Title: Is Christianity Good for the World?: A Debate.
Author: Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson.
Genre: Non-fiction, debate, religion, politics.
Publication Date: 2008.
Summary: Originally hosted by Christianity Today, a leading atheist Christopher Hitchens and Christian apologist Douglas Wilson go head-to-head on this divisive question. The result is entertaining and provocative.
My rating: 9/10.
I am afraid you misconstrued my acknowledgement that - with regard to public civic life - atheists can certainly behave in a moral manner. My acknowledgement was not that morality has nothing to do with the supernatural, as you represented, but rather that morality has nothing to do with the supernatural if you want to be an inconsistent atheist. Here is that point again, couched another way and tied into our topic of debate.
Among many other reasons, Christianity is good for the world because it makes hypocrisy a coherent concept. The Christian faith certainly condemns hypocrisy as such, but because there is a fixed standard, this makes it possible for sinners to fail to meet it or for flaming hypocrites to pretend that they are meeting it when they have no intention of doing so. Now my question for you is this: Is there such a thing as atheist hypocrisy? When another atheist makes different ethical choices than you do (as Stalin and Mao certainly did), is there an overarching common standard and what book did it come from? Why is it binding on them if they differ with you? And if there is not a common objective standard which binds all atheists, then would it not appear that the supernatural is necessary in order to have a standard of morality that can be reasonably articulated and defended?
So I am not saying you have to believe in the supernatural in order to live as a responsible citizen. I am saying you have to believe in the supernatural in order to be able to give a rational and coherent account of why you believe yourself obligated to live this way. In order to prove me wrong here, you must do more than employ words like "casuistry" or "evasions" - you simply need to provide that rational account. Given atheism, objective morality follows... how?
The Christian faith is good for the world because it provides the fixed standard which atheism cannot provide and because it provides forgiveness for sins, which atheism cannot provide either. We need the direction of the standard because we are confused sinners. We need the forgiveness because we are guilty sinners. Atheism not only keeps the guilt, but it also keeps the confusion.
♥ It is to me an appalling thought that anyone could wish for a supreme and absolute and unalterable ruler, whose reign was eternal and unchallengeable, who required incessant propitiation, and who kept us all under continual surveillance, waking and sleeping, which did not even cease (and which indeed even intensified) after our deaths. Such an awful system would mean that words like "freedom" or terms like "free will" were devoid of all meaning. This celestial Big Brother state would be the last refinement of the totalitarian: it would hugely improve on the hermetic and despotic state of 1984 in that "thought-crimes" - offenses committed only in the imagination - would be detected at the instant they occurred.
Orwell's dystopian nightmare showered a state of affairs where cruelty and power-worship were unapologetic and conducted, so to say, for their own sake. But the all-powerful regime demanded more than terrorized obedience from its subjects. It also required of them that they profess their love for Big Brother. It is this additional element in religious belief that I also find repellent to an extreme degree. One is quite literally commanded to love. And commanded not just to love others as much as oneself - ridiculous and impossible injunction, as well as an internally contradictory one - but also to love a supreme being for whom one must simultaneously feel an overpowering fear. Countless central passages in Jewish and Christian and Muslim scripture drive home the critical point that god is not content with omnipotence and omniscience and omnipresence, but is jealous and demanding and impatient, and continually enraged with the built-in shortcomings with which he deliberately lamed his creatures. Having been "created sick," in Fulke Greville's words, we are "commanded to be sound," and continuously and abjectly to "thank" a being who need not exert himself in the least to ensure that we live, suffer, and die. In the non-spiritual arena of life, power-relationships like this go under the general title of sadomasochism.
♥ So the original biblical myth probably contains an important kernel of moral truth to it. Having been created with a natural curiosity, the first man and he spouse are capriciously and nastily punished for the mere exercise of this indispensable faculty. There are those who claim to detect, in this positive action on their part, some sort of sin. There are also those who, for no reason that can be understood, regard us all as having been implicated in the said transgression, and as forever condemned to worm our way back into favor with a hard-to-please taskmaster. Spurning this as a sinister fairy-tale, I nonetheless point out that the very "first" recorded rebellion of the free intelligence was against the unreasonable dictates of religion, and will close by saying that this great tradition - which takes us from Democritus and Lucretius through Galileo and Spinoza and Voltaire and all the way to Darwin and Enstein - is the record of humanity's triumph over barbaric theocracy and its scriptural guidebook. There is more beauty and symmetry in this achievement - and more genuine brotherly love - than in any invocation of the absent dimension of the supernatural.
♥ (2) Many of the teachings of Christianity are, as well as being incredible and mythical, immoral. I would principally wish to cite the concept of vicarious redemption, whereby one's own responsibilities can be flung onto a scapegoat and thereby taken away. In my book, I argue that I can pay your debt or even take your place in prison but I cannot absolve you of what you actually did. This exorbitant fantasy of "forgiveness" is unfortunately matched by an equally extreme admonition - which is that the refusal to accept such a sublime offer may be punishable by eternal damnation. Not even the Old Testament, which speaks hotly in recommending genocide, slavery, genital mutilation, and other horrors, stoops to mention the torture of the dead. Those who tell this evil story to small children are not damned by me, but have been damned by history and should also be condemned by those who shrink from cruelty to children (a moral essential that underlies all cultures).
♥ To your needlessly convoluted subsequent question: Atheists are by no means "coy" on the question of evil or on the possibility of non-supernatural derivation of ethics. We are simply reluctant to say that, if religious faith falls - as we believe it must and to some extent already has - then the undergirding of decency falls also. And we do not fail to notice that a corollary is in play: The manner in which religion makes people behave worse than they might otherwise have done. Take a look at today's paper if you do not believe me: See what the parties of God are doing in Iraq. Or notice the sordid yet pious tradesmanship of Ralph Reed, Jack Abramoff, and the late Jerry Falwell. The latter's bedside is the one at which you should be asking your question - do you dare to say that a follower of Albert Einstein or Bertrand Russell would be gloating in the same way at their last hour? In either case - an atheist boaster and braggart or a hypocritical religious one - I trust that both of us would know enough to be quite "judgmental". I would differ from you only in not requiring any supernatural sanction or in claiming to be smug enough to possess such a power.