make sure that in no area of our life are we compromised as such that our lives are sending a message that would be inconsistent with the fruit that we're taught to bear as Christians. And so I think we may need to fall in love all over again with what actually it means to be a Christian if you indeed are. And if you're not a Christian, if you're being put off by Christians, please don't reject the possibility of genuine life change and what it genuinely means to follow him, because you've encountered a few fakes. It seems, especially in America, there's a lot of money to be made by faking it.
Indeed one friend I know who was training for the ministry said, "Here, people will give a lot of money to authenticity and if you can fake that, you've got it made". And maybe we just need to be a little bit more, I think we do need to be more challenging with ourselves and also as members of the church with the church to say, "Does this look like Jesus said it should look like"?
Question: Great. Well, I'd first like to thank both of you. I came here today on a whim and I'm certainly glad I did. As I understand it, and I hope that this hasn't been too reductionist of me, you've noticed three main trends. Those focusing on secularism, pluralism, and privatization. The one that I find particularly interesting is the role between secularism and a loss of shame in society and the implications that could have. Where I guess I see the most tenuous link is the possibility of totally secular societies or a faithless society still having a shameful, still having a moral basis from some other foundation of moral understanding. I'd just like to hear from both of you what role you think faith has, what role the church has, in maintaining morality and if there is the possibility for that still moral reasoning in the absence of faith.
Ravi Zacharias: The most important word I think that we need to bear in mind is that the word "Sacred" ought to define what morality means because Jesus Christ really did not come into this world to make bad people good. He came into this world to make dead people live. Moral rectitude and moral uprightness can be held by many, but if a person in themselves think, I'm morally so good that I really don't need God, it's the most seductive form of morality which ultimately leads you into some kind of arrogance or self-aggrandizement.
I remember yesterday, professor Loewenstein and I when we were in conversation, he made the comment that humility is the characteristic he sees so lacking in our society right now. And when you were humble before God, you recognize the need to be transformed. You recognize the need that you cannot pull yourself up by your own moral bootstraps. Every major religion of the world is a works religion: Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, Sikhism, Beyism, Jainism, all of them, you can take every one of them, it has to do with works.
In Islam, your entrance into paradise is dictated by your good deeds outweighing your bad deeds. In Hinduism, every birth is a rebirth, and it's on the basis of karma, all that went on before, and your karmic cycle keeps going until you can break off the cycle and obtain Nirvana, Moksha, whatever they want to call it. In the Christian faith, you first of all come, not by way of virtue or moral capacity, you come by the gift and the grace of God who offers you forgiveness, and you come just as you are in all of your failings.
When the prodigal son comes home in that tremendous parable, it is so counter-intuitive with an Eastern culture. This boy took the father's money, spent it at a whim, blundered his life, did everything wrong, and he's gone, and now he decides he's going to come home. In Eastern culture, the father would never go out. He's been wronged. He would have to wait until his son came and literally threw himself at his feet and begged for mercy. But in the way Jesus tells the story, the Eastern father would have immediately sort of perked up his ears, the father leaves the porch, leaves the home, runs towards the son, and embraces him and receives him. "This my son was lost is found, who was dead is alive".
So morality is: good living is the fruit of your conversion and your commitment to Christ. It is not the means of your attaining salvation and attaining rightness in the sight of God. So what are the Ten Commandments all about? They are all about the fact that life is sacred, your word is sacred, your marriage is sacred, your time is sacred, your giving is sacred. And in the sanctity of life, these expressions come, but the Ten Commandments came after the Exodus. Redemption precedes righteousness. It is never the other way around.
So God takes a life, puts that life back together, and gives you the fruit of what Michael was talking about. What does the church have to do here? I think the church has to teach us that that inner transformation is desperately needed. Let me say this very carefully: Malcolm Muggeridge said, "The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable fact, at the same time that it is the most intellectually resisted". The depravity of man is the most empirically verifiable fact, at the same time it's most intellectually resistant".
"If a man is stealing nuts and bolts from a railway tracks," as D.L. Moody said, "And you send him to university, and at the end of his education, he will steal the whole railway track". Some of the biggest crimes that have been committed against humanity sometimes have been committed by high officers and high success stories. depravity is here. Transformation, redemption, righteousness, and worship. That's the secrets. Morality alone will never get any one of us anywhere. It may make for some kind of existence, but it doesn't deal with the root of the problem, which is a rebellious heart that needs to be corrected and the heart that needs to humble itself before God. That's my word to you.
Question: What do you say to those who cannot believe in God because suffering exist, and cannot believe that a good God would allow suffering?
