November 2008
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Elgin’s Books


  • Christianity and Secularism

  • Evidence for the Bible


  • Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXII

    Listen to the MP3

    At the end of chapter ten of his book “God Is Not Great,” Christopher Hitchens has a summation more fitting of his book as a whole, then of the chapter.  He writes of the lost of belief in what he labels as his “secular faith.”  “Thus,” he writes, “dear reader, if you have come this far and found your own faith undermined… I know what you are going through.”  It is almost as if his main argument spent Hitchens was running out of steam.   As I noted last time, the argument in this chapter were particularly weak, even for Hitchens.

    The arguments in the next chapter on the origin of religion, are likewise feeble.  At its core Hitchens argument is that the some religions have dubious origins, therefore all religions are false.   His examples are the Melanesian “cargo cult,” describing how religious beliefs came out of contact with more advance cultures,  Marjoe Gortner, self-professed evangelical huckster, and finally the origin of Mormonism.  At its core Hitchens argument is irrational for it commits the fallacy of hasty generalization.  But there are further problems from a Christian point of view.  The Bible is clear that there are false beliefs and false prophets.  Thus when Hitchens points to the problems of other religions, it is, if anything, a minor confirmation of the Bible on this point.

    This is also no doubt the reason for the inclusion of Gortner in this list. But when we consider Gortner, immediately there is the impression of one of those IQ tests where you are asked ‘which one of these things is not like the other.’   Hitchens’ discussion of the cargo cult, and Mormonism deals with the origin of religions, which is the subject of the chapter.   Gortner is a 20th century figure taking advantage of a religion that is already thousands of years old.

    The example of Gortner demonstrates nothing about the truth of actual Christianity, any more than the existence of huckster and con-artist demonstrates anything about the truth of actual medicine or science.  Does Hitchens seriously believe that we should denounce all of medicine because some snake-oil salesman is able to convince people to part with their money for some supposed cure?  If not then why should we denounce all religion, because Gortner can do the same in the guise of a preacher?

    Hitchens then has  a few comments on  the end of religion in chapter 12, which even for him, are more “useful and instructive” (p 169) than any actual argument. But these have no bearing on anything other than the small sect he discusses, so we will move on.  In chapter 13 Hitchens comes to the question of whether religion make people better? Hitchens knows he has a difficult task, and in fact this is in some respects an issue he has already dealt with in chapter two, where he argued that religion kills.  But there is a difference in the focus of the chapters, for while chapter two dealt with those who kill in the name of religion, this chapter start with those such as Martin Luther King and Gandhi, who argued for peaceful resistance in the face of injustice.

    For the most part the chapter starts with Hitchens dancing along a very narrow line, granting the positive contributions of King while downplaying any religious motivations.  This is difficult, for not only was King a minister, but he frequently used the Bible in his call for non-violent resistance to racial injustice and bigotry. Nor was King an aberration, for Christians played a long and key role in the this movement going back to the abolitionists of the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, and even earlier.  

    While Hitchens does give brief mention to this role, he understandably downplays it,  preferring to mention a few against whom he can use ad hominem attacks so as to discredit on other grounds. At the same time he points to secular people who also argued for abolition.  His basic argument seems to be that while “a few” (pg 177)  religious people did argue for racial justice, their calls for abolition were mixed in with other wild idea and thus could not be trusted. Nor were they needed as there were secularists who also called for abolition.

    In addition to the fallacious nature of such reasoning, and special pleading involved, Hitchens’ argument suffers two additional fatal flaws.  First, even if everything Hitchens says was true, he is granting that these people were motivated by religion for the good, thus undermining his own argument.  Second, his argument completely neglects the difficulties of the struggle, and the key role in that struggle played by Christians and other of religious faith.  Abolition in the 18th and 19th century, and civil rights in the 20th were not just abstract ideas to be accepted or rejected in a gentlemanly debate. They were huge social struggles with strong opposition in which people battled for decades, and for which some gave their lives, motivated by religious teachings of the Bible.

    Looking back the best Hitchens can really claim is that perhaps these movements did not really need their religious motivations after all, and secular motivations might have worked just as well, but this is somewhat like the disgruntled Monday morning quarterback whose team did not make it to the play offs trying to claim that his team could have done better than those who actually played.

    The simple historical fact is that religious motives did play a significant role in these movements. To deny that fact is to deny history. But there are even deeper problems with Hitchens argument and I will look at those next time.

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

    One comment on “Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXII

    1. Pingback: Hitchens - God is Not Great XXII - Energion.com Podcast

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