March 2017
M T W T F S S
« Jul    
 12345
6789101112
13141516171819
20212223242526
2728293031  

Elgin’s Books


  • Christianity and Secularism

  • Evidence for the Bible
  • A Review of Christopher Hitchens’ God Is Not Great – Summary

    Saturday, February 21st, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

    The following is an outline of my review of Christopher Hitchens’, “God is not Great

    Part I – Chapter One
    The definition of Atheism. Do “the faithful” commit more crimes? Are atheist dogmatic?

    Part II – Chapter One
    the “four irreducible objections to religious faith.”  Religion and sex

    Part III – Chapter One.
    Do believers claim to know everything?  “essential knowledge”

    Part IV – Chapter One
    Are we evil, or just partly rational?  What is ‘reason.’ Worldviews.  Reason and the existence of God.

    Part V – Chapter One
     The core weaknesses of atheism: rational evil.  Eugenics and Social Darwinism.

    Part VI – Chapter One
    the “Secular injunction” in Philippians 4:8  Truth, Justice, Lovely, Pure, and Virtue.

     Part VII- Chapter Two
    Why aren’t believers happy?  Christians who interfere in the lives of others? Charitable giving.

    Part VIII – Chapter Two.
    Hitchens and Dennis Prager.   Northern Ireland.

    Part IX – Chapter Three.
    Jews, Muslim and Pork.  Do prohibitions grow out of repressed desire? Being Holy.

    Part X – Chapter Four.
    Religion and Health.  Conspiracy theories. the fallacy of post hoc ergo propter hoc or false cause.

    Part XI – Chapter Four.
    Cardinal Alfonso Lopez de Trujillo and condoms, and the politicization of science.

    Part XII – Chapter Four.
    Religion and Medicine, The fallacy of Hasty Generalization, the Black death. The germ theory of disease. 

    Part XIII – Chapter Five
    The Metaphysical claims of Religion. Atheist’s demand for proof. Religion vs. the behavioral sciences.

    Part XIV – Chapter Five
    The secularization of society.  The fallacies of appeal to the people and appeal to misplaced authority. Ockham’s razor.  Do we need God to explain the universe? probable arguments. deductive logic and inductive logic.

    Part XV – Chapter Six
    Hitchens distorted view of religion. Religion and Superstition.  Miracles, evil, and the problem of evil.

    Part XVI – Chapter Six
    Arguments from design. Paley. Hitchens argument concerning death and the universe.  Design and purpose.

    Part XVII – Chapter Six
    Specific arguments for Design.  Myths used to support evolution. evolution is unfalsifiable.

    Part XVIII – Chapter Seven
    The Old Testament.  Hitchens view of revelation. The Ten Commandments. Slavery. stoning of children for disobedience

    Part XIX – Chapter Eight
    The New Testament. “if English was good enough for Jesus…”  The flat earth.  Biblical scholarship.  Dating the New Testament.

    Part XX – Chapter Eight
    Reliability of the Gospels, Liberal Scholarship. Two major Errors of Hitchens.  The “other gospels.”  Virgin birth. Bart Ehrman.

    Note:  I skipped chapter Nine as it dealt with the Koran.

    Part XXI – Chapter Ten 
    Miracles.  Hume. The resurrection. The nature of miracles.  Freewill.  Proof and evidence.

    Part XXII – Chapter Ten, Eleven, Twelve, Thirteen    
    Chapter 10: The lost of belief.  
    Chapter 11:  The origin of religion. The Melanesian “cargo cult” Marjoe Gortner. Mormonism. Chapter 12:  The end of religion
    Chapter 13: Does religion make people better? Martin Luther King.  Abolition.   

    Part XXIII – Chapter Thirteen   
    Who is a Christian. Thomas Jefferson and John Adams. Hitchens refutes the majority of his  own book.

    Part XXIV – Chapter Thirteen   
    Are atheist immoral? The foundations of morality. Marriage.   

    Note:  I skipped Chapter Fourteen as it deals with eastern religions.

