Posts Tagged ‘christopher hitchens’

Larry Taunton is a man I have admired for a while now. He is the founder and executive director of Fixed-Point Foundation, which is an organization dedicated to engaging a secular culture with the truth of Christianity (www.fixed-point.org). Larry also hosts a radio show called “The Larry Taunton Show,” which you can find as a podcast on iTunes. I had the opportunity to hear him recently at an apologetics conference in Greenville, SC. While I was there I picked up his book, “The Grace Effect: How the Power of One Life Can Reverse The Corruption of Unbelief.” In its pages I found a book on apologetics unlike any I had previously read.

grace-effectAs a historian, Taunton is greatly concerned by the dangers of an atheistic worldview. Without an ultimate authority, where might this type of thinking lead us? One need only look to the 20th Century. Atheism was the driving force behind Communism, which made the 20th Century the bloodiest in human history. Vincent Carroll and David Shiflett note,

The body count from the two great barbarisms of the twentieth century, communism and Nazism, is extraordinary on its own. Communism’s toll ran to perhaps 100 million: 65 million in China, 20 million in the Soviet Union, 2 Cambodia, 2 million in North Korea, 1 million in Eastern Europe and 10 million in various other spots around the globe…Adolf Hitler’s death machine was equally effective, but ran a much shorter course.” (Vincent Carroll & David Shiflett, Christianity on Trial: Arguments Against Anti-Religious Bigotry, San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2002, pg109)

In his book, Taunton recounts a conversation he had with the late Christopher Hitchens. These two men, despite their radically different beliefs, had become close friends. Taunton met Hitchens while sponsoring a debate. Their friendship grew, and Hitchens would eventually call Larry to let him know he had just been diagnosed with cancer of the esophagus. Hitchens had not even informed his family yet. In the following months they would engage in private debate (while driving through Yellowstone National Park, reading through the book of John) as well as public debate (see the dvd “God or No God?”). Larry recounts in his book that, on one occasion, he asked an interesting question of Hitchens. They had come to an agreement that man, at his very nature, is evil. Larry then asked, “Then it seems to me…that the question is this: which philosophies or religions restrain our darker impulses, and which ones exacerbate them?” (pg 4) At this point, one would expect Larry to go into an apologetic of the evils of atheism throughout history (of which there are many examples) and the goods of Christianity (of which there are many examples). While there are many books on this subject, and while Larry does indeed discuss some of these topics, the book takes an unexpected turn at this point. Rather than turning into an “Oh yeah, well your worldview…” kind of argument, he tells the story of how his family adopted a young girl from Ukraine. Her life would become the ultimate apologetic.

Larry’s wife had taken their three sons on a mission trip to Ukraine, on which they worked in a filthy orphanage known simply as #17. It was here they met Sasha, and they immediately fell in love with her. The process of adoption was soon put into motion, and it would be a journey that would impact all of them forever. I will not go into detail of all that they experienced, but let’s just say, read this book before you consider adopting a child from Ukraine! It will make you clench your fists in anger at the corruption, bureaucracy, and incompetence of the Ukrainian adoption system, and will tug on your heart to consider adopting a child out of this horrible atmosphere. It is a society that does not care for the poor or the needy. In fact, it is a culture built on the worldview of atheism. Larry’s experience in Ukraine taught him two things: 1) The hopelessness of atheism 2) The hope of Christianity. The story of how Sasha is brought from one world to another paints an excellent picture of how Christ brings us from death to life when we accept His grace.

Larry explains how “The Grace Effect” simply refers to the difference Christianity makes in a society. What he is not saying is that atheists never do good things or Christians never do bad things. His point is that Christianity gives a moral fiber and foundation to society that cannot come from anywhere else. True, because we have God’s law written on our hearts (another way of saying “We have a basic conscience that helps us determine right and wrong”) we can do “good” things while not necessarily out of a Christian faith (although I would argue even these “good” things are not good in God’s eyes if they are done out of unbelief). However, does society benefit more from atheism or Christianity? Hitchens, while he was still alive, claimed that religion makes the world worse but atheism would lead us into a sort of utopian society. Larry, having witnessed and experienced a culture in which Christianity is suppressed and actively pushed aside, would say the opposite. Many atheists in America today claim to offer a morality apart from Christianity, when in fact they are drawing from what the Bible teaches. Upon a worldview of Darwinism, there is no such thing as morality. There is simply pain and pleasure. Who is to say that one thing is “good” and another “bad?” Only God, as Creator of everything (including the very idea of morality, which is whatever aligns with His perfect character) can give a society an objective moral compass.

