Christopher Hitchens is Partly Right

christopher_hitchens_crop.jpgHitchens’ book has stayed a best seller for months. It’s still selling like hotcakes. That’s too bad, because it’s one of the most effective ANTI-CHRISTIAN books I’ve ever read. Scary, huh? His book is called: God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. Hitchens writes with the intrigue of a journalist and the passion of a crusader. Unfortunately, his crusade is to wipe religion, including Christianity, off the map.

If you read uncritically, you’ll soon be on Hitchens’ side. Religion does spoil everything. If there is a God, he is not great.

Hitchens’ method is to string together horrific accounts of religious atrocities, and then tag it with, “See? I told you so. Religion really does spoil everything.”

nun.jpegHitchens disarms the reader by telling the story of his own religious upbringing, savoring the inability of his tutors to answer the hard questions, and disappointing us only by having no whacks on his knuckles with a ruler.

But from here, it’s all downhill for the faithful. He leaps immediately upon the Catholic clergy scandal. Stories of bishops forbidding contraception, thereby exacerbating the STD rate in third-world nations. Stories of hands cut off by Islamic fundamentalists. Of raped women becoming outcasts due to religious scruples. Not a happy picture.

hitchens-god-is-not-3.jpgYou can’t really argue with him on one point: Religion does indeed poison everything. And that is why true, biblical Christianity, is not a religion, as the adage goes. It’s a relationship with God through Jesus. The examples Hitchens cites are all distortions of biblical Christianity. No self-respecting Evangelical would approve of what he attacks. Moses, the Prophets David, the Apostles, Jesus, and every other writer of Scripture REJECTS RELIGION.

The root word for religion means “to bind.” Picture manacles along with a ball and chain. Religion takes people captive.

“Beware lest anyone cheat you through philosophy and empty deceit, according to the tradition of men, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” Colossians 2:8, NKJV.

Jesus doesn’t bind us; he sets us free. And that is all the difference in the world.

Yes, many evils have been perpetrated in the name of our Savior. For these repent. But for every one of these evils, there has been a far greater good. Example: Slavery. Christians used the Bible to justify it; but other Christians used the Bible to end it. Even today, it is only in Christianized cultures that slavery is outlawed. It still continues in lots of other cultures. And, to use Hitchens’ own example, even as Christians have opposed birth control (for reasons I don’t understand and don’t agree with), they have also founded the world’s orphanages and hospitals and schools and clinics. Take away Christianity, and the world would be a darker, more evil place. Picture Aldous Huxley’s 1984.

Hitchens’ book misses the mark in other important ways, too. For one, I haven’t done the statistical analysis, but the majority of his examples are of Islamic atrocities. He lumps all relgions into the same category — a huge mistake by my estimation.

Plus, Mark Roberts has pointed out many factual errors in Hitchens’ book.

lenin.jpegHis biggest omission, however, is his failure to point out the monumental evil that atheism has perpetrated through the centuries. Communists slaughtered more people than did any other group in world history. Add in Naziism and Fascism, and any fair-minded observer using Hitchens’ own standards would have to conclude:

Godlessness is Not Great; How Atheism Poisons Everything

Click here for Mark Roberts’ extensive and detailed critique of this book.

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20 thoughts on “Christopher Hitchens is Partly Right

  1. I haven’t read the book, but what you’ve written about it reminds me of where I used to be. As you know, I too was raised in church. I felt many of the sentiments you describe this author as feeling.

    After quite a bit of self-analysis, I realize now that my anger towards Christians in particular, and religion in general, was motivated by a deep disappointment that what I’d always thought was true, was not true after all (or so I believed at the time).

    There is an 18 year old kid who is currently wreaking havoc on the myspace pages of Christians. He reminds me so much of myself. The responses he keeps receiving are identical to what I used to receive: anger, frustration, attempts to ban him, etc. I looked at him and knew exactly what was going on inside. I contacted him and told him that I wasn’t angry at him for badmouthing all that I hold true, because HE was ME just a very short time ago. I asked him if he’d been raised in church and if he was now disappointed because of all the new information he was learning in college. So many paint very believable pictures of why Christianity is wrong. He acknowledged that I’d hit the nail on the head. That is EXACTLY what he is facing. Complete and utter disappointment.