Michael Ramsden: I'll say it's a very good question. Well maybe just a couple of things. 'Cause that's the kind of question that actually demands a very long answer. It might be the case for some people that when suffering comes, it's not simply the case that it may drive them away from God per-say, it may simply be a catalyst that reveals to them what they actually thought about God in the first place. So if you find yourself caught up in suffering, you may for some people, they'll find themselves driving into the arms of God, 'cause they believe he's there and he cares and to others to walk away from the idea of God because they believe either he isn't there or he doesn't care.
And so sometimes suffering, it simply acts as that catalyst. Let me suggest three possible things to turn to if you're interested. One of my colleagues, Vince Vitale, who is at Oxford, a philosopher, he teaches with us, he's done his whole doctorate on suffering. And he gave a very brilliant talk on the nature of suffering at Oxford University. It was quite a hostile setting, they had a Q&Q, so they were online and I'm sure if you get in contact with our administrators are rzim.org, we could give you the link. So I think I will try to say two things, I'd like to try to say the there's some hope, not just simply existentially in terms of finding comfort with God, but maybe even coming to know that there is God through it.
And you know, if you're interested the question itself would deserve a much longer answer than simply can be stated here and if that is your question and you happen to be here, I'm sure we'd be happy to put you in contact with the resources. I think we can make you a promise and say that if you're not a Christian, and you are wrestling with this issue than we would like to give you those resources for free. If you are a Christian and you want those resources, you may be tempted to have a small crisis of faith right now... And claim those resources for free: and to you, we'd just like to remind you that there will be a day of judgement and accountability.
Ravi Zacharias: Michael, I'll take two quick stabs at that. Michael there's an answer to prayer for long suffering, for many many years, yeah. We travel together and he keeps us all entertained. His wife has only two words all the time when we travel, it's, "Oh Michael, oh Michael". And it comes one after another. There's two sides to that question, let me just defang it philosophically and then move quickly to the application. Vince and I are in the process of writing a book together on this, he just sent me an outline so that's what I was doing actually last week, Bangkok, doing my three chapters share of that.
Philosophically, it's often of course, put in tandem with evil. Suffering, evil, suffering, evil. Why does God even allow evil? And I've often responded that's it's critical to understand the nature of the question. Because when we say there's evil, we assume there's good. When we say there's good, we assume there's a moral law on the base of which to differentiate on good and evil. When we assume a moral law, we assume a moral law giver. 'Cause without the moral law giver, there's no moral law, without the moral law, there's no good, without good there's no evil. The question actually ends up hoisting itself on it's own petard as it were. It doesn't know how to defend itself. But here's the killer bite of that argument.
Somebody may say, why do you need a moral law giver? To have a moral law. And the answer is very clear in this, every question raised about evil and suffering is either raised by a person or about a person. Which means personal worth is essential to the question. Intrinsic worth is essential to the question. And in a naturalistic work you cannot have intrinsic worth, you've got extrinsic worth, it's conveyed to you, you're just a radar blip on the radar screen of time, you just happen to be here, but if you're a person, created in the image of God with intrinsic worth, than the question indeed is reflective of the value that you give to personhood.
So the two things, the reality of good and the intrinsic worth of a person are essential to the question, if the question is to be taken seriously, those two assumptions need to be made which the question makes. But the two points of application I want to make is this, you know I've lived with serious back problems, that's where it easier for me to stand, also not just keep seated, with two metals rods in my back and eight screws, bolting me down from l3 to s1, from a back injury that I suffered. I've had perfect health in every other way. 40 years of travel, I've never had an upset stomach in 40 years, in 70 different countries. No issues of any kind, those things don't bother me.
Yeah, I was raised on the streets of Delhi, my mother said, "He ate everything and nothing ever bothered him". There was a kind of place that if you went to eat and you spit in the sink afterwards somebody would tell you, "If you went to a distinguished restaurant and did that, what would they tell you"? You would tell them, "I did go there, they told me if I wanted to do that, to come here". So this is a kind of food we ended up eating, in those kinds of settings.
Now, what I wanna say is this. Through pain, through enduring pain for 27 years, constant pain for 27 years, with three herniated discs, and stenosis, pain going down your leg, you can easily say, "Lord, you've called me to travel, you've called me to do this, why did you give me a body such as this"? I have learned what Annie Johnson Flint said, who lived with cancer, blindness, arthritis, the rheumatoid kind and she was orphaned, "He giveth more grace when the burdens grow greater. He sendeth more strength when the labors increase. To added affliction, he addeth his mercy, to multiply trials is to multiply peace. When we have exhausted our story of endurance, when our strength has failed and the day is half done, when we reach the end of our hold of resources, our father's forgiving has only begun. His love has no limit, his grace has no measure, his power has no boundaries known unto men, for out of his infinite riches in Jesus, he giveth and giveth and giveth again".