    Part XXV – Chapter Fifteen
    Is Religion Immoral? Presenting a false picture of the world to the innocent and the credulous. doctrine of blood sacrifice. Atonement.  Anti-Semitism. Corporate Guilt.

    Part XXVI – Chapter Fifteen
    Atonement. religious laws that are impossible to obey.

    Part XXVII – Chapter Sixteen
    Is religion child abuse. Abortion.  Evolution myths. Eugenics. Circumcision.

    Part XXVIII – Chapter Seventeen
    Atheists and the evils of the 20th century.  The definition of religion. “the totalitarian mind-set.”

    Part XXIX – Chapter Seventeen
    Hitchens attempts to link 20th century evils to religion. Christians who risked their lives to save others.  Fascism and Christianity.

    Part XXX – Chapter Seventeen
    The problem with focusing on the evil in others.  

    Part XXXI – Chapter Eighteen
    The Resistance of the Rational.  Galileo. Socrates. Gibbon. The Fall of Rome.

    Part XXXII – Chapter Nineteen
    A New Enlightenment.  Lessing. Faith and Reason. Worldviews.

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXXII

    Friday, February 20th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Listen to the MP3

    In my extended review of Christopher Hitchens book “God Is Not Great,” I have finally reached the last chapter, “In Conclusion: The Need for a New Enlightenment.”  Hitchens opens the chapter with a discussion of a quote by Lessing, where he says that given the opportunity to know all truth, he would reject the offer in favor of pursuing the truth, even knowing he would remain thereby in error.  Of course this raises the question of why pursue something if obtaining it is not the goal. 

    But for Hitchens this is not a question of a choice between “All truth” and the pursuit of truth.  Hitchens equates knowing “all truth” with faith, and for him the question becomes a choice between faith and reason, faith and modernity, faith and technology, and even a choice between faith and civilization itself. 

    Of course this is a false choice.  I am religious and I certainly do not claim to know all truth.  Far from it and I spend much of my time pursuing it.  But this error goes to the heart of the atheist’s argument, and so in an odd sort of way it is fitting that Hitchens end his book with this error. 

    In reality it is not that those who are religious claim to know the truth, are dogmatic, blindly accepting certain truths, lack skepticism, or do not have a passion for inquiry.  There are certainly some who are religious who would fit this description, just as there are some who don’t believe in god for whom this would also be an accurate description.  Frankly some of the most closed minded and dogmatic people I have run into have been militant atheists.  Not all to be sure, but the simple fact is that these traits can be found amongst all groups, atheist and theist alike. 

    Those who believe in God can seek the truth and can learn and grow just like atheists.  As many have pointed out, including a few atheists, science had its roots in the Judeo-Christian worldview and many of the earlier greats minds of science, like Kepler, Newton, and even Galileo were Christians.  The real problem is not that we don’t search for truth or look at the evidence, but rather that theists reach different conclusions and consider other possibilities, possibilities that are prohibited in the atheist’s materialistic worldview.

    And that is the real problem.  Christians make no bones about it, we have a worldview, a framework in which we evaluate the evidence and apply reason as we strive to learn the truth.  Atheists claim that this shapes how we look at things and the conclusions that we reach; which is quite true, for that is exactly what frameworks do. 

    Where the atheists go wrong is that they also have a framework, a framework in which the only thing that exists is the material universe governed by natural law.  The atheist worldview shapes how they look at things and the conclusions they reach, just as much as the Christian worldview does for Christians.  Frankly, it probably affects them more.  While most Christians realize that they have a worldview, most atheists not only don’t, they frequently deny it.  For them, they don’t have a worldview that shapes their thinking, they just have reality, and see everything else as wrong, all the while claiming confidently not to be dogmatic, but open minded. 

    For the atheist, the existence of God, the supernatural, that we have a soul, etc., does not fit into their worldview and so for them, these things not only do not exist, they cannot exist.  While they are adept at pointing out problems in the theist worldview, any problem, lack of evidence, or evidence to the contrary for the atheist worldview, is simply ignored with the claim that “we will figure it out someday.” When it is demonstrated that the odds against the things they believe must have happened are unimaginably large, they just cling tightly to the minuscule possibility at they happened, however small.  Their worldview permits nothing else.  In fact they sometimes reply, as some have with the origin of life, that however small the odds, it must have happened because we are here. 

