Six years ago I decided to read my way through the three “leading books” of the New Atheist movement: Christopher Hitchens’ god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, Sam Harris’ The End of Faith, and Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. I learned quite a lot reading these books, but the main thing I learned was this: these supposed “heavyweights” of the New Atheist movement, these paragons of Enlightenment thinking, were woefully ignorant of Biblical Studies, Church history, philosophy, and religion in general. And so, I thought I would now edit and re-post these entries I had made on my earlier blog six years ago. The first writer I will look at is the late Christopher Hitchens. Enjoy…
When I decided to read the celebrated “New Atheist” books by Christopher Hitchens, Sam Harris, and Richard Dawkins, I thought I was going to be intellectually challenged. I found myself, however, shocked at just how un-intellectual the arguments of these men were. Simply put, the “Christianity” they objected to was not historic Christianity at all. It was a caricature—the “strawiest” of straw men. Dawkins might be a brilliant micro-biologist, but he is a complete amateur when it comes to the topic of religion in general and Christianity in particular.
As for Harris, I found his arguments to be so juvenile that, if I were grading his paper, I would have to fail him for his complete lack of logic and coherence. I certainly don’t mind if someone holds to a view that is opposite of mine. I certainly respect anyone who attempts to argue how his view is correct and how my view might be wrong. Debate and dialogue lie at the heart of learning. There is one thing, though, I do expect when one makes an argument either for his view or against my view—back it up with logic and sense. At the very least, one should know what one is talking about, and one should display a basic level of coherent logic to one’s argumentation.
As for Christopher Hitchens, he was a celebrated writer who writes for Vanity Fair magazine, mostly known for his sharp-tongued attacks on religion. His book, pretty much sums up his attitude toward religion. Along with other atheists like Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris, Hitchens has become somewhat of a media darling. These men are seen as courageous—true children of science and the Enlightenment who have the guts to call religion for what it is, a poisonous and dangerous cancer that stems from our primitive evolutionary past! Woah!
Since Hitchens is considered to be such an insightful and intelligent spokesman for the Enlightenment here in the 21st century, I thought I’d take the time to read his most recent book. I am, after all, a Christian, and an Orthodox one at that. Yet I have always tried to maintain the mindset that if ever it became obvious that Christianity was, in fact, not true, and that either another religion or atheistic/humanist worldview made more sense, that I would be obligated to change course.
Now I will give this to Hitchens—he certainly brings up a host of atrocities done throughout history in the name of religion, and successfully shows that yes, they were atrocities, and yes, they were done in the name of religion. Any clear-minded and sensitive person will have to pause and consider these horrific events. But ultimately, Hitchens fails in his quest. To use a baseball metaphor, he certainly swings away, makes contact, and rifles a few shots down the line in foul territory; but when it’s all said and done, he ends up hitting a harmless pop up to second base. He certainly does not strike out; but this Mighty Casey has a horrible hitch in his swing and an ego the size of Kanye West. He goes around bragging about how he is the greatest home run hitter in the game, but fails to acknowledge that he can’t even hit the ball out of the infield.
I can summarize Hitchens’ book in the following fashion:
(1) He argues that religion is the root of violence, evil, and sexual repression;
(NOTE: my friend Ian Panth wrote a post of his own that addresses this charge. You can read his post at: https://popchrist.wordpress.com/2015/08/26/mad-science-bad-science-and-the-cure-for-everything-originally-published-august-4-2009/)
(2) He argues that religion is anti-science, anti-health, and anti-rational; and
(3) He goes to considerable length claiming that the Old and New Testaments are worthless pieces of infantile garbage.
Along the way, Hitchens takes time to lambast the likes of Martin Luther King, Gandhi, and Mother Teresa, as well as a few other religious figures. His ultimate argument is that we need a “New Enlightenment” in which we finally scrap religion all together and embrace the ideals and principles of Enlightenment thinking—this is the only thing that will lead to peace in the world.
Over the next few blog entries, I will attempt to address Hitchens’ arguments point by point, under the headings I have just described above. My ultimate goal by doing this is not to somehow “prove” religion (or specifically, Christianity) is “true” in some empirical sense of the word. I fully acknowledge that there are a host of very disturbing and complex issues and problems that rightfully challenge any kind of religious belief. In fact, I hope to, at the conclusion of my remarks about Hitchens, discuss what I feel are legitimate and troubling objections to religious belief.
Rather, what my ultimate goal here is to show just how wanting Hitchens’ arguments really are. Simply put, Hitchens proves himself to be prone to over-generalization and over-simplification; many of his descriptions of religious beliefs are gross caricatures that display either a willing misrepresentation of the facts, or a shocking ignorance of them. He is an arrogant propagandist and a bomb-throwing blowhard. I truly am shocked that he has gained as much notoriety as he has, because, quite frankly, his arguments and accusations are simply sophomoric. His rantings against religion do not so much offend me as they leave me scratching my head and wondering, “Really? Those are your best arguments? That’s the best you can do?”
And so, along with my continuing book review of C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, the occasional post on Ken Ham, and perhaps a few other surprises along the way, I will also introduce you to the arguments of the three “biggies” of the New Atheist movement, starting of course with Mr. Christopher Hitchens. In my next post on Hitchens, I will address his argument that religion is the root of all violence. (Spoiler alert…it isn’t).