God sustains you. God empowers you. God enables you and you draw closer through many times of agony. And the one thought I leave with you is this, there's a young gal in Georgia by the name of Ashlyn Blocker, she was featured in a Google picture this last week and I think it is Katie Couric that is interviewing the parents again, when the baby was born, the mother realized something was wrong, because the baby didn't cry. The doctors never diagnosed anything, everything was fine, 'til they found out she had cipa, congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis, she doesn't feel any pain. No pain what so ever. She could step on a nail, she could put a hand on a burner, and not know that her hand was being burned.
The mother ended her last interview, the last time I saw them, the little gal was only about 10 or 12, she said, "Every night I go to bed saying, 'God please give my little girl the ability to feel pain'". In our finite world, if pain is an indicator of something that is wrong, and gets us to seek reality of finding help, is it impossible in the infinite mind of God to use the agency of pain through which to draw us and to bring us to the ultimate corrective. The greatest pain is ultimately that of the soul and the separation from God. So he is able to sustain you, both in the physical and emotional struggles, and in the deepest pain of all, that's spiritual alienation. I'll leave that with you.
Question: Don't worry, I'll keep this brief, while I really respect what you're doing but I just, coming here, out of a whim, I was just curious, you speak of tolerance and, you know, respectful discourse and I really wanna believe in that but I was just curious as to your opinion on, you know, having, what we could say as a respectful discourse as far as like, lgbt rights and stuff like that, where it seems like, a certain ideology would be, have a strong conviction on that and I wanna know what would be a good way for, to get a good respectful conversation going for more progress.
Michael Ramsden: I mean, this has become obviously very big issue partly because, well, anything for a whole variety of reasons and it certainly isn't helped by the shrill voices on both sides of the debate who actually make having any kind of discourse or conversation even harder. I think, I mean, I'm aware a little bit, when I was speaking last in the us in Texas A&M in December, these questions came up and had some quite extended conversations for two or three hours after the meeting with a certain group of people, they'll discuss and talk about with me and this issue they want to discuss with me. And I think the questions, which, American society has before it right now, is two fold. One, who informs the moral convictions of their society and where do they come from.
Now historically in the States, you've been very heavily influenced by the Christian faith and by the Judeo-Christian ethic and what seems to be happening now is a question whether that's actually the ethic that American society wants to embrace and to have. So that is going to, that's gonna be a conversation, which is gonna have to happen here. I guess both politically, as well as living in academia, with every level of society, and I think that level, that conversation should be encouraged. I think the next question will then be, what does it mean to have a disagreement and within a civil society, how do you allow that kind of diversity.
Now, what I do find interesting about the debates, is this, both in ancient Greece and in Rome, in those societies, homosexual relationships were seen as being pure and higher than heterosexual ones. So, the culture a large, had the conviction that homosexual love was of a purer and noble form than heterosexual relationship. And even if you were married, having a homosexual relationship on the side was seen as being well and openly was seen as being perfect acceptable. And in some cases, some of the leaders in those societies would have been openly gay and I would have been applauded for it.
What I do find interesting however, is both in ancient Greece and in Rome, there was never any debate about changing the meaning of marriage for example. So marriage was still classically understood. But, even though, you know, homosexual views, homosexual relationship were viewed as I said on a more noble plain, so, where I find the debate more, more concerning is, using the legislative force to start changing the meaning of words in the dictionary. That is something I find more concerning, and history doesn't seem to tell a very happy story of any society that results to legislative force to start rewriting the meaning of words.
So I'm wondering if there are ways for this conversation to happen in a way that will take place, in a way that will allow that, as I say, people to be able to sit on both sides, what they actually believe and where they think they may be wrong and then to find a way, as a society, to live that together. In Europe, we're having similar types of debates and it's getting complicated. In France and in Germany there have been debates about what, how much surgery should be allowed within the gay couple to allow them to have babies and to actually conceive if they're both men, because the technology is there now, but obviously it's very expensive to do that, should that be permitted or not? And should the tax payer have to pay for it and you can imagine these kinds of debates, these kind of debates that raise very high temperature in the room.
So I think if there's anything that can be done on both diffuse the temperature but also allow an actual discussion of the fundamentals issues which are involved, I think they'll become very important. Another one of our colleagues, Os Guinness, I know in the book Ravi referred to earlier which talks about what do we mean about civil society and freedom, I think has some very pertinent things to say into that particular debate and, you know, I feel comfortable with everything he says there. And I would recommend it to be read, I don't know if there's much more that you would want to say.
Ravi Zacharias: I'd like to answer that in my cliff, I may make opposing statement at that time and then turn it back to you. I wanna thank you for that question and I know in an audience like this, there'll be many many diverse views certainly polarizing views on it. And so if you're here tonight, have a different view and you hold that firmly, I wanna thank you for coming, I wanna thank you for giving us a hearing, because it must take a lot of every ounce of your own strength to be seated there, listening to maybe a world view that you're not comfortable with, because it may challenge some of your own world view or how ever you want to live your life out. I make a plea in a couple of direction, along with what Michael.
