HUNTINGDON - What do you get when a passionate litigator and a corporate lawyer engage in a two-week long email debate about God, hell and the Christian faith?
Ellsworth McMeen and co-author Steve Baughman said their recently published book, "Objection! Overruled! (Or, Two Lawyers Have a Little 'Chat' about God and Hell)," is a compilation of more than 80 friendly, but fiery emails on the subject.
Steve Baughman, shown here, and Ellsworth McMee debate God, hell and the Christian faith in their book, “Objection! Overruled! (Or, Two Lawyers Have a Little ‘Chat’ about God and Hell.”
McMeen, a Lewistown native and devout Christian, said he and his wife, Sheila, lived in New York City and northern New Jersey for 41 years before relocating to Huntingdon in 2012. He practiced law in NYC for 28 years and was a partner in a larger law firm there for 21 years. He said he met Baughman through their shared interest in guitar.
"El and I got to know each other online through our music," Baughman recalled.
But the friends discovered another parallel in their lives - Baughman was a lawyer too.
McMeen said the discussion between friends over the Christian faith began when Baughman described to McMeen the thesis topic for his advanced degree in philosophy. McMeen started asking questions that turned into a full-blown debate over the existence of God, heaven and hell.
"I actually didn't expect the discussion to turn to matters like these," McMeen said, "but maybe that's what happens when passionate proponents engage in a discussion ... and in my case, don't know how to leave well enough alone!"
McMeen's belief in God was countered in the dialogue by Baughman's skepticism.
"I am a former born-again Christian, now an atheist," Baughman said.
He said his story is common, in that regard. Baughman grew up around missionaries in Southeast Asia and decided around age 20 he could not honestly believe their claims anymore.
"It is a terrible tragedy that so many people worry about going to hell," he said. "I simply do not see how there can be both a loving God and eternal torment."
McMeen called the discussion "both heated and friendly," like a roller coaster ride.
"It became like a juggernaut ... I didn't want to go to bed with anything on my mind," he said, which led to staying up at all hours of the night for two weeks straight answering, writing and worrying about emails.
After about two weeks, he said discussion stopped abruptly. McMeen spent a whole day sorting text from the emails and ended up with over 100 single-spaced pages. As the friends reviewed their chat, it started to take shape as a book, with chapter breaks and bold-faced commentary.
When they submitted it to the publisher, it was accepted.
McMeen said the book is fit for a wide audience - Christians wanting to deepen their faith, lawyers interested in how the legal intersects with the spiritual, church Bible study groups and people interested in Christian apologetics or evangelism.
He said the dialogue doesn't delve deeply into praise and worship, the ministry of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers or the transformational power of the Bible. Instead, it focuses more on how God, if he exists, can be just if he sentences people to eternal torment for temperal sins. He said Baughman also raises questions regarding the nature of the Canon as divinely inspired.
"I firmly believe that I got through this for two weeks only by the grace of God," McMeen said.
On the other hand, Baughman remains confident that even believers need not worry about the "lake of fire."
"So far I have not convinced El, but I'm not done with him yet," he said.
"Objection! Overruled! (Or, Two Lawyers Have a Little 'Chat' about God and Hell)" is available for purchase at Friendship Bookstore in Lewistown or online at booklocker.com/books/6821.html.