Another Hitchens Critique

I’ve just finished watching the 2009 Samford University debate between atheist Christopher Hitchens and Dr. John Lennox, esteemed British theologian and mathematician. And guess what? I found some more leaks in the former’s renowned worldview.

Mr. Hitchens’ greatest blunders in this debate are directly tied to his fatally flawed understanding of Christianity. In a rejoinder to Dr. Lennox’s point that William Wilberforce sought to abolish slavery in the name of Christ, Hitchens points out that Christianity was, up to that point, being widely used to justify the horrific practice. He also cites Jesus’s own words in Matthew 10:34 (“Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace, but a sword”) as the alleged rationale for crimes committed in the name of Christ. Perhaps this is just a debate technique designed to penetrate an audience’s beliefs at a point he perceives to be most vulnerable (their belief in Christ’s own words), or perhaps he really believes it. If the latter is true, Mr. Hitchens makes the novice mistake of proof-texting. Anyone who has studied the Gospels knows Jesus strongly condemned violence (cf. John 18:10-11).

Mr. Hitchens attempts to frame the debate by positing that worldviews should be judged by their social utility based on a distinctly Western notion of ethics – a notion ironically undergirded in very large part by Christianity. And since, he alleges, Christianity is and has been invoked in countless crimes throughout history, we are better off without it. Dr. Lennox adeptly responds by saying that a perversion of a teaching is not the same as the teaching itself. Contextual understanding of the Bible is critical when crafting a historical narrative on this premise, and Hitchens monumentally disappoints. Both Jesus and Paul repeatedly warn of false teachers and those who distort biblical truths for other ends.

But Mr. Hitchens’ greatest error was in his closing statement. In it he claims that morality is “innate,” and that it is nice when religion “catches up” to it. Ironically, the idea of innate morality is actually quite biblical (cf. Romans 2:14-16). You would think he would attempt to provide a naturalistic basis for his claim, but instead he pivots by pointing to the worldviews of well-known historical figures such as Thomas Paine to illustrate that even godless people can be good and advocate justice. He deflected an earlier, similar line of reasoning with this famous inquiry, “Tell me a moral act that a religious person can do that would not be moral if an unbeliever did it.” You can’t lose when you ask that question to a Western audience. As I said in my last post, Mr. Hitchens borrows heavily from commonly respected Western moral themes to win over audiences to naturalism. But nowhere have I seen him lay a naturalistic foundation for moral absolutes. Probably because, he had reasoned, one doesn’t exist. Only by renting real estate from the Christian God can one make true sense of morality within naturalism. After all, one highly developed descendant of pond scum killing another is simply the inevitable result of eons of naturally selected chemical reactions in the brain. Hitchens is too smart to try and make more of it than this, so he relies on anecdotal evidence and straw men rather than sound logic.

The atheist is well-known for his statement that it takes religion to have atrocities. However, this view is simply not supported by history, especially that of the 20th century. Any worldview can, and has been, utilized as justification for violence. Also, anyone can borrow from cultural norms to win over the shallow-minded. But it takes someone who is willing to draw from sources (such as the Bible) in context to win over honest thinkers.

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Monday Update – 1/13/14

Today’s schedule: wake up late, fry up some eggs, and watch some stimulating debates on the existence of God (I know, you all wish you were me). The particular showdown I viewed today was between Christopher Hitchens and Dr. Frank Turek (author of I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist). The late Hitchens is one of my favorite personalities to watch for two reasons: first, I find his wit and intelligence nearly unmatched; and second, I find his arguments for atheism more formidable than those of any other figure I’ve come across. That’s not to say I agree with each of his points, but I find his general worldview difficult to counter. As I’m sure most of you do when critically listening to a debate, I mentally attempt to locate and expose logical flaws as I hear them. Hitchens’ arguments are the most airtight I’ve encountered to date as I could only find two rather minor objections to his view in the 2+ hour debate I watched today.

The first (and more significant) was this: when asked to provide a base for morality in the absence of a moral law giver, Hitchens appeals to the audience by advocating modern, Western moral norms. In other words, he essentially cites the fact that, since the vast majority of people would not go on a killing rampage, it follows that a human moral standard is non-violence. However, to date I’ve never heard him cite a reason other than societal consensus (or conscience, which I will get to in a moment) for his moral imperative of non-violence. In other words, if we are purely products of naturalistic evolution, there is no good reason not to kill another human being.