    While they are quick to attack religions for their irrational beliefs, often going to the point of casting this as a battle between faith and reason, their attacks are often themselves irrational, which  I have repeated pointed out, is the case with Hitchens.  The real problem in seeing this as a battle between faith and reason,  is that atheists have a distorted definition of faith, which is in reality for them, simply a belief in something that is false.  But that is not faith.  Faith is trusting something to the point of acting on it.  In the Christian worldview, you have faith in God by following his teachings, the first step being accepting Jesus as your savior. 

    Atheists have faith in their worldview just as much as Christians do in theirs.  Which worldview is right? Well I have written two books, Christianity and Secularism and Evidence for the Bible laying out my view of the evidence.  On the other hand, as I have show many times here, Hitchens arguments are based on sloppy thinking, errors and irrationalities, and thus hardly provide a firm foundation for his claims.

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

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXXI

    Friday, February 13th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Listen to the MP3

    In  my extended review of  Christopher Hitchens book “God Is Not Great,” I have come to chapter 18, A Finer Tradition: The Resistance of the Rational.  The chapter struck me as a very strange chapter, for it left me with the feeling that Hitchens lives in somewhat of a fantasy world, where atheists are a small but noble underground valiantly fighting in the face of great odds against some dark and evil empire.

     Hitchens view of history is a very black and white one, where everything bad is in some way connected to religion and anything good must be the result of something other than religion.  Thus Hitchens writes, “When we read of the glories of ‘Christian” devotional painting and architecture, or ‘Islamic’ astronomy and medicine, we are talking about advances of civilization and culture.” (p. 254)

    As much as he likes, Hitchens cannot have it both ways.  He cannot have religion “at all times and in all places” subjecting non-believers to “ruthless suppression” (p. 254) on the one hand, but a completely absent force when it comes to the “advances of civilization and culture”  on the other.  People are much too complex to allow for such a nice, neat compartmentalization of their various and diverse aspects of their lives.

    A good example of this is Galileo, whom Hitchens mentions as one who “might have been unmolested  in his telescopic work if he had not been so unwise as to admit that it had cosmological implications.” (p. 255)  Hitchens contrasts this with those  did kept “their innermost thoughts from the scrutiny of the godly.” (p. 255)  Yet the story of Galileo is not so straight forward and simple as atheists like Hitchens seem to believe. 

    As Dava Sobel has written in her excellent book “Galileo’s Daughter,”  Galileo “remained a good Catholic who believed in the power of prayer and endeavored always to conform his duty as a scientist with the destiny of his soul.”  (p. 11-12)  As I point out in Evidence for the Bible “Rather than a conflict between science and religion, or even between science and Christianity, the conflict was at best a conflict with the Catholic Church”  as his works “were published and studied by protestants without conflict.” (p. 85)

    Rather than the titanic struggle between faith and reason that atheists like to claim, this was more an issue of a bureaucracy attempting to maintain its hold on power, as this occurred during the Protestant Reformation.  Even within the Catholic church Galileo had many supporters.  His primary opponents were the Aristotelian professors who were driven more by conflicts between Galileo’s discoveries  and the teachings of Aristotle than any conflict with the Bible.

    Similar problems plague many of Hitchens’ other examples.  Hitchens sees “the original collision between our reasoning faculties and any form of organized faith” in the trial and death of Socrates.  For Hitchens the matter is simple he was “indicted for godlessness and knew is life forfeit.” (p. 255) But like Galileo, things are not quite so simple. 

    In the decade  leading up to his trial, the democracy of Athens was twice over thrown for short periods by pupils of Socrates. When the democracy was restored for the second time in order to resort peace a general amnesty was issued; an amnesty that many must have been unhappy with given the numbers that had been killed. 

