Though an immoral person by normal standards,-- he freely admits he lies
when convenient, for example, converting to Greek orthodoxy in order to
marry,-- Christopher Hitchens wants it understood he draws the line at
"I do not set myself up as a moral exemplar, and would be swiftly knocked down if I did, but if I was suspected of raping a child, or torturing a child, or infecting a child with venereal disease...I might consider committing suicide whether I was guilty or not." (Christopher Hitchens, 'god is not Great,' p. 52).
Why this obsession with child molestation? Or is it an obsession with celibacy
(p. 55)? There is a larger circle of Christian morality in which he has
drawn a smaller circle. In his impoverished moral subset he has eliminated
purity of thought, forsaking all others in marriage, sexual morality exclusive only of child molestation, loving your neighbor as yourself, etc. To be sure these things are only
possible by the grace of God. He retains such prohibitions as are barely
sufficient to sustain civilization: don't murder, don't steal. Yet when
Christians say 'don't murder,' 'don't steal,' they say that because they
secretly want to murder and steal. When he says 'don't murder,' 'don't
steal,' 'don't molest children,' he does not say this because he secretly
wants to murder, steal, and molest children. This is anomalous.
The closest paradigm for understanding the 'new atheism' is the old 'hate
literature,' directed against blacks or other groups. The bigot's logic
dictates, 'My neighbor was mugged by a black man. Therefore all black men
are muggers.' A lynch mob metes out justice by large category: hearing
a murder or rape has been committed, and the suspect sought is a 'black
man,' they grab the first black man who crosses their path and string him
up. That's close enough for lynch mob justice.
Christopher Hitchens' category is 'religion.' It is the 'religious' person he hates and fears. His typical 'religious' persons, the gold standard who define the category, are the 19 hijackers who murdered three thousand persons on 9/11. Every ill deed done by one member of this large group falls to the account of every other member of the category. If Hindus in India engage in unsanitary practices, then the ill repute of those practices fall upon Christians, who do not engage in them. Why? Because both are 'religious.' His accusation is cumulative: all religious people inherit the guilt of all crimes committed in the name, or not in the name but by nominal adherents, of all religions:
"Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism and tribalism and
bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous
of women and coercive toward children: organized religion ought to have
a great deal on its conscience." (Christopher Hitchens, 'god is not
great,' p. 56).
All religious persons are the same; none can be any different, despite
their feeble protests. One wonders, in his eyes, do they all even look the same? Charles Stanley is a "demagogic imam," (p. 35), like any other. By the same logic, of course, the ill deeds of every atheist who ever lived, from Josef Stalin to Pol Pot, must fall upon Christopher Hitchens and his peers. Because the atheist Slobodan Milosevic was a genocidal killer, therefore Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris must also be genocidal killers at heart, even if they have covered up and repressed this impulse to this point. Christians, however, are forbidden this logic, as we shall see.
'Religion' is a very broad category. Practically all of the human beings
who have lived upon this globe are 'religious persons' by Christopher Hitchens'
category. The word is notoriously difficult to define. Some lexicographers
hazard a theistic definition:
"Religion...The feeling of reverence which men entertain toward a Supreme Being; the recognition of God as an object of worship, love, and obedience; piety; any system of faith and worship..." (Webster's International, 1965)
But this leaves out Buddhism, whose founder was agnostic. Buddhists imagine
the world to be an illusion, and once one frees oneself from this illusion,
it will go away. The set of ideas Buddhists teach, including transmigration
of souls, are nearly identical to the set of ideas Pythagoras preached,
and he is often classed as a 'philosopher.' Pythagoras, it would seem,
was a Buddhist. The historian Josephus is often scolded for classing the
various Jewish sects as schools of philosophy. Some think this a category
error. But many of the ancient schools of philosophy looked much more like
religious cults than the modern academic pursuit which has discovered that
philosophical questions are language errors.
