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  • Archive for January, 2009

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXIX

    Friday, January 23rd, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    I am continuing in my extended review of  Christopher Hitchens book “God Is Not Great,” and his defense of atheism in chapter 17.  As I pointed out last time, given how he has attempted to attack religion in the first sixteen chapters, this is pretty much a no win situation for Hitchens, as he has put himself into a box he cannot now escape.  Still that does not deter him from trying, and what follows is a highly selective view of history, in which he attempts to justify his claim that these secular regime, hostile to at least traditional religions and boasting of their scientific foundations, were in fact actually religious rather than secular. 

    Much of Hitchens’ supporting evidence is inconsistent and is at best little better than “grand conspiracy theory ” type thinking that attempts to find the sinister hand of religion pulling the string behind these otherwise  benign atheist fronts.  But some of the problems that run throughout this chapter can be seen in a couple of revealing quotes.  On page 241, Hitchens acknowledges that “Many Christians gave their lives to protect their fellow creatures in this midnight of the century, but the chances that they did so on orders from any priesthood is statistically almost negligible.” 

    This sentence alone is would be enough to fatally damage Hitchens claim. He attempts to write off these Christians who died to protect others, not to mention the many others who likewise risked their lives without dying,  as acting “in accordance only with the dictates of conscience,” hoping thereby to exclude the influence of religion upon their actions. But does religion consist solely of following the orders of a priesthood? 

    It is just a fact that many Popes throughout history have condemned persecution of the Jews by Christians, and that within Christian Europe , the further a Jew lived from Rome, and thus the influence of the Church, the more they were at risk from persecution. This does not absolve Christianity from guilt when it comes to the persecution of the Jews, nor should it.  But if Christians acting in direct contradiction to the dictates from the Rome, can still be seen as religious in their persecution of the  Jews in the Middle Ages, how can Christians risking their lives to save Jews in the 20th century, be seen as secular, simply because they were nor explicitly ordered to do so by a priesthood?  The double standard implicit in Hitchens’ argument is staggering.

    Ultimately, Hitchens’ argument ignores the role of religion in shaping one’s conscience, and one’s sense of duty to our fellow creatures.  Are we really to believe that these Christians who risked their lives to save others, did so completely independent of Biblical teaching such as Lev19:6’s, command not to stand idly by the blood of your  neighbor,  or Jesus’ teaching concerning the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

    And of course, in a nice little sleight of hand,  Hitchens deftly diverts attention away from just whom these fellow creatures needed to be protected from. So what we have here is Christians  risking, and in some cases sacrificing, their lives to save their fellow human being from atheist regimes that sought their extermination, and Hitchens wants us to conclude from this that atheism is free from blame and that religion was actually the culprit.  Talk about turning things upside down.

    From here Hitchens further attempts to make his case by claiming that “those who invoke ‘secular Tyranny in contrast to religion are hoping that we will forget two things: the connection between the Christian churches and fascism, and the capitulation of the churches to National Socialism.” (pg 242)

    This is a classic example of a seemingly devastating point that is really quite meaningless.  Fascism, in the mid-1930s was a large an popular movement with many supporters even in the United States.  Given the size and popularity of  Fascism and number of Christians in Europe, it is hardly surprising that there were some connection between some Christians and Fascism, and in fact there were some Christians who were strong supporters of the fascists. But that hardly makes fascism a religious movement or Christianity responsible.  To put this in perspective it is also a fact the same could be said about Jews, but would anyone seriously claim that Fascism was therefore a Jewish movement?

    The simple fact is that if you look the major leaders of fascism, and communism for that matter, they were atheists who were seeking to apply the principles of science to the governing of society. The intellectual roots of these movements were solidly grounded, not in religion, but in the dialectic materialism of Karl Marx, the evolutionary theories of Charles Darwin, and philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche, particularly on the death of God as an idea that should have any influence us. These leaders, both political and intellectual, saw religion at best as merely a tool to be exploited to achieve their aims, and at worst a competitor to be eliminated.

    As for the capitulation of the churches, this sadly is true, and it is a major mark against the church that it did not do more to resist such evil. But however bad the churches failure, and it was bad, it was still a failure of omission.  Thus Hitchens argument is in reality that the Christians, not atheist are responsible, because the Christians did not do enough to stop the atheists.   A very strange argument indeed.