It’s an elementary objection, but it’s one to which I’ve never seen a good answer. Hitchens may be a smart man, but his intelligent admonition not to kill is no reason not to kill. After all, who made him the boss? I’m composed of the same matter as was Mr. Hitchens. There’s nothing special about him, me, or the person being targeted for murder. What society deems appropriate should hardly be considered a prohibition either, as I’m sure Mr. Hitchens would agree were he still with us. Vast majorities in Muslim countries consider death by hanging an appropriate punishment for homosexuals, and Mr. Hitchens’ indignation towards such practices is well-documented. Sometimes, society gets it wrong. Christopher Hitchens would be the first to tell you that.

The second objection I have is that Hitchens cedes the existence of conscience. He asserts that those who don’t follow that “little voice inside” are sociopaths and psychopaths. The idea of conscience is entirely scriptural. Hitchens doesn’t mind sharing this view with the Bible, but he never provides an origin for conscience. Is it molecular? Is it even physical? Why did the current development of homo sapiens somehow get the benefit of this built-in morality cop while our predecessors did not? Is it simply a function of larger brains capable of advanced intelligence? Incredibly, Hitchens cites Socrates’ reference to an internal “daemon” that sounded an alarm bell when Socrates constructed an improper mental argument. What chemical or physical form did this daemon take? How does it fit into an evolutionary framework? Let’s assume higher intelligence is the root of conscience. What makes us think our higher development gives us the right to impose moral absolutes on others who may not agree with us? What if one has no demonstrable conscience — do we have the right to lock him or her away? What if that is the next stage of our evolution? Hitchens considers a moral God who allows suffering the ultimate tyranny. But if there is no God, wouldn’t the ultimate tyranny be the dominant race (humans) imposing one morality upon everyone? In a godless context, nothing could be more regressive. As the universe increases in entropy, why should the human attempt to remain static by enacting laws to preserve the species? Shouldn’t chaos rule? Why put off the inevitable by requiring all humans to participate in the same moral code?

I welcome feedback as these are unfinished thoughts. Thanks for reading.

Hopes

I’m gonna try a little free writing here and see what comes out. The urge to put pen to paper, so to speak, has been gnawing at me lately. AD 2013 has been quite the year and I’ve chronicled none of it save for a prolific (for me) bout of tweets. Having deactivated my trusty thought catalog in Facebook and facing uncertainty about when I’ll fire it up again, WordPress will do for now.

There are a lot of things I’d like to do with my life but none of them appear to have a good starting point at the moment. The creative juices are flowing and yet no outlet seems worthy of that initial laborious investment. I want people to know that the truth about God, Jesus, history, and sin have real meaning for America and the direction we’re headed corporately and individually. There’s so much to say about right and wrong, so much to say about the dire consequences of continuing down the path we are on. My favorite pundits and personalities hammer away on the thoughts that I wish I had conjured first — and yet nothing seems to pierce America’s conscience. No ideas can be put cleverly or concisely enough to change the minds most in need of change.

Let’s imagine I did  get the platform I seek. My opinions are broadcast widely. People would be able to take hold of the truths I want them to grasp. Would I want my message to sink in, or would I simply enjoy the pontificating and ensuing debate? If there were no deluded liberals (but I repeat myself), what would I strive for? What I’m saying is, do I really seek to change hearts and minds, or do I enjoy the struggle?

I’ll let time decide. Meanwhile, there is much prayer and self-reflection that needs to be happening regularly in my life to ensure I’m not exhibiting a double standard. Also I have decided to start collecting reading material from those I respect. I’ve asked a few men in my church to list the top three book titles they find most meaningful. My hope is that expanding my knowledge base across a few specific subjects (namely theology, philosophy, apologetics, and politics) will both reinforce my existing passion for these subjects and ignite new areas of interest.

Regardless of whether I seek an end in educating a large audience or simply enjoy the journey to that goal, it’s time to start. I’ll resist the urge to promise that my journey will be recorded here. But I truly hope I can be more faithful to this blog in 2014. Here goes.