People within the Christian orbit are accustomed to hearing 'religion'
denounced in sermons and tracts, testifying that 'I gave up religion when
I found Jesus.' 'Religion,' it is alleged, is a man-made, artificial system
designed to maintain distance between man and God; its overthrow is accomplished
by the revelation of God in Christ, who promises personal residence not
mediated through any clerical system: "Jesus answered and said unto
him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him,
and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him." (John 14:23).
But the New Testament authors are willing to use words like 'religion'
and 'piety,' which might also have been used by pagan authors, in a positive light:
"Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world." (James 1:27).
So one need not agree with these tract writers, that the category 'religion' is fallen, wrong-headed, and altogether useless to the Christian, pointing more toward outward observance than to inward fellowship with God. If one might define it more tactfully,
Religion...that project or enterprise which seeks to answer questions of ultimate
importance, not only by theorizing but by praxis.
By our definition, this enterprise may, or may not, be entirely man-directed
and unillumined by God's light. Now, Christopher Hitchens is well aware
that, when he attacks 'religion,' no voice will rise in its defense, because
the answers which 'religious' people offer to these ultimate questions are different,
indeed mutually contradictory, and the practices derived therefrom are
mutually incompatible. You can't turn the other cheek to your enemies and
also fly airplanes into their buildings. You can't worship Baal and also
Jehovah. You can't avoid blood and dead bodies, as required by Moses's
purity code, and also engage in Hindu religious practices. Christopher
Hitchens' Christian readers will not defend unsanitary practices engaged
in by Hindus in India; to the contrary, they may well see these shameful
and shocking pagan practices as evidence of this religion's distance from
God. Perhaps Mr. Hitchens imagines the Babel of voices thus raised will
cancel each other out, and his readers, perceiving that 'religious' people
disagree with one another, will conclude his accusations are justified.
But they are not. How can people be held guilty of crimes they neither
condone nor commit? Let us turn to a better way, the way shown by God Himself.
This revolutionary idea is due process:
"One witness shall not rise against a man concerning any iniquity or any sin that he commits; by the mouth of two or three witnesses the matter shall be established. If a false witness rises against any man to testify against him of wrongdoing, then both men in the controversy shall stand before the LORD, before the priests and the judges who serve in those days. And the judges shall make careful inquiry, and indeed, if the witness is a false witness, who has testified falsely against his brother, then you shall do to him as he thought to have done to his brother; so you shall put away the evil from among you." (Deuteronomy 19:15-18).
Make "careful inquiry." Did he do it, or didn't he? By this God-given
principle, this violent man, Christopher Hitchens, will have to answer
for the bloodshed he wanted unloosed on Iraq, but those of his fellow atheists
who did not want to see blood run in the streets will not have to answer
for it. But this way, Christians cannot have every shameful and unsightly
pagan practice dumped on their door-step, because they neither defend nor
practice these things. In short, this whole body of literature, the 'new
atheism,' will be eradicated by one simple principle: hold people accountable
for what they themselves do and say, not for what others members of a large
category to which they belong (blacks, 'religious people') do and say.
William Jennings Bryan
Christopher Hitchens' writing is relatively free of the gross misstatements
of fact about religious doctrine and practice found in other atheist offerings,--
but only relatively. One misrepresentation worth correcting is his claim
that William Jennings Bryan was a young earth creationist:
"If we use the word 'time' wrongly, we shall end up with the infantile computation of the celebrated Archbishop James Ussher of Armagh, who calculated that the earth...had its birthday on Saturday, October 22, in 4004 BC, at six in the afternoon.This dating was endorsed by William Jennings Bryan, a former American secretary of state and two-time Democratic presidential nominee, in court-room testimony in the third decade of the twentieth century." (Christopher Hitchens, 'god is not Great,' pp. 57-58)
William Jennings Bryan thought it presumptuous for man to declare what a 'day' was for God; he left open the possibility, in his Scopes trial testimony, that the 'days' of Genesis could be millions of years long. Like all thinking persons, William Jennings Bryan rejected Darwinism, but not because he believed the world began in 4004 B.C.: