Friday, October 19, 2007

Is Christianity Good for the World?

Earlier this year, Douglas Wilson (Christian) and Christopher Hitchens (Atheist) exchanged responses to one another in Christianity Today under this question: Is Christianity Good for the World?

If you are up to reading this six-part exchange, none of which is too long (I read it all in one sitting), here are a few observations I made you can look for.

  1. Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson know their material and represent their various perspectives well. This isn't a mismatched dialog, like we have seen in recent debates with 'new' atheists.
  2. Hitchens is promoting the 'new' atheism on the block with his recently released and bestselling book, God is Not Great. I find it interesting that 'new' atheism is using the same arguments and assumptions as 'old' atheism (empiricism and a strict atomic story).
  3. Hitchens often dodges the point until his position becomes so weakened that he must address it. And in addressing it, he simply announces it ad hoc (that is, the world is just so without a need to give a reason).
  4. Hitchens, by the end, leaves the reader with a good perspective on 'new' atheism to wrestle with.
  5. Even though many atheists are telling us the 'argument from morality' for God's existence isn't a good argument, Wilson uses it first and Hitchens has a hard time with it. Then Wilson moves to the 'argument from reason' and again advances the Christian side as being more reasonable as Hitchens cannot offer a solid reply.
  6. Douglas Wilson gives a fine example of whimsical and thoughtful replies to the opposition. While I could have thought of a few philosophers who could have replied Hitchens much more exactingly, Wilson brings in a breath of fresh imagination into such a dialog which many apologists would do well to note.
  7. Wilson brings to the table a reformed theological perspective which, sometimes, weakens his argument. His closing remarks in part 6, though nicely written, feel forced and unnecessary. It is so poetically written, it loses accuracy and impact. But you'll have to decide that yourself as reader.
Overall, this is a great exchange worth reading and noting. It is a good example of cordial dialog even though the views are opposed.


Philip said...

That's a good debate. The "new" atheism seems to be more concerned with bashing theism than actually giving an alternative worldview. It is interesting to me how many people who leave Christianity spend the rest of their lives obsessing over and preaching against it. If it seems worthless to you, then why do you still worry so much about it? There are circumstances when this obviously justified but still seems odd.

Hitchens, like nearly every other debate I have read that focuses on the argument from morality, dances around it by saying that atheists can be good and Christians can be bad. As Wilson said, that is totally missing the point.

I really wish Wilson dealt with the supported acts of genocide and slavery in the Old Testament. Almost every Christian I know cannot answer that question and I have a hard time finding any legitimate answer to this (I really haven't figured it out yet). That is the one thing that "new" atheism has really brought out to the public that is devastating to many Christians.

The Nietzsche-like argument of eternal judgment and guilt-trip Christianity is misleading. It's a straw man. But hey, many apologists I have read like to create straw mans of atheism too.

Those are my initial thoughts to the debate. It was good and evenly matched. Debates don't change people's minds or hearts; it just helps clarify things....sometimes. Care and discussion is needed, especially in todays culture.

Dale Fincher said...

Thanks for your comments, Philip. I'm with you, it would have been good to hear Wilson address those issues as food for thought.

On genocide, I know Copan covers it in his book, "That's Just Your Interpretation." At least it is something to consider.

I've heard different explanations, and like you, I've not done a thorough study of it. Some of the possible explanations are, at least to me, sufficient for my level of inquiry.

On Slavery, Old Testament slavery is disanalogous to modern day slavery. As I recall, even slaves in Israel were set free after a certain period of time or after a requirement was met. They were not 'owned' property no considered less valuable to God.

On Genocide, I think certain qualifications need to be met. If you take Hitchen's view, that Israel simply evoke the name of God to do their dastardly deeds, then there would be a lot of suspicion. But if you allow the supernatural to break in, then it could very well be that God commanded it. I don't recall any condition, either in Scripture nor in natural law, that does not say God is not allowed to Judge or be the final Arbiter of a people.

A few months ago, I was reading about Tyre in Isaiah. This was a gentile nation that God said would fall under judgment but they would be restored. What is interesting about this is that even the gentile nations knew about this Jehovah God.

So it wouldn't surprise me if a nation like Canaan also know about this God and fell under his judgment. God uses floods and disease as judgment. Why is war suddenly off limits?

