Thank God for Atheists(Reprinted from the issue of July 26, 2007)
The recent spate of atheist best-sellers continues to invigorate me and, I suspect, many other Christians. I love to see the best case the enemy can make. So far, its been rather pathetic.
Christopher Hitchens, the one I know best, is easily the wittiest and most entertaining of the lot. So far Ive read his book, God Is Not Great, twice. Its essentially one long sneer at what he calls the celestial dictatorship, childishly refusing to capitalize the name of the Deity (though he does capitalize those of pagan gods; if god, why not zeus and venus?).
One reviewer, Michael Kinsley in The New York Times, has credited Hitchens (or should I say hitchens?) with a brilliant career move, and one can hardly gainsay that! He has already made a fortune and appeared on countless TV shows, debating such leading theologians as Al Sharpton, who, Im told, had the best of him. (How the mighty are fallen!) I suppose having Hitchens against us should be seen as our consolation for having Sharpton on our side.
Its tempting to apply to Hitchens what
A persuasive arguer must at least be able to grasp the other sides argument. Hitchens, who has tossed and gored me in political debate, here fails that basic test ignominiously.
Take that pseudo-witty phrase the celestial dictatorship. How much imagination, human sympathy, or just simple fairness does it take to understand that Christians see God not as a bullying ruler imposing His will, but as a loving Father more eager to forgive us than we are to be forgiven? I guess its not surprising that an old Trotskyist should conceive God in such crude terms of raw power, but not only is Hitchens not going to win Christians with this nasty stuff, hes going to estrange reasonable agnostics.
For all I know, thats what hes trying to do. You can even see his book as a kind of spoof, as if hes trying to see how much he can get away with how many bald lies, slanders, absurdities, exaggerations, and flagrant self-contradictions.
I admit that this theory is as hard to sustain as the assumption that he is sincere, but consider: Hitchens has lost a lot of his old friends on the left, and much of his standing as an intellectual of distinction, by supporting the Iraq war that two of his hated popes have opposed. (Religion is the chief cause of war, as we all know. Except when it causes peace.) Could this book be a twisted attempt to recoup his prestige among the highbrows?
Then again, he told a New Yorker interviewer some months ago that he expects God Is Not Great to be the book hell be remembered for, which suggests that he actually wants to be remembered for this tripe. Hard to figure.
A couple of years ago Hitchens wrote a book in praise of George Orwell, another atheist, but a much more honest one and a far better writer of English prose. Orwell plays fair with the reader, never relying on jeers and name-dropping where a real argument is required. You can trust him to treat a serious subject candidly. He died, remember, when he was more than a decade younger than Hitchens is now a startling fact, if you know nothing of them but their styles of writing. Only one of them writes with the voice of maturity.
Lewis and Chesterton
It really annoys me, I must say, when Hitchens condescends to
The atheists have got me reading Chesterton again, and as one thing leads to another, Chesterton has sent me back to Lewis. Only last week I was marveling at Chestertons genius; this week, after dipping into the anthology A Mind Awake, I marvel at Lewiss. I also marvel at Hitchenss confidence of his superiority to them both.
Hitchens even goes so far as to suggest that Jesus never existed at all. But as many have argued, it defies belief to suppose that four unbookish evangelists could have made up the most memorable, influential, and of course lovable character in human history, beside whom the prophet Mohammed is a mere wraith.
If its that easy, let Hitchens try his hand at the fakery he ascribes to Christians. A few deathless beatitudes and parables would satisfy me.
Maybe Im just in a bad mood today, but Hitchenss book strikes me as a puerile insult not only to God, to faith, and to reason, but also to everything that is good and honorable even in this world. No doubt this is because Ive read it only twice. Maybe if I read it again I can do it justice.
Theres a sucker born every minute,
And why are they so indignant at God for not existing? On their own premises it seems unfair if not a little odd to blame Him for that!
|Copyright © 2007 by The Wanderer,
the National Catholic Weekly founded in 1867
Reprinted with permission
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