Dignity, Hope, and Christopher Hitchens

Christopher Hitchens’s position on religion in general and Christianity in particular can be summed up in the title of his book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. In a CT-sponsored panel discussion in Dallas this past weekend on the subject “Does the God of Christianity Exist, and What Difference Does It Make?” he called God’s rule posited by Christians “tyrannical,” those who believe it to be wicked idiots, and said there was no amount of evidence that would cause him to jettison his supposedly reason-based evolutionary “anti-theism.” Other than that, he was very cordial! (Actually, despite his bias against Christianity, Christopher Hitchens is personable, funny, and highly intelligent, as well as a great writer.)

As the moderator, I wanted to make sure that the discussion—with heady examinations of the anthropic principle, epistemology, and other issues—didn’t get too ivory-towerish. I wanted to keep it practical and personal. And I hoped to give Christopher Hitchens something new to think about. So I asked the first question, which went something like this condensed summary:

“Christopher, in my rush to catch my ride to the airport so that I could get to this conference, I fell down at my office. I quickly got up, hoping that no one saw me. Because of my disability, such incidents are part of my life, something I have learned to deal with. I have not fallen since, but there is no guarantee that I will not fall again, even right off this platform.

“Now I love these kinds of discussions about the existence of God, and I’ve read your book with Doug Wilson, Is Christianity Good for the World?

“Besides all the arguments for God’s existence, one reason I believe Christianity is because it provides dignity and hope for people like me: dignity, because it teaches that we are all created in God’s image and because Jesus took all our suffering on himself; and hope, because he was resurrected and promises that one day we will be resurrected, too, with new bodies in a new heaven and a new earth.

“But your philosophy of anti-theism seems designed only for the young, intelligent, and well-connected. So my question to you is: What basis does your philosophy provide for promoting human dignity and hope for people like me, and, frankly, people who are much worse off?”

Hitchens’s answer, such as it was, was interesting. After thanking me for the question, he attacked my premise, railing against Christianity as a religion of the powerful. While that has certainly been true at times in history, the fact remains that Jesus was loved by the poor, the weak, the blind, the outcast, the disabled, and the despised—and still is. After Christopher subsided, I pointed out that he had not answered my question about how his philosophy provides for dignity and hope to the forgotten of the world.

I can’t recall his exact response, but I have the distinct impression he began mumbling, saying something about how he couldn’t lie about people who were “unlucky” in life. (Eventually a video of all the panel discussions will be released, so you can double-check my admittedly imperfect recall of the discussion.)

So there you have it. Hitchens’s anti-God philosophy offers no hope or dignity to the disabled and others who are “unlucky” in life. What difference does Christianity make? All the difference in the world. I suspect that this is why atheist pundits will continue to have limited influence in matters of religion, no matter how many debates they attend and how many best-sellers they write.

(A longer version of this commentary is posted here.)

About Stan Guthrie

Stan Guthrie is an editor at large for Christianity Today magazine and for the Chuck Colson Center for Christian Worldview. His latest book is God's Story in 66 Verses. He also is author of All that Jesus Asks: How His Questions Can Teach and Transform Us, Missions in the Third Millennium: 21 Key Trends for the 21st Century, and A Concise Guide to Bible Prophecy. He is co-author of The Sacrament of Evangelism. Besides authoring, writing, and editing books, Stan is a literary agent, bringing together good authors, good books, and good publishers. Stan writes the monthly Priorities colum for BreakPoint.org. He has appeared on National Public Radio's €œTell Me More,€ WGN's Milt Rosenberg program, and many Christian shows, including The Eric Metaxas Show and Moody Radio'€™s €œNew Day Florida.€ A licensed minister and an inspirational speaker, he served as moderator for the Christian Book Expo panel discussion, Does the God of Christianity Exist, and What Difference Does It Make?
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