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

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXVIII

    Friday, January 16th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    In my extended review of  Christopher Hitchens book “God Is Not Great,” I have finally reached chapter 17. At this chapter Hitchens has finished his main arguments against religion, the vast majority of which were examples of religious people behaving badly. Of course this leads to a natural question of what about atheists who have behaved badly.   So here Hitchens attempts to show that same standard he has used to attack religion, somehow does not apply to atheism.

    He sums up the situation writing, “When the worst has been said about  the Inquisition and the  witch trials and the Crusades and the Islamic imperial conquests and the horrors of the Old Testament, is it not true that secular and atheist regimes have committed crimes and massacres that are, in the scale of things, at least as bad if not worse?” (pg 229)

    Hitchens begins his defense with one of his typically sarcastic and false, comments that “it is interesting to find that people of faith now seek defensively to say that they are no worse than fascists or  Nazis or Stalinists.”  (pg 230).  Hitchens “inexpensive observation” (pg 230) makes a number of errors key to this entire discussion.  The first is that the argument against secularism is not that the crimes of the secular regimes equaled those of religion, but that in a single century they far exceed those of Christianity in 20 centuries.  The Spanish Inquisition one the classic examples of the  crimes of Christianity resulted in the deaths of about 2000 people.  While a terrible crime these number hardly even compare to the 11 million dead in the concentration camps of Hitler, whose crimes don’t even compare to those of Stalin and Mao who were responsible for  the deaths of well over 100 million people.

    More importantly whereas the crimes of Christianity were the result a mixture of corruption in the church and barbaric nature of the past, the crimes of these secular movements occurred in the  enlighten modern times, and were much more inherent to these regimes, than corruptions within them. So there is hardly any equating going on. 

    Primarily such arguments against secularism are aimed at showing the problems with atheist attacks in two ways.  First, even if everything atheists said were true and characterized correctly, this would not argue in favor or secularism as secularism’s record is far worst.  Second it shows the inconsistency, and thus illogical nature of the secular arguments, for the same reasoning can equally be used against them.  Thus in reality it is not so much an attack against atheism per se, but rather atheist’s reasoning.

    Following his initial remarks Hitchens proceeds with his main line of defense  by first attempting to link these secular regimes to religion, writing, “For most of human history, the idea of the total or absolute state was intimately bound up with religion.” (pg 231)  There are a whole range of problems here, not the least of which are historical.   But there is more fundamental problem with this whole line of argument, for no matter how one attempts to make it there are tremendous problems. 

    First is the question of whether these secular movements were religious.  If these secular regimes which were strongly anti-traditional religion were in fact religious,  then one must have a definition of religion that is broader than just a belief in one or more Gods, a definition of religion that would include atheism.

    Now, as I discuss in my book , Christianity and Secularism,  I believe such a broader understanding of religion to be more accurate, and that atheism is at least fundamentally religious.  But if this is the case, then atheists are either arguing against their own views, or their arguments must only apply to some religions, not all. Either way there are problems.  The only other option would be to try and claim that their brand of atheism was not religious like these other types of atheism, but that would certainly involve special pleading.   

    On the other hand if these secular regimes were not religions, but only adopted a characteristic of religion,  there are still major problems. For such characteristic to be found outside of religion would mean that these characteristics were not and of themselves religious but rather something that could be found in religious movements or non-religious movements, and thus could not be held against religion.

    This in fact is a problem with most atheist arguments against religion, and is found throughout Hitchens’ book.   That such evils can be found in religious people, in the end is little more than a confirmation of the biblical teaching that we live in a fallen world corrupted by sin, and that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.  (Rom 3:23)

    However if this latter line is taken, the argument against secularism remains, for while these evils can be found in both religious and secular people, the secular regimes of the 20th century rejecting religious morality, and instead looking to science as there guide committed the greatest evils the world has ever know.

    Based on Hitchens’ discussion, he seem to fall into the latter category, ultimately arguing,  not so much against religion, but against “the totalitarian mind-set” that has “‘total answers to all questions.”  While it allows Hitchens to distinguish his view of atheism from these other type of atheism, it likewise excludes all traditional religions that do not share such views. In short, we find that most of his arguments against religion have really been again something else.