    I don’t know if you remember when you were told Santa wasn’t real, but that was a disappointment too, at least for me it was. But I also realized my parents never really believed in him and that they didn’t have the intention to deceive me forever. I “got it”. When I felt that all of the beliefs they’d instilled in me about God, Jesus and the Bible were likewise wrong, that was a different story. I knew they’d believed all those things. This wasn’t Santa Claus. This was a group of beliefs for which many people had died, and all of a sudden they seemed like pure crap to me. I was disappointed beyond belief, and outraged more than I can put into words.

    Those feelings (along with the memories of all the hypocrites I’d known growing up) led me to rant, rave, and cause as much trouble as I possibly could for Christians. One of the big reasons I began producing porn is because doing so felt like the ultimate rebellion against all that I’d been taught.

    When you wrote:

    Hitchens disarms the reader by telling the story of his own religious upbringing, savoring the inability of his tutors to answer the hard questions…

    I immediately thought of myself. I, too, loved asking the tough questions most Christians are too lazy to have the answers for… I use the word “lazy” because that’s exactly what it is: it seems to me that most “believers” don’t care enough about their beliefs to dig deep in order to find out “why” they believe as they do. Instead of being little birdies with their mouths open, waiting for mommy bird to fill their throat, I feel Christians should dig deep and wrestle with their beliefs as we’re instructed by God himself to do. If we all got off our lazy butts, men like Hitchens would never get to the place where they are writing books against religion. Because the tough questions would have answers, as I’ve been discovering this past year since surrendering my life to God.

    …because what he, and others like him, are looking for when asking those questions is a REASON to believe. I know, because I’ve been there. I asked questions in anger. Slashed with invisible knives. All along I wanted a reason to believe what I’d been taught growing up. I wanted a purpose to my life. I wanted it all to be true. Desperately.

    And when I finally found a reason to believe, no amount of money was worth the relationship with God that I finally knew was true and possible.

    And now I’m driven by a passion to be able to answer men and women who have natural questions. There is nothing wrong with asking, but there is everything wrong with being so lazy that one can’t answer.

  2. In my opinion, it is not the lack of answers that is the problem, it is the plethora of trite answers that causes problems. We would do much better to refuse to answer questions, than to have an answer for every question…

    I just actually posted about this on my blog yesterday after reading a blog from an atheist student at Wheaton, if you click on the title to my post you will come to his…

  3. Donny: I’m so pleased you shared your story with us. I checked out your site when Dr. G. gave it to us before. Thank you so much.

    I have one “question” to your comments above: You stated, “All along I wanted a reason to believe what I’d been taught growing up.” Would you please tell us simply what you discovered that reason to believe is?

    I’m sure you have touched many hearts with your desperate desire to know the purpose for life and finding it.

    Dr. G: What an interesting blog today! I read Mark D. Roberts’ blog site and truly enjoyed his comments, immensely! One comment especially hit home: “Would that we could learn to disagree about ideas without disparaging each other. This, I believe, would in fact make the world a better place.” Amen! What a gentle scholar he is!!

  4. so much of what is known and felt and understood about christianity is from what we see, hear, view…….and yes, hypocrisy abounds….and like news, it’s the bad stuff that gets our attention. the everyday kindnesses and sacrifices just dont make the radar. for me what has turned me from the organized ‘church’ has been the steady advance of forces like the moral majority, focus on the family…..wanting to dictate behavior, using laws, political action committees, supporting politicians and policies so very very very opposite of the love of christ…..in my opinion. (though throughout history a multitude of ‘reasons to turn’ have happened) e.g. how can we promote a god of love, a christ of the sermon on the mount but support, in any way, warfare and all that entails…..spying, lying, deception, killing, disrespecting human rights, torture……these are not exaggerations, these go on in the name of christ, today, right now…..with the overt support of those who claim christ as lord……..when seen from the outside, what else can an inquiring mind conclude? how can ‘the church’ be seen in a positive light when it holds in it’s back pocket, the idea that what happened in the old testament, in jericho, was right, faithful and conceivably valid for today. this is exactly what must be confronted when parsing the differences and similarities between religion and christianity. are these (or this) skeletons in the closet that a peaceful, non violent walk with christ can expose and then lay to rest, or is it the bogeyman that will keep coming back and haunt your defending the faith. i want to be clear on this point……the contrast with christs teaching of non violence, and the violence that seems to be justified in the old covenant…….are a dissonance that any debate or defense of christianity, must be reconciled.

