Posts tagged ‘Hitchens’
Christopher Hitchens set out a challenge in his efforts against religion:
“Name me an ethical statement made or an action performed by a believer that could not have been made or performed by a non-believer.”
The point, presumably, is to say that atheists are ethically the same as believers, at least. But his challenge can be debunked as unable to make this point (of unbelievers and believers being similar). Or his challenge can simply be met instead.
Are there statistics that show an ethical difference between believers and unbelievers? A well-documented fact, for example, is that religious believers give more money to charity, and volunteer more time (even to secular charities) than the non-religious. Other examples could also be mentioned, but this one is sufficient for now.
We can easily conclude that there is, on average, ethical differences between believers and unbelievers. And the Hitchens challenge cannot argue away that fact.
Another thing commonly pointed out on this topic is that atheists, even when doing the ethical thing, cannot logically ground why they do it. They may say “this helps rather than harm humans” but why, logically, should humans not be harmed, unless some higher power exist who say they should not?
Meeting the challenge:
Before meeting the challenge, let’s first examine what counts as an ethical statement. An ethical statement is a statement like:
“It is ethically wrong to do [x]” or “[y] is a good moral deed.”
Therefore, any ethical statement which only believers can make will have unbelievers protesting something like:
“It is not ethically wrong to do [x]” or “[y] is not a good moral deed.”
It will, for the purpose of the Hitchens challenge, be an invalid protest. In fact, it will prove that there are indeed moral statements only believers can make.
And now, for an answer: The first ethical law, according to the Christian world view, is “love the Lord your God with all your heart and your soul and all your mind.” It is an ethical statement that unbelievers cannot make. It is an ethical action which unbelievers cannot perform. Christianity thus meets the Hitchens challenge head-on: Not with an obscure side issue, but by their biggest commandment.
(Do you want to protest that unbelievers do not find loving God an issue of ethics? You can’t. As I explained in the previous paragraph, that protest is a clear sign that the challenge was indeed met.)
The Hitchens challenge is misleading, since the only valid type of answer sounds inadmissible at first glance. (Did Hitchens set his challenge up in a misleading way on purpose, perhaps?)
Here Peter T. Chattaway, film critic, interview Philip Pullman on “His Dark materials” books and the new “The Golden Compass“ movie, based on it. The interview statements seems to be a bit more toned down than Pullman’s earlier admission: “My books are about killing God” – Philip Pullman
I know that reviewers find the ‘Golden Compass’ movie not even entertaining. And readers say the first book of the ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy is well-written, the second less well-written, and the third book (the most anti-religious of the three, in which “God” is killed) is very disconnected, failing to satisfactorily conclude the lofty themes promised in the first book.. Jeffrey Overstreet suggest some questions that you can ask in a discussion with children who read the book. (They are in the “Okay, so we shouldn’t start boycotts and complain.But what should Christians do?” section under “equip yourself and your kids ….. section of this link.)
Some of Pullman’s anti-religious remarks in the interview have led me to comment on the interview’s site.
Pullman: “If there is an exclusively religious sin (not exclusively Christian, but certainly clearly visible among some Christians) it is the claim that all virtue belongs to their sect, all vice to others.”
Me: If that is true, why does the “His Dark Materials” series put all virtue in the actions of unbelieving characters, and almost all vice in the believing characters? It would seem that this sin is not so exclusive to religious people, but appears in Pullman’s mind as well.
Pullman: “It [the claim that all virtue belongs to their sect, all vice to others] is so clearly wrong, so clearly stupid, so clearly counter-productive, that it leads the unbiased observer to assume that you’re not allowed in the religious club unless you leave your intelligence at the door. “
Me: Yeah, that’s the same thing that puts me off about Dawkins, Hitchens and the like – this “so clearly wrong, so clearly stupid, so clearly counter-productive,” view that all belief in God, and believers in God, are evil and/or stupid, and atheism the clever, moral thing. It “leads the unbiased observer to assume that you’re not allowed in the anti-religious club unless you leave your intelligence at the door. “
Why is it that some people are very critical of flaws they themselves share, but they only notice those flaws in others? There is no reason to think that prejudice is exclusive to believers- not if you have read anything by today’s most prominent atheistic writers, that is.