In Partial Response to Christopher Hitchens

October 29, 2007

Last week, I strongly endorsed “What’s So Great About Christianity,” Dinesh D’Souza’s impressive defense of Christianity against the almost-organized assault by such “antitheists” as writer Christopher Hitchens. I heartily reiterate my endorsement.

I have since read portions of Hitchens’ new book “God is Not Great” and watched his debate with theologian Alister McGrath. Please indulge me in addressing a few of Hitchens’ arguments.

Hitchens unfairly and illogically conflates Christianity with other religions, blaming it not only for the evils committed in its own name but also for those committed by practitioners of other religions.

Hitchens’ approach is only fair if you accept the modern pluralistic ruse that all religions are the same, which they aren’t since many of their truth claims contradict each other.

Hitchens also blames “religion” for the evils of godless secular systems like Soviet Communism because they had religious attributes, such as dictators to whom the state demanded reverence. By identifying secular regimes as religious, Hitchens goes for a twofer: exempting secularism for the evils of militantly secular states and simultaneously condemning religion for them. While clever, this is enormously convoluted thinking.

Hitchens claims antitheists “distrust anything that contradicts science or outrages reason.” But doesn’t it outrage reason to foist on Christianity the burden of explaining away evils committed by other religions or secularism, both of which contradict the exclusive truth claims of Christianity?

Though Christianity should answer for its own evils, antitheists shouldn’t be permitted to grossly exaggerate those evils and grossly understate those committed by others. And while Hitchens longs for a “new enlightenment,” where reason and science flourish without the poison of religion, he seems to forget the abject mayhem ushered in by the unshackled, licentious secular liberty of the French Jacobins.

Moving on, Hitchens sets up a straw man when he says it’s “contemptible” for people to maintain that their religion is good in providing comfort to people — for example, in times of personal loss — even if their religion isn’t true. I know of no Christians who make this argument. To the contrary, Christianity provides comfort precisely because it is true and allows a personal relationship with an eternal, omnibenevolent God.

Next, Hitchens contends the whole concept of Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross is not only “superstition” but also immoral.

He asks, “How moral is the following? I am told of a human sacrifice that took place two thousand years ago, without my wishing it and in circumstances so ghastly that, had I been present and in possession of any influence, I would have been duty-bound to try and stop it. In consequence of this murder, my own manifold sins are forgiven me, and I may hope to enjoy everlasting life.”

Hitchens rejects that he is responsible for Christ’s flogging and crucifixion, in which he had no say and no part. He rejects that Christ’s agony was necessary to compensate for the sin of Adam, of which he also had no part.

The Original Sin Doctrine has always bothered me a bit, too. But it’s hard to deny in light of the human condition, which only the Biblical worldview accurately describes. This condition also renders the secular humanist’s utopian belief in the perfectibility of man to be the kind of wishful thinking at which Hitchens’ derisively scoffs. Whether or not you believe man is condemned for Adam’s sins, doesn’t the universality of our own personal sins make the matter moot?

I respectfully suggest that Hitchens is looking at this backward. We are not condemned for Christ’s death but for our own sinfulness. Christ’s death and resurrection are not our condemnation. They are our avenue to deliverance.

In the debate, Hitchens seemed to be saying that the idea of atonement through Christ’s substitutionary death is inconsistent with our accountability for sin. He also seemed to object to the idea that our salvation depends on whether we “believe” Christ died for us.

Saving faith, however, is not merely intellectual assent to the proposition that Christ died for you. Rather, it’s a full-blown commitment to placing your very life in His hands and entrusting Him to save you. Saving faith also involves genuine repentance — a deliberate turning away from your sins in complete humility — and turning toward Christ for salvation. There’s plenty of accountability in sincere contrition.

There is nothing immoral in someone voluntarily sacrificing His life for you — especially when that someone is the very Giver of life — the Judge of all things. Nothing could be more moral; nothing could be more loving.

Hitchens apparently believes skepticism is a badge of intelligence and reserved for nonbelievers, yet many believers have their fair share of it, too. They don’t fear it, they embrace it, as working through it invigorates rather than undermining their faith.

While Hitchens mocks the faith of Christians in “myths,” Christians believe their faith is strongly supported by evidence. Hitchens wholly ignores that evidence as well as the great leaps of faith antitheists must take to assume away the limitations of science and naturalism in explaining man’s origins.