Mike Seaver, Believer!

Remember Kirk Cameron? He appeared on 167 episodes of the TV series “Growing Pains,” part of that late 1980’s phenomenon of affluent-family situation comedies with aging hippie parents who spent too much time at home and kids were who were mildly more censorious and “together” than the grownups around them.

A cute teenage boy, Cameron has aged into an identical 41-year-old man with an absurdly boyish face lit up from inside. His personal website warns women between 35 and 45 that they “may suffer from a medical condition now known as ‘Seaver Fever’” (Mike Seaver was the name of Cameron’s “Growing Pains” character), and he’s got that right.

Fun to reminisce, of course, but what does Cameron have to say to The God Project Dot Net? Plenty, it turns out. A self-described atheist as a young man, Cameron had a sudden, Paul-like conversion one day while sitting in his car listening to a book on tape. Today he is something of a professional evangelical preacher, father of six, founder of Camp Firefly for sick children – and co-founder with Ray Comfort of a reality TV ministry called “The Way of the Master” (quoting Mark), now in its fourth season.

Comfort is an ex-New Zealander who sees himself in a strictly evangelical line from John Wesley to Charles Spurgeon to George Whitefield – dirt-scorching revival preachers whose primary mission was true conversion of non-believers, including other Christians. His LivingWaters organization, based in California, runs an online university, posts daily cartoons, “Weekly Witnessing Clips,” and even global “Christian Persecution News” (“Maldives Arrests, Deports Indian Teacher for Owning Bible”).

Comfort’s sermon “Hell’s Best Kept Secret” is what converted Cameron in his car, and Seaver Fever is the best thing to happen to Comfort’s ministerial outreach since his own conversion in 1972. Together, Comfort and Cameron created “The Way of the Master,” which – they say – airs on 31 networks in 70 countries and has sold more than 20,000 copies. It’s a naked how-to-convert kit, and the TV show finds Comfort and Cameron trotting around the globe confronting unbelievers with the Truth – very much in the tradition of early evangelists such as Paul, Titus, Timothy and Silvanus.

Comfort is more of a writer, but Cameron is a master of TV and his outreach strategy is obviously video-centric. In 2007, he and Comfort took the affirmative side in a 90-minute “Nightline Face-Off” in Manhattan on the topic “Does God Exist?” Opposing them were two amateur atheists and web video stars (“Blasphemy Challenge”) named Brian Sapient and Kelly (no last name; big hooters).

Cameron started:

“We’d like to show you that the existence of God can be proven, 100 percent, absolutely, without the use of faith. And secondly … I want to pull back the curtain and show that the number one reason that people don’t believe in God is not a lack of evidence, but because of a theory that many scientists today believe to be a fairytale for grownups.”

He refers, of course, to evolution. Evangelicals are touchingly obsessed with evolution. But I’m convinced they are dead wrong in assuming it is the big barrier to mass conversion. The barrier is much wider and deeper, consisting mainly of indifference and – I think – our great distance from death. People forget that it’s only in the 20th century people stopped routinely dying young. Antibiotics are a better proselytizer for atheism than evolution.

But back to “Nightline.” Atheist Sapient (whose name is Latin for “smart,” which makes me think it’s fake), laid it out there: “We are here to respond to [Cameron’s] claims.”

Let the sniping begin. The exchange on video starts here. We’ll talk about what happened next time.

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