  5. His biggest omission, however, is his failure to point out the monumental evil that atheism has perpetrated through the centuries. Communists slaughtered more people than did any other group in world history. Add in Nazism and Fascism, and any fair-minded observer using Hitchens’ own standards would have to conclude:

    All of your examples–three of them–come from only 1 century. The first 50 years of one century. There have been some secular (neither Hitler nor the Nazis were atheist) governments that were oppressive. Generally, though, they were patterned on the religious model: a great leader who must be worshiped, a strict inerrant dogma, rigorously enforced radical conformity, etc. But they were nominally secular, that is true.

    Now. Please make a list of theocracies that were not oppressive bloody horrors. I can’t think of one. All free, democratic societies around the world have secular governments (with accompanying freedom of religion). Almost all oppressive dictatorships throughout history were religious. Imagine what John Calvin, Torquemada or Pope Innocent III could have done with Hitler or Stalin’s modern technology! No more Mr. Nice Guy!

  6. Jean, you asked:

    Would you please tell us simply what you discovered that reason to believe is?

    That’s a question I’d be happy to answer, but I’m sure that answer will be a bit lengthy. At the moment I’m sitting in a café at the Orange County airport, so I don’t think I have sufficient time to respond, but I hope to be able to do so later this evening after I’ve arrived in Sacramento.

  7. Susan,
    You are exactly right, and I agree with you. The only theocracy I can imagine is the one in which Jesus Christ personally governs; a hope of Christianity. But you prove my point: religion spoils everything. The religious dictatorships of history are cases in point. Christianity does not advocate theocracy; in fact Christian groups that do are immediately marginalized by mainstream Christianity.

    Though I would point out, that without being theocracies (which I oppose), the free democracies of the world are almost universally founded on Judeo-Christian ethics, and have a strong history of Christian-influenced philosophical foundations. Even the Pax Romana, during the Antoinine Caesars, had a core of mature believers (Ephesus) who became the basis for divine blessing on a secular government.

    My point is that the atheism which Hitchens advocates has a lousy track record, and that if he’s going to be consistent he should admit it.

    Thanks for your comment.
    Bill

  8. susan, good points. theocracies seem to tap into insecurities we have that have a need to coerce others into right behavior, to ‘believe’ as the leaders do. this is why (one of the reasons) there is such a battle in our country against the religious right, because they want to impose theocratic principles upon all. from what i have seen and heard, the religious right (which includes, if not the main impetus), including evangelicals, actually do not want the separation between church and state (they mostly deny it but in rhetoric and in desired laws…) , they hold onto and quote many old covenant concepts that are from a theocracy, israel. to separate christianity from religion, on this point, seems to not apply, as it appears most evangelical (not all) churches are for these impositions of christian laws and values. i have seen and heard views similar to bills in his above post…. “…had a core of mature believers (Ephesus) who became the basis for divine blessing on a secular government”, as if god operates with this economy (in christs’ kingdom). it’s no wonder why the church today mostly views the israel of god in the context of a tangible nation and not in the definition, only, of faith.

    also touching upon the theocracy theme is the promoted myth that the u.s. is christian, a christian nation (whatever that means), the founding fathers were christian etc. the more i have investigated this and talked with those who have, and read more than a superficial account….this notion can not be supported. some defense is gained by saying ‘judeo-christian’ instead of christian, but why not say mormon-christian or buddhist-christian? i’ve never had an answer, from youthful sunday school years to now to this question ‘just what is specifically christian about our nation, or rather its founding laws? that couldn’t also be said by other religions, in other words, “specifically christian”?’. this notion of this being a christian nation has had many implications in how many christians (and non christians and non americans) view their place in the world, how their actions are or are not blessed, what rights they have (e.g. re native american lands, resources, enemies of the state) and that in some actions ‘for the state’ being viewed as ‘doing it for god’. i submit that in christs kingdom we keep in view that our allegiance is only to him, that the concept of nation has been done away with (that which is maintained by the sword etc) and that our actions, living in a nation as we do, are guided only by faith in christ

