Straight off the bat, It’s been ages since I last sat down to write anything so, I ask you to be a little patient with me as I progress with this post!
What stirred me enough to sit down at my computer and write a blog post I hear you ask?
Of course you are not asking that, chances are you are reading this in passing and don’t avidly follow my on-line musings. Allow for my little flourishes of personality though, I find that sometimes the things I write about are quite heavy going and need to be balanced with a lighter, chattier narrative voice!
Well, I was sat in the hospital the other day (long and entirely unexciting story believe me), and found myself with a stinking headache and several hours to kill and only a handful of books at my disposal (via my I pad). I found myself attracted to a really well known book that I bought earlier in the year but forgot about: God is Not Great by the wonderfully witty and sophisticated late, Christopher Hitchens.
I only managed to get the introduction out of the way before my reading was interrupted by, ‘hospital stuff’ and shall base this article only on the little I’ve read.
I will assume that Christopher deals with the points of contention I currently hold in a little more depth later on in the book and, when I finish the book shall write a more elaborate and lengthier engaged discourse but, for the time being I wish to air my current point of contention as the points made by Hitchens are shared almost universally across the atheist community.
So, without further ado, I shall present the passage I am going to counter as it is printed:
‘There still remain four irreducible objections to religious faith: that it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos, that because of this original error it manages to combine the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism, that it is both the result and the cause of dangerous sexual repression, and that it is ultimately grounded in wish-thinking.’
As I have said, I’m sure Hitchens goes into great lengths throughout the book to substantiate all of these objections and I fully intend to engage with them on that wider level in the near future but, for now (call it a taster of a larger essay if you like) I shall be drawing only on the above passage to level my criticism.
Of these four objections, the first is by far the easiest to counter. It will suffice to say for now, without going in to great detail, that I reject that objection on the grounds that it is based entirely on an subjective assumption based on some objective evidence. it is the same as me saying that, atheism is a flawed view because it wholly misrepresents the origins of man and the cosmos. It’s a poor argument that I’d be making in the face of contrary evidence and I wouldn’t expect to find it in a leading atheist thinkers’ opening thesis.
I always like to assert the following when debating anyone on the subject of my religious faith verses their atheistic outlook: My fundamental assumption that cannot be empirically substantiated is this: There is a creator God. However, let’s not draw upon this assumption as our grounds for debate because, your fundamental assumption: there is no creator God, is equally as empirically unsubstantiated.
I believe Hitchens is making a similar error here when he asserts the first of his four objections.
The second objection can be dismissed quickly when one notes that it is based on the assumption that the first objection is factually correct. However, I don’t think this quite rises to the deeper underlying objection that religious faith can be perceived as combining,’the maximum of servility with the maximum of solipsism’.
I would like to commend Hitchens on his use of language here as it really manages to capture not only a personal objection but also a hyperbolic form of expressing ones’self. Using the words, ‘maximum’ alongside a word contextualised in excess really is quite provocative. It is problematic though because it expresses a mistrust of, ‘Abjectly submissive’ (http://goo.gl/FuS78r) behaviour. This mistrust is personal and doesn’t belong outside of the context in which it was written.
I hope i’m beginning to demonstrate that Hitchens’ second objection is entirely subjective and cannot be used as grounds to argue against religious faith. Just as my subjective experiences of God’s presence cannot be used in a similar discussion to substantiate my claims.
Hitchens’ third objection is interesting.
It can and will be noted here that there is a contextual extent to which Hitchens’ assertion holds some merit. I can only argue from my own perspective and therefore am only going to defend the Christian faith here on this blog. Because of this I can only say in passing that most major faith groups in the world have and are still actively involved in acts of sexual repression. The church is no different.
I have a theological position to take here that requires a blog post of its own to outline. I don’t want to detract from the central theme of my post so I shall not be going into detail about that position here (here’s an article I relate to concerning That debate: http://goo.gl/32IdKf).
This objection is difficult to address as it all depends on definition. Sexual repression is a dangerously ambiguous term as it is entirely dependant on several sets of contextual circumstances. As it is Hitchens’ own objection I must wait until I write the larger article concerning his book. Because it is a personal thing though I can discredit it generally as it doesn’t pack any real punch to the debate on God’s existence or even his greatness.
And we come to Hitchens’ final and potentially most lethal objection. Religious faith is wish thinking. This is a polite way of saying exactly what Dawkins asserts: “Such delusions of grandeur to think that a God with a hundred billion galaxies on his mind would give a tuppenny damn who you sleep with, or indeed whether you believe in him.” (http://goo.gl/zpnFdh).
Either way, the assertion is the same, in thinking wishfully rather than objectively, we (people of faith) are completely and entirely deluded. My brother, in a somewhat harsh tone, during a debate resorted to the following language to describe the extent of that delusion, ‘The very fact you describe yourself as a witness too [sic] god healing people suggest signs of mental illness and I’d advise medical assistance, as hallucinations could be detrimental to your very existence.”. this is a very damaging way of talking to somebody else, it puts the asserter (that Christians etc. are deluded) into the position of superior and the assertee into the position of inferiority thus, making the field of conversation/debate entirely unfair and biased in favour of the side dealing the biggest blow. Calling out somebody as being deluded without substantiating it is actually fallacious (Argumentum ad hominem).
I suppose it would be wise to draw some conclusions.
I was entirely surprised reading Hitchens’ introduction to his best seller that has been described thus: ‘the ultimate case against religion’. It doesn’t appear to present anything of the sort. Instead, what I observe, is a series of arguments from a very personal position that make a case against Hitchens’ own view of what religious faith consists of but, it doesn’t attack the faith I personally have nor does it attack the faith I know millions of others follow.
I look forward to reading the book in its entirety and contemplating the bigger challenges it may present.