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.