    Rather than religion as the driving force, the trial of Socrates was driven more by a mixture  of an attempt to prosecute Socrates despite the amnesty that had been granted and fear that his continuing to gather young students around him without any change in his teachings would spawn yet more attempts to overthrow the democracy of Athens.  

    Much of  Hitchens’ accounts are so vague as to be hard to judge.  For example, writing about Gibbons, and his monumental work “Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire” he simply says that Hume “warned him that there would be trouble , which there was.” (p. 267)  Exactly what he means by “trouble” and what kind of  trouble Gibbons faced is not stated.

    One source of the problems was the fact that Gibbons argued that Christianity was a cause of the downfall of Rome, a view that other historians have since questioned.  Frankly it is much more likely that the growth of Christianity was a result, rather than a cause of the downfall of Rome. Yet it would seem that in Hitchens’ world, while atheists are completely free to attack, criticize, and ridicule the views of theists, theists must not respond less they be seen as part of some “ruthless suppression.” 

    Again this is not to argue the opposite, that the history of Christianity is all good.  But Hitchens’ black and white approach to these questions hardly supports his claim to be on the side of the rational.

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

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXX

    Friday, February 6th, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Listen to the MP3

    I am continuing in my extended review of  Christopher Hitchens book “God Is Not Great,” and his defense of atheism in chapter 17.  Last time, I looked at how Hitchens deftly attempted to shift the blame for the secular evils of the twentieth century onto religion effectively arguing that Christians are to blame because they did not do enough  to prevent the evils committed by atheists.  But there is a deeper issue here, one that is a problem for all groups, theists and atheists alike.

    As I wrote earlier pointing to the evils committed by atheists, is not so much an attack against atheism per se, but rather atheist’s reasoning.   As I wrote in Christianity and Secularism, it is “to point out that any system that involves people can be directed toward evil. I am sure neither Charles Darwin nor Karl Marx intended evil to come from their works. Still, they planted the seeds for the greatest evils in history.” (pg 118)

    The key issue here is that good and bad people can be found in and out of religion.  While history has show that secular regimes have been by far the worst, that could change. Not all religions are the same. The 20th century evils could be eclipse by radical Islam if its adherents can acquire the weapons of mass destruction they are seeking.

    Nor is it impossible that in the future a radical form of Christianity could appear that could be a similar threat.  One of the surest ways to run into problems is to focus too much on the evil in other groups, while assuming your own group is somehow immune.  The danger from evil is ever present and history has clearly shown that being religious or an atheist is not an automatic safeguard.  

    This is nothing new. As Jesus pointed out in Matthew 7:3, we can see the speck in the eyes of others, while missing the beam that is in our own.  Instead of pointing to the past evils committed by others as an example of how bad the current group is, we should instead focus more on current evils and how to stop them and how to prevent evil in the future.   This is not to say that we should ignore past evils, we shouldn’t.  We should learn from them, not in an us-versus-them way, but seeking the common traits, traits that can appear in any group, so that we can avoid them.

    We should also focus more on the beam in our own eye.  One of the easiest ways to fall into evil, is to think you are immune. For Christians, this means acknowledging the great evil that has been done at times in the name of Christ.  But for atheists, it also means acknowledging the great evil done by atheists.  Neither can just blame it on the other.

    It is a simple fact that criticism from within a group will be far more effective at limiting evil than criticism from those outside, as criticism from others is often confused as an attack.  While I could be wrong, I believe that if Muslims in general were to be as outraged over those who target and kill the innocent in the name of Allah, as they have been over cartoons of Mohammad  and stories about alleged mishandling of the Koran, there would be a lot less terrorism.  Likewise, if it were not for the clear and consistent condemnation of the few who have bombed abortion clinics or murdered abortionists, not only by the majority of Christians, but by all anti-abortion groups , I believe there would have been more bombings and murders.

    One of the reasons I believe that the teachings of Christ are so important is not because it automatically makes me a better person, but because it teaches that all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Rom 3:23).   In addition it teaches that we have hope.  While we are saved by grace, that only begins a process of discipleship in which we should continually strive to be more like Jesus.