You know, our team is based on ten countries and we cover a lot of territory here with politicians, with business people, with academics. And politicians are besides themselves, they really have no answers. One of the political leaders in Africa, put his arm in mine and after I finished addressing the presidents there, he said, "Accumulative wisdom, is unable to meet the daunting challenges of our time. Accumulative wisdom is unable to meet the daunting challenges of our time". But I wanna say this. What we saw in the fiscal cliff is minor compared to what we would see in an immoral cliff if we ever get to the top there.
It will be the devastation of so much. We go in many hostile settings, many inimical settings, I go in places where I've literally had to have armed guards who are there in case anything happens. I've always made a plea in the following way, the Christian view of marriage is that Michael and I would hold, is very different to the Islamic view of marriage. In the Koran, polygamy is provided for and allowed for. And it is mandated by their rules, but you can have polygamous, a polygamous marriage.
My own view of that is going back 5000 years with Abraham, that became in one of the factors in which it has created 5000 years of turmoil in what happened in that household by virtue of what happened in that polygamous relationship and the offspring and the blood that has been spilled for 5000 years, started as a war between 2 half brothers over who had the right to the father's inheritance and spiritual inheritance and so on. But that has not kept muslim people from inviting me to speak there. Michael is heading out to Cairo next week, this year I was in so many Islamic countries and I've been in, I was in Islamic universities, the Islamic University of Malaysia. And the oldest Islamic universities would be a sheik sitting in front of me for one and a half hour open forum, I have a different view on the sanctity of marriage to theirs, but they allow us to come and speak.
Same with Buddhist. Buddhist monks have a different view of marriage than the Christian does. So also, with the catholic teaching on celibacy in the ministry, we don't hold to that as a protestant, evangelical Christians and so on. But that does not keep them from inviting us. We go and speak and cordially we discuss, we disagree and if we disagree, we do so not comprising our convictions, we'll speak in any settings, I spoke at the mormon tabernacle, the first non mormon to be invited there in a 104 years after D.L. Moody, to speak at that. I don't hold to their view of marriage and so on, we well know that. But we respectfully deal with that.
So my plea, with the sceptic in these matters is can we not still talk? Can we not still hear one another? Can you not give the Christian the chance to defend what it is about the sanctity of marriage that we will actually see and why it is we hold that view and wherever society ultimately goes, in an open arena of question, truth will automatically triumph. Truth will win out in the lie will be shown for what it really is. We are committed to be followers of Christ and we will preach his word and I thank you for giving us that opportunity.
Let me just close with this simple illustration. Last year, after 40 years of travel, I experienced something that I hadn't experienced in a long time. I was invited to preach at the Angola Prison in Louisiana, which has 5300 hardcore prisoners. 85% of them are on life without parol. 45 of them are on death row and you walk in and see 22-23 year old men who will never leave the prison. Never walk out of there and they jammed the auditorium when I was there to speak and address the issue of grace and forgiveness and redemption. When you walked past death row, you just go by there and they'll reach their hand out and they will grab your hand and ask you to pray for them.
The chaplain, the warden who was there, a man by the name of Burl Cain, the girth of a southern sheriff, was like that, you know, he told the prison that he would come if they would let him do it his way. It was the bloodiest prison in the country, blood marks on the walls, blood marks on the carpets, when you were checked in, you were giving a knife to defend yourself. Today it's the safest prison in the United States, after a few years of Burl Cain being there. Bible verses all over the wall, all over the wall. And just before these guys go into the anti room for their last meal, before they go to the execution room, I'll never be the same after seeing that execution chamber, I could not even handle it, where they tell you the stories of what happens there.
You just walk away from it. But I'll never forget sitting at that table, thinking what must go through the mind of man as he's about to go to the execution table, but I looked up at the wall and there was a painting, painted by a prisoner of Daniel and the lion's den. I said, "Who painted that"? The warden said, "A prisoner". I said, "Why"? He said, "He painted it telling the man about to be executed, you can still be rescued, don't give up". And then I said, "What if it doesn't happen"? He said, "Look at that wall". Elijah with his chariots of fire taking the person to be with his Creator and so the artist that is in prison said, "If you're not rescued this way, you will be rescued that way".
In every cell is a Bible and the chaplain and somebody said, "If we had more of these in our schools and in our colleges, we'd need less of these in our prisons". The transformation of these minds in the men, when I left there, I got into the plane and we were silent, the five of us. Silent. We just saw how tragic life can be but what redemption can actually do. The transformation of a life and that only God is big enough to do that. And I pray, if you have never come that way to him, you'll give him a chance in your life and if you're an honest sceptic, keep hungering for the Bible says, "You shall search for me and find me while you shall search for me with all your heart". I hope we have the privilege to coming back here again, my thanks to everybody.