Now, at this point, objections may come like “Yeah, well then how do you explain the Crusades, or the Inquisition, or the Salem Witch Hunts? Christianity has done much evil!” I would say that Christianity has not done this evil. Nor has Jesus. People have done evil in the name of religion. But this does not disprove the truth of the religion (just as the fact that atheist have done evil doesn’t alone prove that atheism is false). It merely shows that we do not live up to its standards. I believe the only reason we can even discuss morality is because God has created us with this concept in our nature. Where does morality come from if atheism is true? The question is, as Larry mentioned, Which worldview suppresses evil and which one encourages it? A worldview that says “Survival of the fittest” or one that says “Love your neighbor?” These are the kinds of observations Larry notes while describing the frustrating, eye-opening, but ultimately deeply fulfilling process of adopting Sasha out of the horrors of her atheistic culture.

If you are looking for an inspirational story, as well as a thought-provoking critique of worldviews and their effect on society, read this book. It is written in an intelligent, yet accessible manner. Whether you are a scholar, a skeptic, or simply a layperson in search of truth, you will benefit greatly from this book. You may not agree with everything Taunton says, but you will be forced to wrestle with some of the most basic questions of life and morality. You may also find your heart increasingly softened towards “the least of these” who suffer in our world, and who are in desperate need of love that Christ alone can offer.

Other books you might be interested in on this subject:

“Christianity on Trial: Arguments Against Anti-Religious Bigotry” by Vincent Carroll and David Shiflett

“Is God a Moral Monster? Making Sense of the Old Testament God” by Paul Copan

“Atheist Delusions: The Christian Revolution and Its Fashionable Enemies” by David Bentley Hart

“The Rage Against God: How Atheism Led Me to Faith” by Peter Hitchens

“Moral Apologetics for Contemporary Christians” by Mark Coppenger

Also see these debates on dvd (available at http://www.fixed-point.org):

“Can There be Morality Without God?” Peter Singer vs. Dinesh D’Souza

“God or No God?” Christopher Hitchens vs. Larry Taunton

“Is God Great?” Christopher Hitchens vs. John Lennox

“Can Atheism Save Europe?” Christopher Hitchens vs. John Lennox

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Not long ago I wrote a book review on “God Is” by Doug Wilson, in which the pastor/apologist takes apart a book by atheist Christopher Hitchens. Well, I recently finished a different book by Hitchens called “Letters to a Young Contrarian.”

In one sense, this is Hitchens teaching others how to be exactly like him. However, it is also the complete opposite. “Contrarian” can have many definitions, but it is basically someone who thinks for himself. It is the ultimate form of “Don’t tell me what to do/think/say/be/feel etc etc etc.” A Contrarian is often described as a Radical, Dissident, Maverick, Loose Cannon, Rebel, Angry Young Man or any number of unflattering (not to the Contrarian!) terms to describe someone who thumbs his nose at anything not thought up by his own infallible intellect. In short, it describes Hitchens as closely as any definition could!

The book is a collection of letters written to a fictional recipient. Hitchens takes on the role of a “mentor” in teaching his student how to think independently. This is Hitchens’ manifesto for being a rebel black sheep without a cause! Of course, it is all written with a sense of irony since contrarians don’t really listen to anyone (even other contrarians).

Of course, that may not be entirely true. Indeed, we all take advice and learn from each other, and I’m sure Hitchens would not disagree with that. However, this book is his declaration that we ultimately only have ourselves to trust in this world of masks, fakes, smooth-talkers, agendas, vote-grabbers, indoctrination, and herd-mentality. Basically, kids, don’t trust anyone…not even me.

Hitchens says we should not be afraid to voice our opinion and disagree with the moral majority—even if it is unpopular. In fact, if it is unpopular, there just might be something to it! If Hitchens can be credited with one thing, it is that he is not afraid to mix it up in the arena of debate. If it weren’t for people like him (at least in his own eyes) we would all be blindly following the “cool crowd” into whatever ideas seemed most popular to the majority.

