CHRISTOPHER HITCHENS: REBUTTALS
First Dawkins and now
Hitchens. This is a fruitful time for atheists. They sense that people's
frustration with religious extremists is at an all-time high, and they and
their publishers want to gain the most from it. Thus a surge in books against
religion and God. Hitchens is one such opportunist. In his recent work,
God is Not Great, he shows a level of aggressiveness and
offensiveness toward believers that is beyond equal. Worst of all, he
frames his work with biases and intellectual dishonesty. But many atheists don't mind.
long as he bashes believers, it's all welcome.
"Hitchens is a British-born
writer who lives in Washington, D.C., and is a columnist for Vanity Fair
and Slate. He thrives at the lectern,
where his powers of rhetoric and recall enable him to entertain an audience,
go too far, and almost get away with it. These gifts are
amply reflected in “God Is Not Great.”
Hitchens is nothing if not provocative. Creationists are “yokels,”
Pascal’s theology is “not far short of sordid,” the reasoning of the
Christian writer C. S. Lewis is “so pathetic as to defy description,” Calvin
was a “sadist and torturer and killer,” Buddhist sayings are “almost too
easy to parody,” most Eastern spiritual discourse is “not even wrong,” Islam
is “a rather obvious and ill-arranged set of plagiarisms,” Hanukkah is a
“vapid and annoying holiday,” and the psalmist King David was an
"After rightly railing against female genital
mutilation in Africa, which is an indigenous cultural practice with no very
firm ties to any particular religion, Hitchens lunges at male circumcision.
He claims that it is a medically dangerous procedure that has made countless
lives miserable. This will come as news to the Jewish community, where male
circumcision is universal, and where doctors, hypochondria, and
overprotective mothers are not exactly unknown. Jews, Muslims, and others
among the nearly one-third of the world’s male population who have been
circumcised may be reassured by the World Health Organization’s recent
announcement that it recommends male circumcision as a means of preventing
the spread of AIDS."
"When Hitchens weighs the pros and cons of religion in the recent past,
the evidence he provides is sometimes lopsided. He discusses the role of the
Dutch Reformed Church in maintaining apartheid in South Africa, but does not
mention the role of the Anglican Church in ending it. He attacks some in the
Catholic Church, especially Pope Pius XII, for their appeasement of Nazism,
but says little about the opposition to Nazism that came from religious
communities and institutions."
"Atheists with Attitude, Why do they hate Him?"
The New Yorker.
(07 August, 2008).
Peter Hitchens is Christopher
Hitchens' brother. They are three years apart in age, yet they are eons apart in
thinking. Christopher is a fanatical atheist; Peter is a firm believer. Read
what the other member of the family has to say about his angry atheist brother.
"Christopher is an atheist. I am a believer. He
once said in public: "The real difference between Peter and myself is the
belief in the supernatural.
"I’m a materialist and he attributes his presence
here to a divine plan. I can’t stand anyone who believes in God, who invokes
the divinity or who is a person of faith."
I don’t feel the same way. I like atheists and
enjoy their company, because they agree with me that religion is important."
"I also think it is wrong, mostly in the way that
it blames faith for so many bad things and gives it no credit for any of the
good it may have done.
I think it misunderstands religious people and
their aims and desires. And I think it asserts a number of things as true
and obvious that are nothing of the sort."
Christopher describes how at the age of nine he
concluded that his teacher’s claim that the world must be designed was
wrong. "I simply knew, almost as if I had privileged access to a higher
authority, that my teacher had managed to get everything wrong."
At the time of this revelation, he knew nothing of
the vast, unending argument between those who maintain that the shape of the
world is evidence of design, and those who say the same world is evidence of
random, undirected natural selection.
It’s my view that he still doesn’t know all that
much about this interesting dispute. Yet at the age of nine, he "simply
knew" who had won one of the oldest debates in the history of mankind.
It is astonishing, in one so set against the idea
of design or authority in the universe, how often he appeals to mysterious
intuitions and "innate" knowledge of this kind, and uses religious language
such as "awesome" – in awe of whom or what?
Or "mysterious". What is the mystery, if all is
explained by science, the telescope and the microscope? He even refers to
"conscience" and makes frequent thunderous denunciations of various evil
"Where is his certain knowledge of what is right
and wrong supposed to have come from?
How can the idea of a conscience have any meaning
in a world of random chance, where in the end we are all just collections of
molecules swirling in a purposeless confusion?
If you are getting inner promptings, why should you
pay any attention to them? It is as absurd as the idea of a compass with no
magnetic North. You might as well take moral instruction from your bile
On the few occasions where Christopher is prepared
to admit that religious people have done any good, he concludes that they
did so in spite of their faith, not because of it.
He even suggests that the atheist Soviet tyranny
was itself a form of religion.
