Wednesday, May 16, 2007

Last Night's Debate

The debate I attended last night was…terrible. It was less of a debate and more of Christopher Hitchens posing as an expert on religion with short asides by Dr. English. It should be noted that Hitchens is not educated formally in religion, history, or anything of the sort. However, as J.P. Moreland recently pointed out in some lectures he gave at Southeastern, the modern man feels that there is no truth in ‘religion’, thus there are no experts. If there are no experts then everyone is welcome to put their two cents in, regardless of the truthfulness of the argument. This is why a great many people (Oprah, for instance) feel comfortable making rather grandiose metaphysical claims.

So, back to the debate…the main points which I jotted down are as follows:
1)The Multiplicity of religions and conceptions of God prove that man made God
2)Religion is propagated by fear from the priestly class (a la Marx. Keep in mind that Hitchens is a former Trotskyite).
3)A question of Epistemology. How can you know about God?
4)“Grow up” and/or “mature” past religion.
5) “I don’t want to live in an eternal Korea where I’m constantly worshipping and thanking someone.”

Here are my thoughts:
1)The idea that religion spans the globe in all ages across all peoples shows commonality in man. It shows a desire to worship, at the very least. At most, it shows that all men know of God in some way. I don’t see how Hitchens connects the dots to get to a point where God is man-made. Religion may be man-made, but you have to explain away that pesky fact that the idea of God has permeated all of human history. Indeed, Hitchens has to imagine that at some point in human history, nearly all cultures spontaneously decided to create religion independently of one another while sharing a great deal in common. For instance, every major world religion has some kind of Sky God who is referenced with masculine grammar. Generally this Sky God is the Creator who is has great knowledge and power.
2)This is obviously a Marxian idea. It’s popular and easy to say this on this side of Christian history. I wonder how many Christians in the first 300 years of its inception would agree with Hitchens. The Christians who were burned as torches in the emperor’s gardens…do we imagine they propagated their religion by scare tactics, ruling over the masses as a priestly class? Quite the opposite. Anyone who says this makes me wonder how much historical research they’ve done. It may sound like a good idea, but it’s not true to historical fact, and that’s where we have to stay.
3) Hitchens assumes that because he does not know, then no one can. Of course, as an atheist, Hitchens would not allow Revelation (both Scripture and the ‘self-authenticating witness of the Holy Spirit’, if I may use Craig here) as a valid epistemological model. However, it’s not because of the validity of the argument for Revelation, but because of Hitchens’ own predisposition to anti-supernaturalism (which is fine).
4) This is repugnant. I’ve spoken about this earlier, but this really eats my lunch. Hitchens thinks that ‘primitive’ man was running around, scared of his own shadow, so he invented religion. This is a pretty grand idea, however, it’s just not true to history. For one, under Hitchens own beliefs, how does he suppose that nearly all cultures all over the globe decided to go this route? Why is it so nearly universal? Secondly, to imagine that because people lived longer ago they are immediately naïve and gullible is ridiculous. They may have had different thought processes than us (I don’t imagine Moses thought like I do), but they had the same capacity. This kind of argument is elitist and it’s just not true to what we know about people groups long ago. Read Lucretius (who Hitchens referenced), read Plato, read the Psalms or Ecclesiastes and you’ll find some pretty astounding thought.
5) Hitchens referenced North Korea where people are forced to ‘worship’ their leaders. In fact, he cleverly stated that they’re one deity away from a trinity (they have a father and a son). He stated that he doesn’t want to live in an eternal celestial North Korea. For one, he doesn’t have to worry about it at present. Secondly, N. Korea’s leaders are not worthy of worship. The reason why it’s joyous to worship God is because He is God. I would certainly have a hard time worshipping for eternity a being who did not deserve my worship.

Hitchens commits what C.S. Lewis calls “chronological snobbery.” When I was an atheist, I did the same thing. Atheists tend to “take for granted the prevailing ideas of our time and culture [as] unquestionably true.”[1] I think there’s something very en vogue about being an atheist. I know I used to fancy myself enlightened, intellectually superior to my Christian peers. They were locked into some silly myth that focuses on some guy who was crucified. Not I, oh no. I’m the enlightened one here. Snobbery. Sheer, utter, despicable snobbery. It may be applauded by some, particularly in the academy, but not by me. I’m not impressed. This is by no means a sweeping statement. I have friends who are atheists who are fantastic people who I love to death. A popular (former) atheist that I really admire is Anthony Flew. Although he is a bit of a deist now, when he was an atheist he didn’t have the mean streak that Dawkins and Hitchens have.
I should say that if you’re an atheist and you’ve arrived at that conclusion after giving a fair shake to the evidence on both sides…good for you. If you’re searching for the truth and that’s where the evidence has led you, I am 100% behind you. But if at any point your atheism is a fashion statement…if you’re in love with being an atheist rather than the philosophical propositions themselves, I believe you should reassess what you believe (actually, I think we should always be reassessing what we believe, but that’s just me). At that point, I think you’ve fallen into a trap of pseudo-intellectual elitism and you’ve stopped looking for truth.
So, back to Hitchens…I’m left wondering why he wrote the book at all. If you read Nietzsche, Russell, and Dawkins with a dash of Robinson’s Honest to God, you’ll have his book. As Ecclesiastes says, “there is nothing new under the sun.” Hitchens writes the same argument rehashed and watered down.
[1] Art Lindsey, C.S. Lewis’s Case for Christ, 40.


Ioannes said...

Hey dude, I totally dig your blog. I hope you can find time to post more often.

I'm very interested in pursuing your particular blend of education (don't think I've ever heard of majoring in "History of Ideas" before) but since I'm in the service I have to do it on my own, on the fly. For now, at least.

So I have, er, a "small" request. You wouldn't be able to confirm the existence of a magical sheet that lists all of the required reading for all of your classes, would you? Not only textbooks, but any extra reading as well?

Obviously I don't want to take up your time, but I just thought I'd inquire. I can get an idea of what you read by perusing your posts; I was hoping to get some ideas of good books for subjects like hermeneutics, etc.

Again, a great blog! Cheers, and God bless you.

Mike Aubrey said...

Josh, as usual your discussion and points are thoughtful and right now. I agree that we should always to reassessing our beliefs (something we believers call, "doing theology")

Have you been following the debate on Christianity Today?

Arni Zachariassen said...

Hey, how did Hitchens respond to your question?

Josh McManaway said...

Ioannes, thanks for stopping by! If you'll email me at Joshua(dot)McManaway[at]sebts(dot)edu, I'll be more than happy to send you a typed up list of books that we read. I don't know if I can remember all of them, but I can remember enough to keep you busy.


Mike, I haven't been keeping up with the debate. I'll go read it right now.


Anariel, unfortunately I didn't get to ask my question. Most questions were either not questions at all, but just general praise for Hitchens' boldness (which is an odd thing to congratulate) or people criticizing Dr. English for being a Christian.