I’ll say it at the start: I’m a Christopher Hitchens fan.
The British-born writer is brilliant, a witty and thought-provoking journalist and observer of global culture and politics. He’s made the decision to support America’s war effort, and his staggering abilities in that area are significant.
That is the good part.
The problem is, his recent bestseller, “god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,” rather than a thesis to wrestle with, is simply an exercise in extreme bias. It is not in the end a threat to Christianity, for the simple reason that the normally erudite Hitchens doesn’t have a deep understanding of the subject matter. Not surprisingly, he feels that he does.
Hitchens does take on the Catholic Church, Islam, even the Asian gurus (one of whom he describes in amusing detail as fleecing a flock of well-to-do seekers). He also takes shots at televangelists and proponents of Intelligent Design (he rarely even deigns to mention the object of deeper contempt, creationism).
For Hitchens, Genesis is a mish-mash of myth and sloppy fiction. Adam and Eve and their modest coverings, banishment from Eden, and subsequent children … never existed. It goes downhill from there. It’s also sad to see Hitchens reject Intelligent Design by using the argument that such proponents are “boobies.” The entire 307-page book is not worthy of someone as smart as Hitchens.
And as he metaphorically throws empty beer bottles at such easy targets as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, Hitchens also fires one at the now-feeble Billy Graham, surely one of the most accommodating evangelicals who ever lived. Dismissing Graham’s sermon at the National Cathedral right after 9/11, Hitchens called the long-time presidential pastor’s remarks “absurd.” This is more evidence of Hitchens’ ad hominem attacks.
But as to what I would call biblical Christianity, Hitchens rarely speaks. One suspects that like his disdain for the community of creationists, Hitchens is simply so dismissive of conservative Christians that his considerable debating skills are not to be wasted.
Yet I did find it surprising that he doesn’t take more shots at, say, well-known Christian apologists such as Ravi Zacharias or even Josh McDowell. Maybe he doesn’t know about them.
In this new book, Hitchens makes the basic claim that religion (including Christianity) has been responsible for murder, torture, cruelty, emotional domination and totalitarianism down through history. He states that each religion is a “plagiarism” of previous religions, extending in time all the way back to “a fabrication of a few nonevents.” To paraphrase the great scholarly defender of the Bible a century ago, Princeton’s Robert Dick Wilson, Hitchens most certainly doesn’t know enough to make that judgment call on the early chapters of Genesis.
The Bible itself (“its foundational books are transparent fables”) is given short shrift by Hitchens.
In his seventh chapter, Hitchens makes the incredible claim: “It goes without saying that none of the gruesome, disordered events described in Exodus ever took place.”
This is classic higher criticism, now discredited by all but the most fervent Bible-haters.
Even more surprising is the space he gives to predictive prophecy in the Bible. In all of one paragraph (on the last page!), Hitchens resorts to name-calling (“death cult”) rather than engaging in real examination of eschatology. One would think that with Hitchens’ legendary, surgical mind, he could lay bare the holes that he obviously believes turn predictive prophecy into evangelical Swiss cheese. I say this with considerable respect to Hitchens’ intellect.
In his second chapter – “Religion Kills” – Hitchens also blames the absence of a two-state solution in the Arab-Israeli conflict on, partly, “Armageddon-minded Christians.” To this charge, I’ll give Hitchens the same answer I give to Brian McLaren: I know most of today’s Bible prophecy teachers personally, and none of them are “Armageddon-minded.” This straw man needs to be put to match.
Further on the subject of Israel, Hitchens also smears Ariel Sharon, labeling him as the architect of the mass murder in the Sabra and Shatilla refugee camps in Lebanon in 1982. That Sharon proved in a New York court that he did no such thing is not helpful to such charges, but then again, at least in this book, Hitchens relies on a steady stream of liberal shibboleths to try and make his biased points.
Usually, as when he debates someone like fellow Brit George Galloway, Hitchens’ bourbon-soaked tongue makes short work of his hapless foe. It is also often amusing.
In the case of his attacks on the Bible, he is drunk with hatred, and it doesn’t help his case.
The key to “god is not Great” comes early on, at page 11. There, Hitchens reveals that his father “who had not especially loved his strict Baptist/Calvinist upbringing,” and his mother, who “preferred assimilation” rather than practice Judaism, had shaped his perceptions of religion.
Here, in a delicious irony, Hitchens joins other British intellectual heavyweights from another time. Darwin and his contemporaries and willing spokesmen – men like Herbert Spencer and Thomas Huxley – all started on the path to atheism because of indifference or hostility to religion, beginning usually with their fathers. This is most instructive for us today as youth struggle to find the meaning of life.
To those Christians who fear the influence of this book, let it be said that at least in this case, the emperor has no clothes at all. Not even a fig leaf.