Why Doesn’t Congress Enact Obviously Necessary Reforms?

Observe American politics for more than a few minutes and you’ll notice something interesting. For the amount of lip service that politicians give to “common sense reforms,” our government just won’t fix its most obvious problems. The national debt is a prime example. Our national debt, at the time of this writing, is roughly $16.7 trillion. In light of that stratospheric figure, the amount of money we give to other countries is jaw-dropping, the amount we spend on ridiculous pet projects and wasteful bureaucracy mind-numbing. The solution is so obvious it’s painful: just stop the flow of cash. What’s the problem, Congress?

In spite of the simplicity of the problem, the solution is complex. Of course we need to persuade our leaders that cutting spending is indeed the problem, but sometimes the only way to do that is to force them to walk their talk. However, finding the best places to apply pressure to the politicians in charge of the federal purse strings can be a tricky, multi-faceted undertaking.

Many people point to the excess of lobbyists and “special interests,” wh0se deep pockets project their siren call towards the capitol. With such large sums of cash tempting politicians, remaining committed to the common sense reforms they talk about in front of the cameras can be difficult. The obvious solution to this problem would be to severely restrict lobbying.

But what if it’s your organization that’s the one doing the lobbying? Doesn’t seem like such a good idea anymore, does it?

Okay, so how about we limit the ability of lobbyists to throw cash at politicians? Now we’re cooking with gas, right? If only. That would raise this important question about First Amendment: Is money speech? Consider this quote from University of Chicago professor Geoffrey R. Stone:

Even though an object may not itself be speech, if the government regulates it because it is being used to enable free speech it necessarily raises a First Amendment issue. Thus, a law that prohibits political candidates to spend money to pay for the cost of printing leaflets, or that forbids individuals to contribute to their favorite political candidates to enable them to buy airtime to communicate their messages, directly implicates the First Amendment. Such laws raise First Amendment questions, not because money is speech, but because the purpose of the expenditure or contribution is to facilitate expression.

Professor Stone’s opinion doesn’t touch on aggregated money, such as that spent by PACs or corporations, but the principle is still there. If one person can give money towards a cause, why can’t people pool their funds to flex some extra muscle?

My opinion on this is simple, if idealistic: If politicians had any integrity anyway, we wouldn’t have to worry about external funding of any kind weakening their resolve to do the right thing. Ergo, we have greater problems than a severe financial deficit. We have an even more severe character deficit. But then, if being in power didn’t sow a field ripe for corruption, then the Constitution wouldn’t require limits on power.

Have we reached a point where we need to put limits on people’s monetary freedom in order to keep politicians honest? To borrow George Bush’s terminology, do we need to abandon our commitment to freedom of speech (in this case, lobbyists’ speech) in order to maintain financial sovereignty as a nation (in other words, to keep from going broke)?

I say no. A corrupt nation is doomed to fail at some point anyway. The cost to liberty isn’t worth the trade.

“Declaration of Rights and Responsibilities” by Glenn Beck

Agree or disagree with Beck, I believe his thoughts here are quite timely. In our frenzied rush to maintain our rights and forge a path for new ones, we Americans have neglected the importance of our adherent responsibilities. Consider this declaration:

As the American Declaration of Independence clearly states, when in the course of human events it becomes necessary for people to band together and collectively declare their rights and responsibilities to which the laws of nature and nature’s God entitle and bind them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should disclose the causes which impel them to such.

Therefore let us declare that we still hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal and are endowed by our creator with certain inalienable rights; that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But with those rights come responsibilities.

In order to continually experience life, liberty and happiness as promised, nature’s God demands obedience to His law to protect those rights. This is where we have fallen short and therefore, in order not to lose the blessings of freedom, the people of the world must turn from the sole focus on rights, and recognize the inherent and required responsibilities that we have.

Among the responsibilities to which we must adhere to maintain our God given rights are honor, courage and vigilance.

Over time, we believe that these basic human responsibilities have been trampled, and replaced with degradation, fear and apathy.

But when a long train of abuses of the people and conscience by the media and by other segments of society, pursuing the same path of reducing them to ridicule, scorn and even sub-human status, it is their right, it is their DUTY, to peacefully, but vehemently take a stand.