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

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXIX

    Friday, January 23rd, 2009 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Listen to the MP3

    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

    Listen to the MP3

    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

    Listen to the MP3

    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.

     

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXVI

    Friday, December 19th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Listen to the MP3

    In Chapter fifteen of his book “God Is Not Great,” Christopher Hitchens tries to make the case that “Religion is not just amoral, but positively immoral.”(pg 205)  Last time I examined his claims for the first three of his points  and ended by pointing out that, while I can see why Hitchens might see the atonement of Christ as a myth, he does not say why it is immoral?  Strangely, he does somewhat  address this point, not in the section on the atonement, but in the beginning of the next section which he labels as dealing with his final two points,  eternal reward and the imposition of impossible tasks.

    Pointing to the example of Sidney Carton in “A Tale of Two Cities,”  Hitchens says that while he could  “serve your term in prison or take your place on the scaffold… I cannot absolve you of your responsibilities. It would be immoral of me to offer, and immoral of your to accept.” (pg 211) 

    Two issues immediately came to mind upon reading this.  The first was the ever present question of  the basis on which Hitchens would say this was immoral?  However, there is a deeper problem for when it comes to the major views of the Atonement, none are focused on the absolution of responsibility and several are focused on the payment of the price for sin, something Hitchens seems to be ok with.   So, just exactly what Hitchens means  by this, is at best unclear.

    From there Hitchens moves on to address religious laws that are impossible to obey. There are a couple of problems with Hitchens complaint, not the least of which is Jesus’ statement to the Pharisees and how they “abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition”  (Mark 7:8 ISV) which would seem to fit many of Hitchens examples. 

    But even beyond this there are problems.  Several of Hitchens examples deal with how some religious groups make allowances for prostitution, such as the practice among some Muslim clerics to sanction short term marriages that will last just a couple of hours.  Does Hitchens really believe that it is impossible for men to avoid availing themselves of the services of prostitutes?  If not, then why is this included in his discussion of  commandments that are impossible to follow?

    At first Hitchens seem to be on somewhat better ground when he complains about the 10th commandment which he describes as forbidding  “people to even think about coveting goods in the first places” (emphasis in original).   But comparing Hitchens claim to that actual command quickly reveals problems.  The commandment is not about coveting goods, but coveting that which belongs to someone else. Again is this so impossible?

    Part of the problem here is Hitchens is never very clear by what he means by impossible to follow.  Impossible to follow for everyone, in the sense that while not everyone will use the services of a prostitute, some cannot seem to resist the temptation. Or by  impossible does he mean  impossible for individuals to follow all the time?  Then there is the problem that even if this was clearly defined and it was impossible,  it would not automatically follow that the rule is itself immoral. For example, everyone has at some pointed has lied, and therefore one of the most obvious candidates for Hitchens’ category of rules that are impossible to keep would be the rule against lying.  Yet few would want argue that it is immoral to have a rule against lying.

    Now while Hitchens does not make the case very well, there is the issue that given our sinful nature, as the Bible clearly states in Romans, 3:23 “all have sinned and continue to fall short of God’s Glory.” (ISV) But the problem here is not in the laws, but in our in our sinful nature.   Hitchens see this as itself a problem claiming “nothing could be sillier than having a ‘maker’ who then forbade the very same instinct he instilled,” (pg 214) though  this argument somewhat ignores the fall.

    Hitchens ends with a somewhat muddles discussion of the golden rule, and how we act out of self -interest. In all this confusion,  distortion and rambling, Hitchens never quite gets around to addressing the immorality of eternal reward and punishment.  But then that is part of the problem.  Hitchens is not presenting a well thought out and reasoned argument.  He just makes bold claims and then used them as an excuse to launch attacks on religion, or at least what he describes as religion as most of the time he is really only attacking a distorted strawman of his own creation, and thereby frequently leaving the reader puzzled as to what his actual argument is really trying to say, other than that Hitchens does not like religion.

