Thursday, October 28, 2010

Christopher Hitchens and Christian Morality

I recently viewed a clip on youtube that was an extract from a debate with Christopher Hitchens. In the clip Hitchens is arguing against the morality of certain Christian principles. For example he argues that the call to follow and trust in Christ fully, without care for tomorrow, is immoral. He seems to believe that it's an irresponsible notion. Falsely, of course, but never mind. Of course if you don't believe that Christ was the only son of the one true and living God, then giving up everything to follow an eccentric first century Jewish rabbi would surely be folly. The reason that Hitchens' objection is novel and more worthwhile to engage with is that he says that this doctrine is immoral and would be even if he granted the central truth claims of the Christian faith. He lists the virgin birth and Christ's death and resurrection and says that he's "willing to grant all of it", and even then it still wouldn't make these doctrines moral.

One gets the impression Hitchens is trying to grab our attention. If God exists and Christ was his son whom he raised from the dead for our sins, then it seems to logically follow that the creator of the universe and the creator of morality would know a little bit about the subjects. When someone rejects these truth claims then it logically follows that they will also reject the morality that is derived therefrom. But when someone grants the truth claims and still rejects the morality that follows logically therefrom, then you have a novel and interesting claim.

However the reason it's novel is because it's baldly incoherent. If you grant the truth claims then you are necessarily granting that Christ is the creator of the universe. If you are granting that then you also necessarily must grant him all authority. If he has all authority then anything that he claims is moral is actually moral, regardless of how unpalatable Christopher Hitchens happens to find it to be. If the creator of humanity and the creator of morality says that morality is one thing, and one of his creatures says it's another, is there room for debate as to who is correct on the matter?

I have to imagine that Hitchens feels that granting the virgin birth and the death and resurrection of Jesus does not grant the entirety of Christian truth claims. That it doesn't necessarily follow from those facts (as he has graciously granted them to be) that, for example, God exists, is triune and created the universe. However there is hardly any other way to make sense of these facts, if facts they are granted to be. Just imagine a series of if-then statements that get us to our conclusion.

- If Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead then it was God who did it.
- If God rose Jesus from the dead, then God exists.
- If God exists and rose Jesus from the dead then God is the author of morality.

That's a fairly simple, linear, unobjectionable series of necessary postulates to Hitchens singular granted fact.

Hitchens is a self-described contrarian and provocateur, so I imagine he feels as if it's his place to challenge and confront us in unique ways. The Bible tells us there is nothing new under the sun, but granting Christian factual truth claims while rejecting its moral truths seems to be rather novel. Perhaps there's an implicit clause in the verse from Ecclesiastes. "There is nothing new under the sun--save specific examples of nonsense".

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