  9. I tried to watch HItchens on Tim Russert tonight. I listened for 15 minutes, but I literally could not understand him because his accent is so thick. Did he say anything useful? I don’t mean to say, “He’s stupid, because I couldn’t understand him.” But, anyway, thanks for reading the book, Bill. I’ll take your word for it as to its contents. It’s an important issue. I read somewhere this week (sorry, I can’t remember where) that Christian students are not passing philosophy classes because they are unprepared for the attacks. Actually, they think they are prepared because they’ve read Josh McDowell, but when they get to a secular school, it’s not enough. It’s not that the material McDowell imparts is bad, it’s just incomplete, because it doesn’t give a way to think. And that’s the fault of our schools. We don’t teach cognitive processes or theory. So kids come out of school and church with facts but no foundation. When writers and teachers like Hitchens attack, they go for the foundation and they, and we, are unprepared. But thanks again, Bill: you read that so I don’t have to. There is so much to read that is beneficial that I’m not taking time to read something like Hitchens. It sounds like he agrees with the first chapters of Genesis where we’re told that sinned ruined everything. He says its religion. The world is afraid to admit that religion is just a symptom of the disease of sin. God would agree. He attacks the problem immediately with the incident with Cain and Abel. Then he attacks it in the plagues against Egypt’s gods. God knew long before Hitchens that religion was a problem. He’s very late to the game. We could go on…for 64 more books, but that would be unnecessary.

    Personal to another poster:
    Rick, I don’t mean to be picky, but I had to read your response 3 or four times to understand it. And it was great. But, if you had used capital letters, I would have understood it sooner. Style is great, but not if it obscures what you have to say. I’m a teacher, so take that for what it’s worth.

  10. Susan, I can’t think of any government, secular or theocratic, democratic or autocratic, that wasn’t oppressive to some group to some degree. That’s what governments do. If it’s true that history is written by the winners (and I don’t know if I agree with that), then anytime a history is written, then that must mean there is a loser somewhere. There seems to be no shortage of history books out there, so there must be no shortage of losers. All governments are operated by sinful humans, so they are sinful organisms. Yes, the same goes for religions, too. That’s why grace is a necessity.

  11. matt……….no capitals……i’m so spoiled by the informality of instant messenging and emails that unless i am handwriting or using a word processing program…..but thank you for the positives…..

    you’re correct “that’s what governments do” (i wish that would be kept in mind when a ‘christian’ group allies itself with one). i do believe that you’d be hard pressed to find a history not written by the victors though the best history book i’ve written was using the vehicle of more of the bottom-up. by howard zinn “a people’s history of the united states”…..highly recommended. ….and have you ever wondered (hope you aren’t being put off by my over use of ellipses) about ‘how the other side felt’ in regards to those who were ‘conquered’ in the promised land by the israelites? from a more ‘objective’ perspective a case could certainly be made that it was genocide or at the minimum ethnic cleansing. can you imagine a parent watching their children be slaughtered by the israelites, all the while hearing them say ‘in the name of god’……… again, these are questions (as is slavery, basic human rights) that those outside of christianity or judaism will ask. do we just say god’s way is mysterious or that we just can not understand the purpose of everything or of his sovereign will? or maybe those good ole israelites were just a ‘religion’ and not in ‘relationship with god’.

  12. David Maine is an author who has written “The Book of Sampson,” the Sampson story, fictionalized and told in first person by Sampson. It gets closer to telling the losing side (although they weren’t losing when they had him captured) in Judges. We hear the objections and accusations thrown at Sampson by those Israel is attacking. And Maine has Sampson say that he’s doing God’s will in God’s strength. I doubt that Maine has an evangelical agenda, though. I think he’s just a writer writing a story in a unique way. In a way, it’s similar to Ken Burns’ current PBS film in that it asks only the actual combatants to contribute. No, Burns didn’t ask Italian or German soldiers to contribute, but it took him 6 years to produce what’s on now. That still doesn’t make him objective. Thanks for the quote marks around the word objective. I reject anyone’s claims to objectivity. Even groups that want to be “fair and balanced” have a viewpoint.

