Monday, April 7, 2008

Christopher Hitchens vs. his brother Peter

Apparently, Christopher's bombastic personality was too much for his brother Peter, sources say (friends of mine). The two debated each other on many topics (mostly Christianity) at Fountain St. Church in Grand Rapids recently. My friend says about 2/3 of the audience was atheist, a GVSU professor praised Chris's work and said he uses it in his philosophy class, and Peter, while a good writer, was not able to handle his brother's tough persona, and apparently espoused a mere probability that a god exists.

Since I was not at the debate and have not read any reviews yet, I'll depart here by dealing with at least one argument I know Christopher Hitchens and friends ("New Atheists") use explicitly against Christianity. One of his arguments is an attack on the character of Yahweh, especially as it concerns his activity in the Old Testament, with particular focus on the genocides during Joshua's campaign. Hitchens also claims that to be moral, humans do not need God (an old argument, actually); but the newness of his argument lies in the claim that the God of the Bible is actually immoral and anyone who claims this God as their own is the same.

The genocides deserve more attention that what I can give here, but suffice it to say that the New Atheists deem this an incredible act of immorality (it does not sit well with me either, actually), which alone should steer anyone away from ever wanting to be a Christian. Would-be converts may take no comfort in a "new set of laws" under the dispensation of Jesus, because Jesus himself said he came to "fulfill the law" (Matt. 5:17). Jesus therefore acknowledges the Old Testament law as good (as does Paul in Romans 7:12), and by default says the genocides were good, too. So if you follow Jesus, you must acknowledge that the genocides were good. And if you do that, says Hitchens, you, as a Christian, are an immoral, cruel hoax on mankind!

Briefly, if I were Peter (I've been called worse), I would have replied with this: if one disavows Christianity because of something that happened in the past, then one must apply the same principle to ones self. Hence, there is a rejection theism in general and Christianity in particular because of this act in history.

However, this fails to consider the actions taken by atheists in history. Stalin is a prime example (there is also Pol Pot, the French Revolution, and Hitler [some dispute whether Hitler was actually an atheist]). These systems of govenernment were fueled by an atheistic paradigm of social order and reform. All bent on murder and eradication of dissenters. Hitchens of course would object to the evils committed by Stalin and others. But, on his own principle, why not reject atheism?

If one rejects Christianity because of the genocides, one must, to be logically consistent, also reject atheism because of the evils done in its name as well. One objection to this line of reasoning may lie in saying that while it was Yahweh himself who made the command in a theistic paradigm, Stalin, et al. were fueled by more than a mere atheism. After all, one might argue, humans are complex beings and one personality trait (or more) or perhaps a bit of misinformation or misapplied information may have fueled Stalin's murderous regime. For example, Stalin's greed and paranoia got in the way of what a truly humanistic, goodwill atheism should have been. But the historical fact is that it happened the way it did. Also, this argument fails to take into consideration that Yahweh is a person, too, who is not a monolithic automaton.

Rather, Yahweh is one who is seriously offended at sin (the Canaanites who were annihilated were guilty of child sacrifice, and demon worship, for example [the apparent non-innocence of the infants and children taken for granted at the moment]). Yahweh has many character traits and is privy to all kinds of information and has certain goals for mankind: political, economic, educational, agricultural, cultural etc., just as Stalin had many character traits and had ideas and plans for his society. So the two are not monolithic automatons, but are influenced by many different ideas and passions with the purpose of creating a society after their image.

In any case, Hitchens should reject atheism for the maladies committed under its auspices just as he rejects Christianity for the apparent evils committed under the auspices of the rule of Yahweh. Hitchens would object to this demand on my part, saying that Stalin's atheism was a bad atheism, and that a good atheist (I know some and love them, actually) would never do what Stalin did. But a good Christian should at least acknowledge that what Yahweh and the Israelites did was evil. Therefore, Hitchens' version of atheism is superior to Christianity (and Judaism).

The problem with Hitchens' argument is that his atheism is one version and Stalin's atheism is another and ne'er the twain shall meet. So, who's version should prevail? But this is the problem. This is indeed, the problem. And we should discuss it further elsewhere. The problem Hitchens must overcome is how to arrive at an ethic without it resorting to relativism. If Hitchens says the primary goal of humans is to be happy, then who defines happiness? If he says we should define ethics by means of cultural consensus, then which culture is correct?

We have not answered the accusation of the apparent immorality of the genocides, and Christians need to do this (1 Peter 3:15; 2 Cor 10:5). But Hitchens must answer these questions if he is going to accuse Yahweh of immorality, when atheists have done evil also. The final question for Hitchens is why humans commit evil in the first place. Boiling our maladies down to the foil of "ignorance" and "lack of education" do not suffice, for it is readily apparent that many educated people still do evil, sometimes greater evil than those less educated.

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