“God Is. How Christianity Explains Everything” book review

Posted: January 17, 2011 in Book Reviews

When I first read the book “god is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” (lower case g on “god” is not a type-o) by British journalist and outspoken atheist Christopher Hitchens, I was hit hard. I had never come across such an explosive attack on my Christian faith. I found myself balling up my fists in anger at the blatant blasphemy laced throughout the pages. I had never heard of Christopher Hitchens. Indeed, many people hadn’t. Although an accomplished writer and journalist, Hitchens’ name was foreign to most of the American public until his written attack on religion. Of course, coming from a man who holds Mother Teresa in the same esteem as most Christians view the anti-Christ, his convictions are anything but surprising! But although it pained me at the time to subject myself to such critique, it was perhaps one of the best things I have done in recent years. It opened my eyes to a wider world of unbelief that is not content to sit in the dusty classrooms of Oxford, but is worming its way onto the bookshelves and into the minds of “your average Joe.” In the end, it forced me to think long and hard about the very foundations of what I hold to be true, and I have come away with my faith strengthened, not shaken. However, to the “untrained eye” Hitchens can appear very persuasive. He is a brilliant writer, spinning sentences with a sense of authority, wit, and shock value that will pull a reaction from even the most apathetic agnostic.

For those whose beliefs have been disturbed by the recent rise of atheist writers such as Hitchens, author/pastor/apologist Doug Wilson provides the perfect companion book. “God Is. How Christianity Explains Everything” is a chapter-by-chapter response to Hitchens’ work. This is the book I wish I had known about when I first read Hitchens! Wilson is perhaps the only apologist I have read (excluding C.S. Lewis) who can stand toe-to-toe with Hitchens and match him in wit and style. He likens Hitchens to an illusionist. His superior grasp of the English language alone is enough to send many believers sprinting out the church doors! However, as in the case of most illusionists, all it takes is someone with knowledge of how the tricks work to unravel the whole facade. Wilson is that man. He walks you through each of the chapters in Hitchens’ book and pulls the curtain to reveal the “wizard” cowering behind.

The criticisms of Hitchens begin with the title! As Wilson points out, Hitchens has no basis for morality if there is no God (for a Darwinist, it is simply as the book of Judges describes: “Everyone does what is right in their own eyes.”). Without a standard of right and wrong (God), who decides our morality? Who is the “final authority?” Well, I guess we are. That is all fine and dandy, until Hitchens spills his tea and crumpets all over himself throwing his arms up in unrighteous indignation! Religion poisons everything. So? Why, for an atheist, is that wrong? It is, upon their worldview, just a fact. An “is” that requires no more explanation. If we are created by a random evolutionary process, there simply is no right and wrong. There are only facts. In this argument alone, Hitchens’ whole purpose for writing the book is based on borrowed capital (indeed, he must borrow the Christians’ idea of right and wrong to be angry with us in the first place!).

In fact, perhaps “Religion” is not the problem after all. Wilson says, “When you compare abominable theistic societies and abominable atheistic societies, the variables are probably not the thing you want to appeal to in order to account for the constant, horrific result. We need to look for the constant. What might that be? People. People poison everything.” Of course it is easy for Hitchens to lump several thousand different worldviews all under the umbrella of “religion” and be done with it. My concern is not “religion” but Christianity. I just don’t believe I can be placed in a category next to a Wiccan who worships trees. However, what we both have in common is that we are people. Funny, we have that in common with the atheist too.

Wilson has many insights that I enjoyed. One is his observation of laws in the Old Testament. Hitchens sneers and mocks at the apparently ridiculous amounts of laws given in the first few books of the Bible that just seem so foreign to us post-Enlightenment/post-Origin of Species mammals. How can we take anything like that seriously today? Wilson responds, “The ancient Hebrews had Ten Commandments, and one slim volume commentary on those commandments. Go to the nearest law library and ask to see the regulations that you, enlightened modern man, live under. They will show you shelf after shelf of big fat books, and the incoming regulations will, on a daily basis, far surpass the Mosaic code in volume, and what they overdo in quantity they will make up for in pettiness, hubris, and incoherence.”