  13. Wow Matt! That’s a pretty cynical view, if you ask me. If being objective means not having a viewpoint, then there is no basis for any conversation, and we’re hopelessly awash in a sea of subjectivity.

    To be objective means to admit your viewpoint, to be up front with it, and to then adjust your statements accordingly. The conservative critique of mainstream media is that it does not admit its overwhelmingly democratic and/or liberal biases [from a multitude of surveys over the yeas]; it pretends to be objective (the news) without admitting its bias. I think that FOX news, (I’m not saying I agree with their positions) at least admits its conservative slant. When has any other mainstream news organization done that?

    By the way, the correct subtitle of Hitchens’ book is How Religion Poisons Everything (my failing mind turned Poisons to Spoils). I’ve corrected it in my original post.

  14. bill……re the multitude of surveys……you might be interested in reading FAIR research, fairness and accuracy in reporting. in my book, the mainstream media is anything but liberal, democratic possibly, but all in all rather status quo, almost always are cheerleaders for war and supportive of big business and wall street, and capitalism. yes, they do generally take a negative view of evangelical political action. fox news is just an embarrassment.

    but apropos to this blog, what does this have to do with faith or righteous living? i may have a wrong impression but it seems to me that many evangelicals tend to listen to the conservative news, commentators, talk show hosts, and poo poo any others as ‘liberal’ (therefore, with an assumption that is a negative) or revisionist. ask most any foreigner about their impression of our news over here and they would say that it’s very biased, provincial, and truncated. listen to the bbc, read other international news sources and you may get mad. i can not tell you how many times i’ve heard stories from foreign clients or world travelers from the u.s. and they speak of important things going on that are completely unknown of here in the u.s., especially regarding the actions of our military, corporations, or of the palestinian/israeli situation.

  15. You are corrrect in saying I’m cynical. The problem is, and this contributes to the cynicism, is that people aren’t upfront about their viewpoint. They present it as purely objective without recognizing that their is a basis for their viewpoint. They may not have even stopped to consider what their philosophical foundation is. There is nothing wrong with being subjective, but, as you say, admit it. instead, we are a nation of lazy thinkers who don’t want to sit still for such a presentation. We see that in too many, if not most, of our leaders, political and otherwise, who move from issue to issue, confronting them in a pragmatic, short-sighted, way. If, for instance, people running for office gave us their philosophy and thought-processes for making decisions, and stuck to them, we could make better choices on election day. But we don’t demand that of them, and it doesn’t lend itself itself to sound bites. The last person who attempted that was Robert Bork when he was being considered for the Supreme Court. So, we forfeited what could have been one of the most brilliant minds off our court.
    What does this have to do with faith? It may not have immediate connection, (and it is the nature of blogs to stray far from the original entry) but I think we see the same laziness in churches, where the leaders don’t take a stand, at least from the pulpit, about their theology. Too many pastors also go from issue to issue without laying a theological foundation. Practice is good, but most religions have the same practical, moral goals. It’s the theology that makes the difference. And, it seems, only Christian theology shows how it is possible. Obviously, I mean that it is the real work of the real Jesus on the cross that makes the difference, but that is the theology.

    By the way, Rick, you may not capitalize, but I bet you can spell Samson correctly.

  16. “most religions have the same practical, moral goals”

    I couldn’t disagree more…

    I understand the point you were making, the theology of the Christian faith cannot be ignored, and in comparison to other faiths, plays a significantly more important role (I agree), but the ethic of Jesus is fundamentally different than that of any other person who ever lived. A human-being, recreated in the image of Jesus, will look very different than one along the lines of Muhhamad, Buddha, etc.