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

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXIII

    Friday, November 21st, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

    Listen to the MP3

    I am continuing in my extended review of Christopher Hitchens book “God Is Not Great,” and the question of whether religion makes people behave.   There is of course, as Hitchens points out a long list of Christians, to use Hitchens term, misbehaving.  But as I said last time, there are deeper issues here, which while fairly complicated can be summarized by into two areas. The first is just who is a Christian.   The second, is when a Christian misbehaves, are they doing it because of or in spite of their religion.

    Concerning the first question, what does it mean to be a Christian.  From a theological point of view this is actually pretty easy, a Christian is anyone who has entered into a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.  While easy theologically, is not very helpful here. Only God really knows the heart.  We might have pretty good guesses about some people in history as to whether or not they were actually in a saving relationship with Jesus, but we cannot know.

    While less theologically accurate a better definition for this question would be someone whose behavior was influenced by the teaching of Christ. While this initially sounds better, there are still many problems. 

    For example what level of influence is enough to be considered a Christian. If someone once heard of Jesus’ teaching in Luke 6:31 “Do to others as you would have them do to you”  and that sounded good to them so they decided it would govern how they lived their lives, would be enough to  count as Christian?

    On the other  hand what about someone who attends church regularly, but more out of convention or tradition then out of any deeply held belief, and the teaching of Christ have little if any actual impact on how they live their life? 

    Or what about someone who never attends Church and simply happens to have grown up in a Christian country and is influenced only to the extent that Christian teaching are pervasive in society?  Would a gang member who never attends church, but who wears a cross be considered a Christian?

    Even within the church, is a person who seeks and gets church office, not out of any real religious belief, but out of a desire for power, prestige, money, etc, a Christian?  This is an important question because this would describe much of the church hierarchy during the Middle Ages, and the corruption in the church they brought about led to the reformation. 

    To see the effect these questions have, lets consider one standard criticism of Christianity, all the atrocities committed by the Christians explorers of the New World.  Of these explores, who were the Christians?  Where they the ones who committed the atrocities frequently out of lust or greed, or were the priests, who wrote home complaining about how the native peoples were being abused and exploited, asking for the king or church or both, to end it. In fact the latter is one of the reasons these atrocities were so well documented.  Was it those seeking to exploit the native peoples, or those who resisted this exploitation, and who sometimes gave their lives trying to protect them?

    But none of this seems to matter very much to Hitchens. They can be considered religious, they misbehaved, and the enough for his argument.  In fact in his haste to condemn religion and cast dispersions, he at time drifts into error and confusion, if not counter argument.

    For example,  in writing about Islam and slavery, he references the comments of the ambassador of Tripoli to Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, referring to the latter  two as “two slaveholders.”   Now it was true that Jefferson did own slaves, but Adams, being from Massachusetts didn’t. Even more confusing, Hitchens said earlier that Jefferson was a deist, which he labels the compromise position before Darwin and Einstein (pg 66) and elsewhere has argued that he may have been an atheist.  So just what was the point of calling these two men “slaveholders.”  Was it just a gratuitous slander?  Was it an attempt to show the hypocrisy of the Founding Fathers, or that American Christianity was no better than Islam?  This is one of the problem with Hitchens.  While it is clear he is attacking and smearing, often it is not always clear how those attacks and smears actually relate to his overall argument, at least in any rational way.

    What makes it even more mystifying, is after nearly twelve pages of these examples, he finally comes to his argument, which  he starts by saying that “The first thing to be said is that virtuous behavior by a believer is no proof at all of … the truth of his belief.”  (p. 184-5) This is all well and good and Hitchens is quite correct here. What is mystifying is his following point where he claims, “By the same token, I do not say this if I catch a Buddhist priest stealing all the offerings left by the simple folk at his temple, Buddhism is thereby discredited.” (p. 185)  Oh, really?

    The vast majority of his book, is how religious people have acted badly and how this discredits religion.  Remove that component from his book, or the other Neo-Atheist books for that matter, and you are left with very little. We will look at the rest of his argument next time.      

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

    Hitchens – God Is Not Great XXII

    Friday, November 14th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

    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.