October 2008


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Archive for October 17th, 2008

Hitchens – God Is Not Great XIX

Friday, October 17th, 2008 by Elgin Hushbeck

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Continuing in my extended review of Christopher Hitchens’ book “God Is Not Great,” After having dealt with the Old Testament, in chapter seven, chapter eight takes on New, claim it “Exceeds the Evil of the ‘Old’ One.” Hitchens starts by claiming the New Testament is “a work of crude carpentry, hammered together long after its purported events” and that this has been borne out by Biblical scholarship. (p 110)

But not content to make this point, Hitchens follows it with a gratuitous insult claiming, ‘this arguments takes place over the heads of those to whom the ‘Good Book’ is all that is required.” and as an example, refers to a unnamed governor of Texas whom he quotes as saying “if English was good enough for Jesus, then it’s good enough for me.” (p 110)

The quote sounded to me like one of many smears spread by atheists and agnostics to attack believers. Such bigoted smears have a long history and are so entrenched into the culture that some are even taught in schools. For example, I was taught as a kid that Columbus had to battle the ignorance of Christians who believed that the earth was flat. This is a complete myth as was shown by the Historian Jeffery Burton Russell, in his book Inventing the Flat Earth. Still it is not at all uncommon to hear atheist and agnostics continue to perpetuate this and other anti-Christian myths.

As for Hitchens’ quote, I checked the back of the book for a reference and found none. I then read a discussion that I found on snopes.com a great place to check out urban legends, which pointed out that this quote was questionable as it had been attributed to a number of different people. A person in another discussion I read claimed that they had found the exact quote at NewsPaperArchive.com in a article published in 1927, but the article attributed the quote to a person from Arkansas, not Texas, and it was said as a joke. I would have check out this article but NewsPaperArchive.com is a paid site that charges $99 to join. So lacking any specific citation, it would appear that this quote is just another in a long line of myths used to attack Christianity.

As for his other insult that his argument concerning biblical scholarship was “over the heads of those to whom the ‘Good Book’ is all that is required.” (pg 110) there is a problem. If Hitchens qualification of “to whom the ‘Good Book’ is all that is required” refers to those who reject or ignore everything not in the Bible, then this refers to such a small faction of Christians as to be irrelevant. On the other hand if this is meant to refer to Christians in general, then it is simply false.

This brings me to the main problem with Hitchens argument concerning biblical scholarship, it is one sided and outdated. As for being one-sided, it would appear that to Hitchens biblical scholarship consists only of those who are critical of the Bible. Though, in his defense, one of the problems with liberal scholarship, is that it is very insular, ignoring for the most part criticism, problems and issues raised by conservative scholars. As I point out in Chapter Two of my book, Evidence for the Bible, there are some serious problems with the claims of liberal scholars.

More damaging to his claim is that, while earlier liberal scholarship was very critical of the NT, believing the books to have been dated long after the events as Hitchens claims, later scholarship has reversed this to some extent and more recent scholarship has been pushing the date of the writing back to, and in some cases even earlier than, the traditional dates. For example, liberal scholars of the 19th century dated the Gospel of John as late as 170 A.D., long after John had died. Then a fragment of the Gospel was found dating 125-130 destroying the later dates. More recent scholarship points to a date somewhat earlier than the traditional date in the 90s, with a few scholars even arguing for a date in the 50s or 60s.

The simple fact is that, rather than being over their heads, scholarship plays and important role in many Christians’ understanding of the Bible, and contrary to the impression Hitchens gives, many scholars are believing Christians who see their scholarship as deepening their faith. Now I know that Hitchens is aware of these Conservative scholars as he has debated some of them. But rather than a reasoned discussion of the evidence for and against his position, we get one sided pronouncements that ignore any scholarly disagreements, followed by a few insults to try and stifle any debate.

What makes this even more problematic is that Hitchens is claiming to be arguing for the rational over the irrational. But a one sided presentation filled with invective is not what one would call the epitome of rationality and in the end Hitchens comes off somewhat as parent vainly arguing do as I say, not what I do.

After taking time to attack and ridicule Mel Gibson for making The Passion of The Christ, what follows is then a one sided rehash of many of the common objections raised by skeptics. And that is where I will pick up next time.

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