  17. steve, maybe matt was meaning the basics of honesty, hard work, sharing, honoring elders, truthful witness, those seem like falling under the category of practical morals. the ethic of confuscious or mohamed would be fundamentally different from any other person who lived too…….i’m guessing. where i see jesus’ teaching to be radical and different is his call for equalizing (oh bill, here we go again….lol), race, class, gender (very radical then and now) and his call to love our enemies and turn the other cheek (very rare to find then and now, mostly denied now too), not taking oaths of allegiance or otherwise and this is related directly to his very topsy turvey view of ‘kingdoms’….his is not of this world….it exists but it’s in parallel, it has a different moral code and focus than any other.

  18. With all the books coming out about this subject it’s kind of sad when you really think about it what it says about the pulse of the world. I agree with Pastor Bill that christianity has far served the world better than communism and fascism. That being said this book will bring up a good opportunity to be prepared for the watercooler conversation of the athiest and curious unbelievers that challenge believers to debate Mr. Hitchens claims. Also by starting out with what you said about him being partly right on his opinion of religion you can open the ears to people that get that glazed over look when you mention Jesus, being more readily heard because you are not a “simple minded follower.” I would think that every branch off Christ followers started out with the best of intentions. It just allows me to rest in his divine ways and admit their is no perfect church, family, work no not one and I can handle that because he said there would not be even on our best day thats why we need him right? I feel as believers we ought to be able to have an answer when the unsaved ask the hard questions so I like to read these kind of controversial best sellers sometimes. You never know who Jesus is putting in front of you to minister or serve I say. Get ready though there’s a real big wave of this kind of “trash the far right conservitive” media and it’s coming to a theater near you. It all started on YOUTUBE with this “zeitigeist” video. This video if you are not a believer will really make you fearful for people who will believe this nonsense and has the potential to lead a lot of people the wrong way in the worst way possible. There’s also a, AND this is NO JOKE youtube video and it’s gaining momentum a “You Tube Challenge” to blaspheme the Holy spirit on video. To dare God to strike them down as it says in the bible. Young kids who all think it is some joke as well as adults. Very very sad and its always after they have watched this zeitgeist video too. I know this will be so shocking to a lot of people because this video presents itself pretty well done researched in history and sadly they will drink the kool aid because they never have had the chance to know Jesus and it will all make sense to them. It’s a movie thats part conspiresy theory and part world history type supposedly.It did so well on the internet that now they will show it at theaters this year. The same people that mass emailed googles “secret earth video”. I am sure the church will be prepared hopefully to answer questions like they were with Davinci Code but thats where I am glad I have no reason to PROVE Jesus to anyone, I mean I can share and press on sharing the good news but then I get to let go and let them and God work out the details right? Like a car salesman you give your testimony and they like what they hear than they will sit down with God and go over the details of their life. But for me it’s becuase of an internal heartfelt feeling that can’t be measured nor adequately described. I guess thats whu they call it a personal relationship with Jesus, I now know, It’s hard to explain. I used to think some people were off there rocker when they said “well I really felt the Lord spoke to me. Also look at Kathy Griffin the comediene saying what she did at the emmys about Jesus in my opinion was really offensive. If someone had made a remark about another group of people they would have been made negative examples out of it, that being said I always remind myself that God may have better plans for these prideful arrogant children of God too..,.Ugh just in the future. When I look at the apostles and all the giants in their life that they faced and went on to be some of the greatest testimony for Christ after they accepted him. He uses all things for the good and only he knows what the longterm outcome will be. It’s funny because I was reading where Mr. Hitchens has a brother who just recently started talking to him again who is saved. I don’t know I just have a feeling what a great and awesome public testimony that could be to have someone like him recant and put all that passion into increasing the kingdom. It’s just I really never knew even with all the bible verses and sermons and prayer the full faith in him until I really hit rock bottom so I guess we all have our “Road to Damascus” and with all the things that are going to be coming out after religion and christianity get smeared in the future this is an opportunity to show the grace within us under pressure. Thats just my belief though.
    It is just feeling like an onslaught though first time magazine this year with their “Is God Dead?” cover. You see it says a lot about the public becasue that would not have been a cover even ten years ago due to the fact the advertising people for the mag would’nt have advertised in it but now they know it is not really shocking anymore.
    Well thats just my two cents.

  19. Thanks, Rick. The beginning of your last entry would be a good clarification. My entry was too long as it was, and you know better than anyone else, Steve, how Bill feels about long responses…sometimes.

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