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

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXVII

    Friday, January 9th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

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    Chapter sixteen of Christopher Hitchens book “God Is Not Great,” deals with a question, one  now routinely raised by the neo-atheists, of whether religion is child abuse.  Hitchens starts with, “the imponderably large question.  How can we ever know how many children had their psychological and physical lives irreparably maimed by the compulsory inculcation of faith?”  (pg 217)  Of course one could also ask the equally imponderably large question,  how can we know how many children found comfort and joy in their faith? 

    I would suspect that it was far larger, but either way what Hitchens question once again reveals is the illogical nature of his approach,  particularly  how Hitchens attempts to jump from antidotal stories to grand universal conclusions. As a result the reader is often left agreeing with Hitchens condemnation of  particular practices yet puzzled as to how this affects even Christianity in general, much less religion as a whole.

    To see the problem  consider  the fact that all the hype surrounding  Global Warming is causing many children to be worried some to the point of losing sleep and having nightmares.   Now it would be quite reasonable to question the amount and types of information we are exposing our children to when it comes to the issues such as Global Warming. Yet  if we were to apply Hitchens reasoning to this, we would conclude that we should not teach our children about science at all.

    Still Hitchens argument get even stranger.  As examples of immoral teaching inflicted on children Hitchens points to abortion.   It is to his credit that Hitchens acknowledges the fetus to be an “unborn child” and not just a mass of flesh, and he is also correct that “this only opens the argument rather than closes it.” (pg 221)  But from this he moves to justify abortion by pointing to the fact that there are miscarriages as if abortions were just another type of miscarriage.  Frankly this would be like pointing to the fact some children die naturally before reaching adulthood and thus infanticide is just another form of infant mortality.

    To make matters even worse Hitchens attempts to justify his view by pointing to evolution.  Hitchens claims, “in utero we see a microcosm of nature and evolution itself.  In the first place we begin as tiny forms that are amphibian, before gradually developing lungs and brains.”  (pg 221) At first I did not fault Hitchens here.  This myth was invented by Haeckel who deliberately distorted his drawing of the embryo to show a progress that in reality does not happen. While this has been known to be false for over a century, it continue to appear in textbooks, and so I was willing to give Hitchens a pass on this one.

    But later in the book, Hitchens mentions Jonathan Wells and his book, Icons of Evolution, which details this fraud. Whether Hitchens’ rejection of Wells’ book is based on having read it, of if he just reflexively rejected it simply because it was critical of evolution is unclear. But either way he has no excuse for continuing to spread such a myth.

    But things get even worse for Hitchens goes on to write concerning evolution, “the system is fairly pitiless in eliminating those who never had a very good chance of surviving in the first place.”  When talking about natural processes, this is one thing but when this is used to justify family planning it comes dangerously close, if not to, eugenics. Ultimately there is a very strange paradox in this argument that Hitchens seems to be completely unaware of, for one of the major pieces of evidence that religion is child abuse that he gives is that religion opposes killing children in the womb.

    From there he move to “the mutilation of infant genitalia.”  While he attempt to equate the male and female circumcision, there is hardly any equation as they have different purposes and results.  Female circumcision is really an attempt to eliminate any pleasure from sex. In addition, it is a social custom found in Northern Africa more than a religion custom,  though it is often linked to Islam as that is the dominate religion in the area. But it is found among non-Muslims in the area, and is generally not practiced by Muslims outside of the area except among those who have immigrated.  So the common link would be the culture for the area more than religion.  

    When it comes to male circumcision, there things are hardly as clear as Hitchens states. While there is a clearly Jewish injunction to be circumcised, there is no such Christian injunction as Acts 15 makes clear. As for the secular reasons for circumcision, the best one can really say is that this is a hotly debated topic. While Hitchens writes concerning the secular reasons for circumcision that, “Medicine has exploded these claims” (pg 226), a quick web search took me to the Mayo Clinic and a page to help parents with the pros and cons.   

    In the end Hitchens’ claim that Religion is Child Abuse like the previous claims is seriously flawed.  However, his use of myth as if it were science, his flirting with eugenics type reasoning,  and his strange claim that opposing abortion is an example of child abuse make this chapter one of his worse.  If this chapter were indicative  of secular rational thought, it would itself be a strong argument for religion.   But in the end he simply fails to make his case.

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