Hypocrisy is not limited to just the “religious.” While men like Hitchens may be appalled at the Old Testament law of stoning to death one caught in adultery, they are quick to condemn murderers to death in our own country. It seems it is simply a matter of “which sin deserves it?” for them. Of course, they have no standard to base “sin” on, but lets (as they obviously have) just forget about that!

This book is a gem of a response to Hitchens and men like him, and at just over a hundred pages, is easily read in one sitting. I recommend you get Hitchens’ book (somewhere used, so he will not receive another royalty check!) and this book, and read them together. You may just be surprised at how unstable Hitchens is when the rug is pulled from beneath his feet.

Other Recommended books on the subject:

“Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies” by David Bentley Hart. A more academic approach to how Christians (contrary to the complaints of men like Hitchens) have historically helped the world, rather than poisoning it. Worth the whole price just for the rant he goes on near the end!

“The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith” by Peter Hitchens (brother of Christopher). Peter is also a respected journalist, but has chosen a very different path than his brother. It is interesting to see the world through his eyes, especially considering the family relation.

“Christianity on Trial: Arguments Against Anti-Religious Bigotry” by Vincent Carroll and David Shiflett. Most of Hitchens’ criticisms rest on what he deems immoral acts committed by Christians throughout the ages. This book explains (but does not necessarily condone) the real history behind such Christian atrocities as the Crusades and the Inquisition, but also looks at how religion (far from poisoning everything) has led the way in abolition, education, and charity.

“Is Christianity Good for the World? A Debate” Interested in a debate between Hitchens and Wilson? Here it is. The topic is in the title, and the back-and-forth conversation of this debate is extremely engaging. Read along as Hitchens dodges every attempt by Wilson to get him to just explain “morality.”

“Atheism Remix: A Christian Confronts the New Atheists” by Al Mohler. The president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary gives a quick overview of the “New Atheist” movement of which Hitchens is a leader. This is an easy way to get a handle on the current debate.

  1. PJB says:

    Dear Sir – many people understand what Mr Hitchens is saying and find an infinitely more reasonable and logical explanation of things than what one finds in the bible, written by men who were barely out of the Neanderthal period, and bewildered and terrified of the natural world, and written some two or three hundred years after christ walked the earth.
    These men HAD to find some sort of explanation or answer for the workings of the cosmos and, knowing nothing of science whatsoever, they simply created myths and fairytales in an attempt to assuage their fear. All religions came into being for one reason and one reason only: fear of death. I believe you don’t want to listen to what Mr Hitchens says because it frightens you.

    • mikeblackaby says:

      Thank you for your comment, but I respectfully have to disagree. I don’t see how a lesser knowledge of science leads to the founding of Christianity. If I’m scared of thunder and lightning, my reaction may be to create gods like Zeus or Poseidon, but not a God who would come to earth as a man and die for my sins. I don’t see the connection. Jesus said very little on the cosmos, so I don’t see how the New Testament (if it was indeed made up) helps to explain any of these primitive fears you assume. Is it a scientific fact that religions were all created because of a fear of death? I would like to know what scientific method was used to reach that conclusion.

      If I were to create a religion because of my fear of death, I would definitely have left the doctrine of hell out of the picture! However, Jesus talked more about hell than he did about heaven. To me, the thought that there is no God and we simply cease to be when we die is much LESS scary than the belief that hell is a possibility. Actually, if I wanted relief from my fear of death, I might very well have invented atheism! In atheism, there are no eternal consequences for how I lived my life, and so no fear that some horrible afterlife might be waiting for me on the other side.

      I would love to hear more of your thoughts. As long as we both speak with respect towards each other, I encourage healthy debate on here.

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