Worlds In Collision

On Monday evening Christopher Hitchens and Dinesh D’Souza squared off for a debate at The Ethical Culture Society’s Manhattan auditorium; the topic was “Is Christianity the Problem?” I first heard about it from my friend The Stiletto, who sent me a link to an item by D’Souza announcing the event.

D’Souza’s promotional remarks are worth a look. I have often agreed with him about political matters — he has many sensible views on multiculturalism, affirmative action, foreign policy, and other issues — but when it comes to the terms of this debate we are very far apart. We read:

I’m surprised at the vehemence and nastiness of Hitchens’ atheism. I didn’t know he harbored these deep resentments. Yes, I know that atheists present their ideas as the pure result of reason and evolution and so on, but I cannot believe that Hitchens regards the idea that we are descended from the apes with anything other than bemused irony. I suspect that Hitchens likes Darwin mainly because Darwin gives him a cudgel with which to beat Christians.

Is he serious? Dinesh D’Souza actually denies that humans are descended from non-human ancestors? Wow.

As he admitted in a recent interview, Hitchens calls himself an “anti-theist” rather than an “atheist.” Most atheists say that based on the evidence, they believe God does not exist. Hitchens’ position is somewhat different: he doesn’t want God to exist. He hates the idea of God’s existence because he thinks of God as a tyrant who supervises his moral life. Even the tyranny of Stalin or Kim Jong Il, Hitchens says, ends when you die. But this God, he wants obedience and praise and worship even in the afterlife! To Hitchens that’s a form of unceasing subservience and slavery.

Like Hitchens, I find the notion of an omniscient, supervisory, judgmental God suffocating as well. It’s a little misleading, though, for D’Souza to suggest that Hitchens doesn’t believe in God just because he doesn’t want there to be a God. The reason that Hitchens, like the rest of us, doesn’t believe in God is simply that there is not the slightest shred of evidence that might persuade a skeptical mind to do so. What’s so extraordinary to nonbelievers is that D’Souza and so many others assume that belief in God is the position a normal mind would settle on by default: that one would naturally be a theist in the absence of compelling evidence to the contrary.

So far Hitchens and his fellow atheists have had it relatively easy. Hitchens has been going around the country debating pastors. Pastors are supposed to be models of Christian charity. This means that Hitchens can call them names but they cannot call him names. Pastors are required to turn the other cheek, while Hitchens gets ready to kick them in the rear end. Moreover, pastors are not used to fending off attacks from people who deny the validity of the gospels and, in Hitchens’ case, even cast doubt on the historical existence of Jesus Christ. How can you quote Scripture to a man who denies the authority of Scripture to adjudicate anything?

This is really remarkable. D’Souza seems to think it surprising, and a violation of fair play, that an atheist might actually call the infallibility of the Bible into question. It seems that it hadn’t occurred to him that for many people the Bible is nothing more than a highly influential collection of antique folklore.

I must say I’m a little taken aback. I’ve read D’Souza often, and have always been impressed by his clarity and intelligence. That he can also be comfortable denying Darwinian evolution, and asserting the authority of Scripture, is startling to me: a mind that I had thought was in many ways quite like my own is suddenly revealed to inhabit a very different world.

Anyway, this debate has to be worth watching. I haven’t seen it yet; I’m going to watch it this weekend with the memsahib. But you can find it here.

One Comment

  1. Kevin Kim says

    Thanks for alerting me to this video. I watched it and am writing a post on it now.


    Posted October 25, 2007 at 8:45 am | Permalink

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