You can’t win against this sort of circular
Yet he has this absurdly backwards. Religious and
unbelieving people have both done dreadful things, and the worst of them
have committed their murders and their tortures in the belief that they were
Nothing is proved by either side in this argument,
by pointing to the mountains of skulls piled up by evil atheists, and evil
What they have in common is that they are human,
and capable of the sin of pride. The practice of religion does not
automatically prevent this, and nobody said it did.
It sometimes joins in with it, as Christopher
"There is one chapter in this book whose
implications are sinister. It is Chapter 16, which attempts to suggest that
religion is child abuse.
On the basis of such arguments, matched by similar
urgings from Professor Richard Dawkins, I can see a movement growing to
outlaw the teaching of faith to children.
Then what? Liberal world reformers make the grave
mistake of thinking that if you abolish a great force you don’t like, it
will be replaced by empty space.
We abolished the gallows, for example, and found we
had created an armed police and an epidemic of prison suicides. We abolished
school selection by exams, and found we had replaced it with selection by
money. And so on.
We are in the process – encouraged by Christopher –
of abolishing religion, and so of abolishing conscience, too.
It is one of his favourite jibes that a world ruled
by faith is like North Korea, a place where all is known and all is
On the contrary, North Korea is the precise
opposite of a land governed by conscience.
It is a country governed by men who do not believe
in God or conscience, where nobody can be trusted to make his own choices,
and where the State decides for the people what is right and what is wrong.
And it is the ultimate destination of atheist
If you do not worship God, you end up worshipping
power, whether it is Kim Jong Il, Leon Trotsky or the military might of
George W. Bush. In which case, God help you."
Peter Hitchens, "Hitchens vs Hitchens."
Mail Online. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/pages/live/articles/news/newscomment.html?in_article_id=459427&in_page_id=1787&in_a_source>
(07 August, 2008).
And for all his own brilliance, this is where
Hitchens goes seriously astray. Without the Bible, how would we even know
what good and evil are? Through science? Like the idea of Prof. Bently
Glass, who suggested that the notions of good and evil be completely
divorced from their moral connotations and redefined as what is good or bad
for the development of a species? Would we then justify the elimination of
carriers of disease or the mentally defective, the interbreeding of which
might be "bad" for the health of the species?
Hitler used this very argument as the rationale for
his program of euthanasia for the mentally infirm, saying, "In nature there
is no pity for the lesser creatures when they are destroyed so that the
fittest may survive. Going against nature brings ruin to man... and is a sin
against the will of the eternal Creator. It is only Jewish impudence to
demand that we overcome nature."
"In his book, Hitchens mocks the Ten Commandments.
Didn't the ancient Israelites already know that thievery and murder were
wrong? Quite right. Mankind would have easily legislated much of the
morality contained in the Bible even without God.
But then the whole point of the Ten Commandments is
the establishment of absolute, divine morality. These are not laws
legislated by man and subject, therefore, to human tampering. They are the
absolute rules that dare never be changed - at any time, at any place, under
Hitler also believed in "Do not murder." But it was
his law that had been legislated, and it was therefore he who determined to
whom it applied and to whom it did not. Indeed, Hitchens overlooks that the
world's foremost genocides have all been committed by secular, atheistic
regimes that maintained the right to determine which lives were worth
preserving, and which worth discarding.
Hitler murdered at least 12 million. Stalin,
another 30 million. Mao, perhaps 40 million. And Pol Pot killed one third of
all Cambodians in the mid 1970s. The number of people killed by the secular
atheist regimes of the 20th century dwarfs by far those killed in the name
of religion since the beginning of recorded history."
"God is greater than Christopher Hitchens."
"...following his own broken compass all over the
map, servile to no one, insulter of many, drinker and smoker nonpareil."
"But yet, there's something all these utterly rational missalettes miss.
The hunger. The need. And for all the bad things it has wrought, the
profound and revolutionary social force that religion has been in the life
of man. Because we need Him, He persists. No matter how big the book thrown
at Him, His book is always bigger. No matter how much closer we get to
finding God's face through a telescope, many more of us will still be
baying, or praying, at the moon."
Mark Warren, "Thank God for Christopher
Hitchens." Esquire. <http://www.esquire.com/fiction/books/Hitchens0507>
(07 August, 2008).
"Normally, too, Hitchens is a fair man in debate —
although employing often enough those wicked and withering rhetorical ploys
that the British often display in verbal jousting. Agent Provocateur is
Hitchens’s chosen pose. But this time it is a bit disappointing to find so
much hostility and so many — unusually many — intellectual missteps in his
latest tirade (not his first) against religion,
Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything."
"For something peculiar happens to Hitchens when he wrestles against God with
murderous intent. Hitchens always loses (and may secretly suspect that).
Preposterous as this seems, one senses he may fear that one day he will wake
up and see it all plainly, right before his eyes. Otherwise, why year after
year keep striking another stake in the heart of God?"