Men want to be king, and the more we concentrate on our rights and the more we are told not to worry about our responsibilities, the more we lose our rights.

Just as physics show, for every action there’s an equal and opposite reaction. The time has come to declare that at least for the western world human rights are generally accepted and moving in the right direction however a new movement is required a movement of human responsibility.

The media, politicians and large institutions both academic and political have been lying to us, and we must demand the truth be told.

With that demand, comes the responsibility that we tell the truth first, in ourselves. Too many of us delegate our responsibility to the media…and too many believe there is no personal responsibility at all.

Political correctness has polluted our language and clouds our every discussion.

What was once accepted as good and right, is now considered bad and evil, and that which was bad and evil is now presented to the world as good and decent.

Opposing thoughts or opinions are referred to as crazy, insane, non-factual and utterly without merit. Furthermore, we are told, they should not even be heard.

Now, the time has come to take a stand by exhibiting the traits – honor, courage and vigilance.

What is honor? It is being honest in all of our dealings. It is showing loyalty and fairness, and being a beacon of integrity in all our beliefs and actions. It is showing respect for others.

Ruth honored Naomi when she told her that she would not leave her. That she would go wherever Naomi went, that she would live where Naomi lived and die where Naomi died. Her God would be Naomi’s God.

Courage is the ability to face danger, criticism or scorn – not without fear, but while overcoming fear to deal with that which comes our way.

When no one else in the Kingdom wanted to face the mighty giant, Goliath, young David was willing. David must have felt fear at the sight of his foe, but overcame it, and courageously vanquished his enemy.

Vigilance is being watchful for all forms of treachery and tyranny, lies and deceit. The person in the watchtower, waiting all night, suddenly sounding the alarm that the enemy is coming. The careful observer of the markets and economies who proclaims to the world, all is not well, there is trouble ahead and the outspoken critic of the powerful, going against societies’ grain, warning that all is not as we’re being told. These are the vigilant.

We implore all people to stand with these characteristics – honor, courage and vigilance.

To that end, we must restore honor in our own lives. Seek after the truth. Declare right now, that no longer will we simply accept what is told us by the media or anyone else.

The media has the responsibility to tell the truth, we have the responsibility to learn it.

Stand with courage, even if it means the end of our jobs, the end of our positions in life…or even the end of our very lives.

We must have the courage to be peaceful, while recognizing the courage to defend and respond to threats and/or attacks when necessary.

Turn the other cheek when possible.

We must be vigilant. We must think the unthinkable. The holocaust occurred because no one could imagine it, but evil never sleeps, and neither must we.

As Edmund Burke said, “all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.” We must DO something. Stand watch. Speak up. Become involved.

Thus, we the people do hereby declare not only our rights, but do now establish this bill of responsibilities.

1. Because I have the right to choose, I recognize that I am accountable to God and have the responsibility to keep the 10 commandments in my own life.

2. Because I have the right to worship as I choose, I have the responsibility to honor the right of others to worship as they see fit.

3. Because I have freedom of speech, I have the responsibility to defend the speech of others, even if I strongly disagree with what they’re saying.

4. Because I have the right to pursue happiness, I have the responsibility to show humility and express gratitude for all the blessings I enjoy and the rights I’ve been given.

5. Because I have the right to honest and good government I will seek out honest and just representatives when possible. If I cannot find one then I accept the responsibility to take that place.

6. Because I have the God given right to liberty, I have the personal responsibility to have the courage to defend others to be secure in their persons, lives and property.

7. Because I have the right to equal justice, I will stand for those who are wrongly accused or unjustly blamed.

8. Because I have the right to knowledge, I will be accountable for myself and my children’s education…to live our lives in such a way that insures the continuation of truth.

9. Because I have the right to pursue my dreams and keep the fruits of my labor, I have the responsibility to feed, protect and shelter my family, the less fortunate, the fatherless, the old and infirm.

10. Because I have a right to the truth, I will not bear false witness nor will I stand idly by as others do.

Unconditionally, while maintaining my responsibility to compassionately yet fiercely stand against those things that decay the natural rights of all men. And for the support of this declaration, and with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence we mutually pledge to each other our lives, fortunes and sacred honor.

