Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Debating Christianity? Debate Hitchens!

Miserable Old Sinner

Source: www.observer.com

We are debating all sorts of new ideas these days, from homosexual marriage to the flat tax. But strangely enough, we have also taken up debating Christianity which has been around for almost 2000 years (thousands more years if you trace it back to its seed in God's promise to Adam). Last night, The King's College, along with the Intercollegiate Studies Institute and ToTheSource.org, sponsored a debate between Dinesh D'Souza and Christopher Hitchens on the question, "Is Christianity the Problem?" (The debate will be aired on BookTV (C-SPAN2), Saturday, October 27, at 7 p.m., or you can view it on The King's College webite) Of course, this debate is in response not only to Hitchens' book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, but also to a wave of angry, aggressively atheist books that argue not only that religion is delusional, but also that, for the sake of humanity, it should be wiped out and religious people should be disenfranchised.

I seriously wonder if Hitchens actually believes this stuff he spouts, or if he is largely an entertainer, something like a shock jock for the literati. He mentioned that Giuseppe Verdi, though he wrote beautiful sacred music for the Catholic Church, was himself an unbeliever. There was good money in it. It is possible that Hitchens is writing these books because they create controversy, and controversy sells books and produces lucrative speaking tours. If I am right, look for a well timed Hitchens conversion and then another series of fortune-generating books and speaking engagements.

As for the debate itself, I think that I am the only one at The King's College who thinks that Hitchens won. (Correct me if I am wrong...about being the only one, that is.) Not that I think he argued the correct position, but his arguments were more forceful and went unrefuted. He attacked Christianity on three points. God’s sovereign rule itself (God is a divine totalitarian despot who wants us groveling in slavish subservience), God’s providential ordering of history (he has watched the torture chamber that is human history, only to intervene much too late with a solution that only compounds the problem), and the redemptive work of Christ in his death and resurrection (barbaric, sadistic nonsense). D’Souza had nothing to say in response. He offered ad hominim arguments (Hitchens hates God) and some charges of logical inconsistency (Hitchens traces the horrors of modern totalitarianism back to Christianity where he lays the blame, but does not trace his own moral sentiments to the same source, as he ought, and offer praise). But his opponent’s blasphemous charges lay untouched.

This is the poverty of classical, evidentialist apologetics. D’Souza restricted himself from the outset to naturalistic arguments, foreswearing reference to Scripture. He caged the lion. For his part, Hitchens, who knows all those arguments, used the Bible freely. A good student or Cornelius Van Til with a presuppositionalist apologetic would have struck at the root of the disagreement, and had this guy for breakfast, as formidable as he is. Hitchens’ attack was at the biblical and theological level, where the Christian should have had the advantage. (“The cross is monstrous? Yes it is! Because sin is monstrous! You know it is!”) Had D’Souza presented a biblically more sophisticated and theologically more substantive rebuttal, he could have educated the audience and exposed Hitchens as the straw man slayer that he is. Instead, he wasted his time with discussions about science and the laws of nature, and with various sociological, consequentialist defenses. (Look at all the hospitals, and see how we abolished slavery.) Of course D'Souza made many excellent points, though Hitchens ably countered many of them. But D'Souza was defending the religion while Hitchens was attacking the faith.

Source: www.stanfordreview.org

But this also is worth mentioning. I was struck during the debate with how cheerful D'Souza seemed and how clearly miserable Hitchens is. After the debate, one of my students asked him if he is happy. He said no, but his goal is not to be happy. Of course, that is nonsense. Everyone seeks happiness, even if sometimes perversely in self-indulgent grumpiness. Someone else remarked on his continuous drinking. He said that he drinks so that the people around him will appear more interesting than they are. So he hates life and he generally dislikes the people with whom he has to share it. But it is religion that poisons everything. If religion, or even the Lord himself, is not the source of well-being in this world, Christopher Hitchens cannot offer anything in himself or in his experience as an alternative.

In the Q&A, another of my students, a mature student from Tonga, posed one of the best questions of the evening to Prof. Hitchens. He said that before Christianity came to his region, people in Figi were eating each other and on his own island...well, all he said was "what a mess!" He then asked, "If you had arrived there first, what would you have offered us in place of Christianity." Hitchens did not answer the question, but instead returned to an earlier rant against God for leaving such people in misery without intervening with effective relief. That silence in response to the student's simple challenge spoke volumes to anyone who was listening.

Let me repeat, you can view the debate on The King's College website at www.tkc.edu/debate/

The last word goes to the Lord (as of course in the end it will):
For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, "I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart."

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (I Cornthians 1:18-25 ESV)


dilawark said...

I miss all the good stuff!

Jess said...

As I was online yesterday trying vainly to find any chat threads about the debate, I stumbled across a couple of atheist-hosted blogs. Both made references, one excessively so, to copious alcohol consumption. In fact, it seemed to be the main point of one of them (don't remember links, not worth reading again to find, xtrmly depressing.) It seems alcoholism is a significant symptom of atheism/anti-theism. Of course, drunkenness deadens ones own perceptions, which, I suppose is necessary for anyone who refuses to acknowledge God, therefore refusing to see a point beyond all this earthly mess we call life. Great post, by the way. From what I have heard about the debate, you are dead on correct re: D'souza's failure to use the only powerful weapon available to him--the Sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God, sharper than any two-edged sword and able to pierce joint and marrow.

Richie said...

No, you definitely weren't the only one. I thought Hitchens beat him like a drum. In fact, (and you check with my fellow Churchillians about this), I predicted Hitchens would.

Good thoughts on the subject, though.