Monday, 31 December 2007

Hitchens and Christianity

Christopher Hitchens introduction to The Portable Atheist gives an overview of the problem of proof for God and the problem of religion. In that he offers a challenge:
Name me an ethical statement made or an action performed by a believer that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer. (page xiv)
Its a pretty interesting challenge. A non-believer instead of William Wilberforce could have stop the slave trade; a non-believer instead of Mother Teresa could have cared for the poor in India; a non-believer instead of Martin Luther could have stopped the corruption in the Catholic Church, but the thing is: a non-believer didn't. The atheist may also correctly point out that the church throughout history has done some unethical and immoral things as well.

I'm sure a non-believer could make an ethical statement and perform (in the eyes of the world) a moral action. I'm sure that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (although it maybe argued that it is based off some Judaeo-Christian standard) was drafted by some non-believers.

For someone to perform an action that a non-believer couldn't do they would need to be... well God. They would have to be perfect, blameless, humble and not self seeking and even sacrificial... If only there was a believer who's impact on the world was massive so that they would not be forgotten; they could divide history in two. They would have to have something like a miraculous birth and do something amazing like come back from the dead. But even if that did happen Hitchens still doesn't think that proves that much about God:
...suppose that I grant the virgin birth and the resurrection....These events, even if confirmed, would not prove that Jesus was the son of god. (page xix)
I'd like to know if that would it satisfy his challenge. I guess Jesus was right when he said in a parable: "If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead."

Also the problem Hitchens has with religion is that he paints them all with the same brush. He criticizes actions performed by religious people, and I stand by him with agreement. Paul, who grew up as a very good religious person, calls them dogs and when he became a Christian he said that he counted what he once was to be σκύβαλον (see Wycliffe's translation). Hitchens offers a definition to religion and by it I can breath easy as he has not defined Christianity at all:
It [religion] exacts maximum servility and abjection, requiring you to regard yourself as conceived and born in sin and owing a duty to a stern creator. But in return, it places you at the center of the universe and assures you that you are the personal object of a heavenly plan. Indeed, if you make the right propitiations you may even find that death has no sting... (page xvi)
The one thing that Christianity has over the other religions is grace. Hitchens seems to have over looked (or doesn't know) about this. We can not make any propitiations towards God that will appease Him for we all have done something wrong and we can not undo that. God is just so He can not forget about our wrong actions if we do something good in return (which sounds like a bribe). Only corrupt justice systems work that way. If a crime has been committed a penalty has to be paid.

The phrase "death has no sting" may be a reference to 1 Corinthaians 15:55 but if Hitchens looks two more sentences down from that bit he will see how death is overcome: God gives us the victory through Jesus (read it for yourself). Jesus does the work or propitiation for us. We can not do it. There is nothing we can do to appease God. It is a gift to us. That is what God's grace is all about.

You can read some of Hitchens introduction here.

Someone else has commented on Hitchens challenge.


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