He includes a chapter devoted to religion, which showcases many of the arguments I’ve heard him use in public debates. It goes without saying that the man who would later write “god is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything” doesn’t hold a high view of the divine. His criticisms are rife with problems, but there are books and debates that uncover most of those (some are listed below), so I will not do it here. Except, perhaps, for one comment. For a man who believes in blind evolution, where we are simply animals acting upon the impulses of our DNA, he sure has a lot of moral criticisms. Of course, he also has no definition of morality. If it is truly just the consensus of the majority, well, that definition seems to go against the very premise of this book! But in order to make absolute statements on issues such as morality, you need to appeal to a higher standard. For him, that is the divine god of “Reason” (We’re not worthy!). Of course, what is reason and why should we follow it? Does he come to this conclusion by using reason? Isn’t that like saying “We should base morality on the Bible because the Bible says so”? But that is a debate for another time.

Basically, it comes down to this. Hitchens is a gifted writer. He is also a very opinionated (and educated) man. He has a wide range of knowledge on various subjects, and he approaches his writing with a wicked wit and cutting edge that draws you in. He pulls heavily from modern history, as one would expect a journalist to do. At some points, this got a bit much for me, since my knowledge of many of these events is limited.

I don’t want you to get the wrong idea. In this review, and in my “God Is” review I have made it clear that I disagree with Hitchens. I also believe that he is entitled to receive the same harsh language that he reserves for people like me (who apparently am contributing to the poisoning of everything!). But I don’t hate Hitchens. Yes, at times he is very easy to dislike (something I’m sure he is very proud of!), but my heart breaks for him as well. He is truly a rebel without a cause, filled with criticism, mistrust, anger, and ultimately, emptiness. An exert near the end of this books reads as follows:

“Beware the irrational, however seductive. Shun the ‘transcendent’ and all who invite you to subordinate or annihilate yourself. Distrust compassion; prefer dignity, for yourself and others. Don’t be afraid to be thought arrogant or selfish. Picture all experts as if they were mammals. Never be a spectator of unfairness or stupidity. Seek out argument and disputation for their own sake; the grave will supply plenty of time for silence. Suspect your own motives, and all excuses. Do not live for others any more than you would expect others to live for you.”

The problem is, in his atheistic worldview, none of this has any authority. We are all free to say “Thanks Mr. Hitchens, but no thanks. I will chose religion if I want.” In a world without a transcendent authority, his words get lost amidst the noise of so many others, all rising up to an empty sky of a universe that looks on us with blind, pitiless indifference.

But I have hope for Hitchens, because I believe God loves him and has the power to change the hardest heart. In a fascinating revelation in the documentary “Collision,” he recalls a conversation he had with fellow atheist Richard Dawkins. In it, Hitchens admits that even if he were able to convert every last believer–except one–to atheism, he couldn’t bring himself to eradicate religion completely. Not because there would be no one left to argue with. In fact, he admits that he doesn’t even know why, but he knows he would leave that last believer alone. Indeed, he would allow faith to live on. He concludes by saying, “And the incredulity with which he [Richard Dawkins] looked at me stays with me still, I’ve got to say.” One can only hope that all of Hitchens’ “free thinking” will one day lead him to the truth he so adamantly opposes.

Recommended Debates on DVD:

“Collision”–A very well-done documentary that follows Hitchens and Doug Wilson as they debate across the country in everywhere from pubs, to coffee shops, to university campuses. The gems, however, are in their personal conversations along the way.

“Does God Exist? A Debate” –A public debate on the existence of God between Hitchens and heavy-weight Christian apologist William Lane Craig. This is really the best of both sides going toe-to-toe!

“Can Atheism Save Europe?”–A debate between two Europeans: Hitchens and Oxford mathematician/philosopher/scientist/theologian John Lennox. Hitchens later admitted that he lost this debate to Lennox. I agree.

“God on Trial”–A debate between Hitchens and Dinesh D’Souza. Although I disagree with him, I believe Hitchens actually comes out on top in this debate.

“God or No God?”–A debate between Hitchens and Larry Taunton (founder of Fixed-Point Foundation). This one is special because these two have become good friends. There is a civility and respect for the other person here that is often missing in other debates. It truly shows that, while we may strongly disagree, that is never an excuse not to love.