The Atheism of Christopher Hitchens

Not long ago on this blog, Shay mentioned Christopher Hitchens, the brilliant and often provocative journalist and literary critic (his work can be found in both Vanity Fair and The Atlantic, as well as the New York Times Book Review). Anyone who has walked through a bookstore lately will likely recognize his recent book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, a work that has placed him as the current “tip of the spear” for the atheistic perspective.

For that reason, it is particularly necessary for Christians to engage Hitchens’ ideas in a thoughtful manner. For those with the time and inclination to do so, I’d recommend reading his debate with Douglas Wilson, the author of Letter From a Christian Citizen and senior fellow of theology at New Saint Andrews College. The stated issue: is Christianity good for the world?

A few editorial comments of my own on the debate:

1. The tendency is to view each new book, article, or documentary that attacks Christianity specifically or theism in general as a fresh assault on the foundation of well-founded religious belief. Rarely is that proven to be the case, and the perspectives Hitchens offers in the debate are no exception.

2. Wilson does an exceptionally good job at pointing out the fundamental flaw in Hitchens’ position: his own atheism precludes the possibility of making moral judgments–regarding Christianity or anything else. Those wishing to delve further into this idea will profit greatly from the first section of C. S. Lewis’ classic Mere Christianity, as well as Francis Schaeffer’s The God Who is There—two of the most important and influential books I personally have ever read (both are available at The Crossing Bookstore on Sunday mornings).

3. Hitchens is famed for caustic rhetoric and it appears on occasion that Wilson was unable to resist engaging his ideas without adopting a bit of the same tone. Perhaps I’m wrong or reading Wilson a bit too severely. Even if that’s the case, it’s still worth noting that the manner of the telling often commends the truthfulness of the ideas (and vice versa). No wonder we’re enjoined to accompany the defense of our faith with “gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:16).

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