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  • Archive for October 10th, 2008

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XVIII

    Friday, October 10th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Listen to the MP3

    In my extended review of Christopher Hitchens’ book “God Is Not Great,” I considered a further discussion concerning the evidence that points strongly to design, but since I cover this in chapter four of my book  Evidence for the Bible, I have decided to move on.  Those interested, should see my discussion there.

    Hitchens leaves no doubt about where he is going in the title of chapter seven  “Revelation: The Nightmare of the ‘Old’ Testament.”  Hitchens once again starts by creating a strawman, which he then proceeds to knockdown, defining revelation as God giving “unalterable laws” to “randomly selected human beings.”  Even with such a strawman, Hitchens still misses the mark with his first objection, i.e., that “several such disclosures have been claimed to occur, at different times and places, to hugely discrepant prophets or mediums” (pg 97) They cannot all be true, and while one may be authentic, “this seems dubious… and appears to necessitate religious wars.”   As with so many of Hitchens’ claims, this is more commentary than argument.

    Hitchens argues that, “the syncretic tendency of monotheism, and the common ancestry of the tales, mean in effect that a rebuttal to one is a rebuttal to all.”  (pg 98)  This could only be true if all alleged revelation were equally true, or equally false.  Yet they cannot all be equally true, if for nothing else, one of the revelations is that there would be false prophets, and thus false revelation. On the other hand, if you start by assuming they are all equally false, then there would be no need to make a rebuttal in the first place. So once again Hitchens argument simply does not make sense.

    From here Hitchens quickly moves to a discussion of the Ten Commandments, which he believes are “proof that religion is man-made.” (pg 99) However his justifications for this claim are at best nonsensical, such as his claim, yet another he considers “unanswerable,” that for God to included a prohibition against murder would imply that before this murder was acceptable, as if God could only give moral laws that were otherwise unknown.

    Much of Hitchens analysis ignores that while grounded in universal principles, many of the laws given to Moses were for a particular  purpose, to a particular people, at a particular time and in a particular cultural setting. In fact that they show this characteristic is for Hitchens evidence that they are man-made. However, this is a much easier conclusion to reach for one living in a culture that has been shaped and molded by the Bible for 3000 years and thus where it is easy to overlook the revolutionary character of these laws and the huge moral advancement that they represented.

    Hitchens ignores, or is unaware of,  the advancement and complains that these laws don’t match his conception of perfect. As an example, he points to the Bible regulations of slavery. Granted in a perfect world God would have just banned slavery, but we don’t have a perfect world. While Hitchens complains about the regulations, at the time they were a marked step forward over having no regulation at all.

    Like it or not slavery was so completely entrenched in the societies of the time, that a total prohibition was likely to be ignored. However, more humane treatment was easier to follows and thus much more likely to actually improve things. Historically this is what happened.  In fact the rules governing slaves were so restrictive that over time it resulted in later rabbis concluding “He who buys a Hebrew slave buys a master” and slavery virtually disappeared over time.  Thus while in theory, one might argue that an outright ban would have better reflected a perfect moral code, the result of the Laws on slavery did effectively end the practice.

    Hitchens also cites one of the other common examples of alleged cruelty, the stoning of children for disobedience. Again he ignores the revolutionary improvement the law brought about. What was new about the law was not the killing of children. That a parent had the right of life and death over a child was common place. sWhat was new was this power was being taken away from the parents, and transferred to the community, where it seems never to have been exercised.  Contrast this with the honor killing that continues to be a problem in some parts of the world.

    This is not to say that there are not difficult passages in the Old Testament. There are, such as God’s command to kill all the Amalekites, and some of which only God has the answer. But, these are for isolated and special events under unique circumstances.  They are not general moral precepts to be followed.

    Much of the rest of the chapter is taken up with the claims that the Old Testament is unhistorical and a restatement of theory that Moses did not write the first five books of the Bible. Both subjects I deal with in my book Evidence for the Bible.

    In the end, Hitchens exegesis of the Old Testament leaves a lot to be desired and his argument that it is a nightmare stands in stark contrast to what the Old Testament has actually produce.

    This is Elgin Hushbeck, asking you to Consider Christianity: a Faith Based on Fact.