 

– Glenn Beck

The False Identity Narrative

If you are anything but a straight white Christian male, Democrats are dumbfounded if you vote Republican.

Why?

Because they have successfully constructed and promulgated a narrative of false identity. If you’re a woman, you’re obviously voting with reproductive “rights” in mind. If you’re a Hispanic, you’re voting with immigration in mind. If you’re black, poverty programs. If you’re gay, the definition of marriage. If you’re Muslim, non-discrimination.

I didn’t decide on those labels and corresponding issues. Democrats did, and that’s a demonstrable fact.

Our differences automatically put us into distinct boxes (read: voting blocs). As a result, our identity as “Americans” is eroding. Being American means you are recognized as having immutable value that is derived from your creation as a unique individual human.

Increasingly, however, your identity as an individual is overshadowed by your specific traits that put you in a subgroup like the ones listed above. Your subgroup dictates your concerns and priorities, which therefore determine your voting preference. And since democrats have tailored the conversation on each issue to fit your specific subgroup, namely by assigning absolutes and red herrings to any change to existing legislation proposed by the republican candidate, the only logical choice is pressing the button for the candidate with a D beside his or her name.

Once you are in a box, you are not allowed to leave — peacefully. Yes, you’re technically allowed to leave, but you will forever be branded a traitor to those you left in the box — those who have your (supposed) best interest at heart.

We have lost our way, not because we choose to vote democrat or republican as a matter of conscience, but because we have bought into this false collective identity narrative. If you choose to vote democrat, I will respectfully disagree with you 99% of the time. But that is your right, and I am assuming you came to your decision with careful thought — as an individual. I ask that you do the same for not only me but my fellow Americans — white, black, Hispanic, Asian, lesbian, gay, Christian, Muslim, atheist, rich, poor — everyone.

Inevitable Confusion and Mental Reorientation After the Election

Leading up to the Presidential election of 2012, my hope for an end of the administration with which I had disagreed so fervently and persisently was growing shaky. But I held out until election day, thinking that America would learn from its mistake four years ago and opt for a better choice this time around. When I woke up Wednesday morning after the election, there’s no doubt I was shaken — but not with apocalyptic fears about what Barack Obama could or would do with another four years. I was shaken by a stark realization about my fellow Americans. Skip to the end if you want to know what it is. Or read on to figure out what made me see it.

Let’s look at the recent sequester: In 2013, the infamous sequester is set to cut $85 billion out of $3.5 trillion in estimated spending. That’s the same as cutting $85 out of a $3500 budget. Politicians like our President, as well as liberal media, have been gushing with tales of horror and doom that will most certainly result because of this meager 2.4% cut. Now that’s not to say that the sequester wasn’t poorly conceived, as evidenced by cutting things like the military’s college tuition assistance while leaving the Congressional salaries intact. But still, $85 billion was cut. And people flipped out. Are you kidding me? When the whole debt stands at $16.6 trillion?

Furthermore, we will spend about $3.5 trillion this year. About $1.6 trillion of that will be deficit spending. How is this not universally seen as problematic? Why would we reelect a man who brought us three $1 trillion+ deficits in a row?

And yet to bring this up to an Obama voter is to regurgitate a “Faux News” talking point. Excuse me for asking an obvious question, but how did we get here? Is the debt truly a problem, or do people in power give it lip service to make themselves appear concerned? Apparently the electorate doesn’t mind. Not only did we reelect a President who presided over the addition of twice as much debt as his predecessor in just half the time it took his predecessor, we reelected a remarkable 90% of sitting Congress members, despite repeated abysmal approval ratings of Congress generally.

Look, I’m not here to bash Obama, liberals, or Democrats. Everyone in Washington bears their part of the blame. I’m just aghast that anyone, anywhere, of any political stripe, would vote for people who perpetrate this kind of reckless irresponsibility upon our country, no matter what letter stands beside their name. And the deficit is only one of many problems towards which Americans have developed a dangerous level of apathy. I’m literally shocked into silence that our country could see what is happening and still say, “Four (or two, or six) more years, please!”

When a problem of this magnitude stares you in the face and you simply cast your ballot for more of the same, then we can no longer blame the person in the White House. We can only blame ourselves.