So it doesn't trouble me, considering who the Jews where and what God was doing in the ancient world. If God was verifiably showing up today, especially in the same way he did in the Old Testament, then I think we would want to take him seriously. The trick is, many don't believe God is verifiable at all, so before the question gets off the ground, we are left on the defensive.

We don't know much of the back story on Canaan. We do know they knew about the God of Israel. So genocide in that city could just have very well been an issue of judgment. God doesn't need legislative committees and anti-supernaturalist's bureaucratic red tape to give him the thumbs-up, do we? I don't say this as a Christian... I simply say it as a human. If God is in the equation, then we have better reasons to act justifiably.

Today, people will use the name of God to kill, but we know that it very well could be an abuse. Yet, in principle, if God did speak for judgment, then it would not be an unjust act.

The atheist cannot answer to my satisfaction why Hitler was wrong to hurt the Jews nor that America was right to stand against it with war. We killed a lot of Germans in that war, many of which we thought was justifiable because they were soldiers. Was that right?

Genocide is only a problem for me when it is eradicating people unjustly. One day I wouldn't be surprised if genocide could be taken to mean 'any people group' and in so doing, even solders of other nations could not be killed because it would be unjust, even if they were killed justly.

Justice is a word that's losing it's meaning and reference point today. If Darwin is right, then let's eradicate anyone who stands against us so our own 'kind' will 'survive.' Yet most humans, Darwinists or not, will say, all things being equal, this isn't good. But why?

At the end of the day, who is a the Judge.

Philip said...

I see your points and I have come to similar conclusions. The way I have tried to make sense of this is that the nations knew very well who the God of Israel was and yet still didn't come back to their Creator; so in this sense they are not innocent towards God.

Now the problem most people have with the Old Testament violence I think is that the purpose for it was so that Israel could have the land, and no one else. If judgement was the purpose, it is never highlighted consistently as much as the idea of the "promised land" is. So to the reader, we see the Israelites fighting and conquering this land because God wants them to have it, not judgment. Judgment may be a bonus but certainly not the main point. The intent of the Israelites is seen as getting land by any means possible and not carrying out God's judgment.

I don't think the problem for the skeptic is killing in God's name here, although many have raised the issue. The problem is that it is God's command that a whole nation should be wiped out and no trace of them should be left behind. He wants it to happen; this doesn't mean he enjoys it of course, but it does mean he approves it.

What is interesting to me is that it is not what we may call "racial cleansing". Nowhere, to my knowledge, does the Bible say the Canaanites were inferior and dirty to the Israelites or God. It does mention many times that they were immoral but that does not necessitate inferiority. So we know God views the Canaanites as immoral and, more importantly, refusing God. Israel was the light among the nations, and these people's refused the light.

The acts of God for the Israelite people were well known too. So we know that other people's clearly say the unique power of God. The Canaanites were far from innocent and God did reach out to these people through the Israelites testimony and His power clearly shown.

What is happening then in the Old Testament is more than God-approved genocide. We find Canaan refusing the God of Israel and opposing his will. Therefore we need to switch the focus from "God just wanting to kill off people" or "God approving genocide so Israel can get their land" to "entire nations who refused God and his will and thus made themselves emnity of God". We like to think Canaan was innocent and God came against them and was their enemy, which made God Canaan's enemy. But we seem to neglect the idea that Canaan first declared themselves enemies toward God.

That has been what I have told friends in the past as we dealt with these questions together. Is this conclusive? By no means! But I know the God who took the life has always offered to restore it to begin with.

Paul said...

It seems like this new movement is actually representative of the beliefs of many 'old atheists'. There are two main differences though: 1) The new group is not nearly as good at philosophy as the old group. They may be talented in other fields of inquiry, but it's often obvious that philosophy is not their specialty. 2) They publish what they actually think (e.g. that Christianity is bad for us all). I'm not sure why the 'old' group doesn't do the same, but it does seem like their beliefs line up with the new group.

Dale Fincher said...

Good observation, Paul. Yeah, I guess the old atheists had better public manners.

When I read Hitchins and Dawkins I see a need for some good, honest counseling--maybe an atheist recovery group.

What I think particularly interesting is that the New Atheists level so much of their attack against the Christian God and blaspheming him. Why don't they write a book on the negatives of Islam and publish that in the Middle East and then do a book tour through Saudi afterwards without any body guards.

I think they'll get a different taste of the 'freedom to be an obnoxious atheist' that the Judeo-Christian assumptions actually affords them here.