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?)