"Engaged in polemics, atheists like to do two
things, which certainly Hitchens does. The first is to make fun of believers
on every matter possible, even when that requires outrageous misstatements
of fact and employs such clumsy logic as they would mock in others. The
second is to generate as many incoherencies in the faith of believers as
their fertile minds can make up. Hitchens is in our time one of the great
masters of mockery and satire."
"Christopher Hitchens Is a Treasure. A good, useful atheist."
"So only atheists are in a comfortable position to cast the first stone,
and Christopher Hitchens, in "God Is Not Great," relishes the role. He has
the credentials, as both a combative journalist and a surprisingly erudite
literary scholar, and he wants to break the diplomacy barrier and expose the
preposterous presumptions and ignoble machinations that stain the history of
all religions, bringing discredit that tends to get magnified over the years
by a persistent pattern of coverup, veils of illusion , and denial of one
design or another."
"At their best, his indictments are trenchant and
witty, and the book is a treasure house of zingers worthy of Mark Twain or
H. L. Mencken. At other times, his impatience with the smug denial of the
self-righteous gets the better of him, and then he strikes glancing blows at
best, and occasionally adopts a double standard, excusing his naturalist
heroes for their few lapses into religious gullibility on the grounds that
they couldn't have known any better at the time, while leaving no such
wiggle room for the defenders of religion over the ages."
C. Dennett, "Unbelievable,"
(07 August, 2008).
"Christopher Hitchens is an essayist
and pundit who loves a good fight and is never afraid to pick on someone his
own size; but this time he's outdone himself. He's picked on God.
Hitchens' quarrel with God is too complex to invite summary, but it can
be fairly said that he considers religion just plain childish.
"It comes from the bawling and fearful infancy of our species," he writes,
"and it is a babyish attempt to meet our inescapable demand for knowledge as
well as comfort, reassurance, and other infantile needs. Today, the least
educated of my children knows much much more about the natural order than
any of the founders of religion."
But Hitchens is not satisfied to merely refute religion. He must also
demonize it as "an enemy of science and inquiry," as "subsisting largely on
lies and fears," and as "the accomplice of ignorance and guilt as well as of
slavery, genocide, racism and tyranny." Hence the book's subtitle, "How
Religion Poison's Everything."
"And he does mean everything. As he would have it, religion foments hate and
war. It justifies the torture and murder of "heretics" and "infidels." It
represses healthy human sexuality. By discouraging contraception and
encouraging reliance on prayer instead of medicine, it is even bad for your
This is, of course, a familiar augment. Hitchens has nothing new to say..."
"But what is the point of writing such a book? Surely, it will change no
minds. Surely, with a title like this, it will not be read by anyone who
does not already agree with it.
Hitchens is, if he will forgive the religious reference, preaching to the
B. De Silva,
"Pundit Christopher Hitchens Picks
a fight in book, 'God is Not Great," Rutland Herald.
(07 August, 2008).
A profile on Hitchens by
NPR stated: "Hitchens
is known for his love of cigarettes and alcohol -- and his prodigious
literary output." Hitchens admits to drinking heavily; in 2003 he
wrote that his daily intake of alcohol was enough "to kill or stun the
average mule." ...He drinks, he says, 'because it makes other people less
boring. I have a great terror of being bored. But I can work with or without
it. It takes quite a lot to get me to slur.'"
"Christopher Hitchens," Wikipedia.
<http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christopher_Hitchens> (07 August, 2008).
"The stories about Hitchens mostly feature his
stomach for whisky and dialectic. But I hear enough about him making
lecherous grabs at male friends to ask him later, by e-mail, if he is
bisexual. He says no. But when younger and prettier, he received much
attention from men and at public school he “of course” had homosexual
experiences – “everyone did”. He says the rumours probably refer to the time
he “smooched” the brother of a girlfriend “who he then very much resembled
and it seemed somehow irresistible”.
"His first wife has forgiven him for leaving her
while pregnant for Carol Blue: “I’m invited to stay now. And we’re friends
and quite good parents. At the time she was very cross but she says now:
‘When I met you, I realised I was looking for trouble.’ "
"But what he can’t abide is Peter’s Christian faith
and belief in intelligent design...I wonder whether he envies the faithful
as he gets older and death looms, since all that secularism offers in place
of everlasting life is “life’s a bitch and then you die”.
v God." Times Online. <http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/comment/faith/article1855247.ece?openComment=true>
(07 August, 2008).
Troy Jollimore, "Lord, are you there?
Didn't think so." San Francisco Chronicle. <http://www.sfgate.com/cgi-bin/article.cgi?f=/c/a/2007/05/13/RVG4CPKERN1.DTL&type=books>
(07 August, 2008).
Atheism Ranting: The Pity and Poverty of Modern Anti-Theism
God is Greater than Christopher Hitchens
Hitchens v. Hitchens
Is Christianity Good for the World?
Hitchens Doesn't Have the Goods