I mean, if you go to the…well, the argument from design, and finding a watch on the beach, the watch we find is a broken watch. And so much of what happens in this world Christians believe in anyway, is not what God intends, both because of human freedom, and because the world itself is broken.
That is what you attribute to God as sort of the puppet master. CH: No, no, no. What a silly question. I would just have to accept it. As for free will, I think we have it, but I think we have no choice but to have it. HH: What I was saying is not that you believe it, but that the portrait you put in of Christians is that they believe Christ is, or that God is in fact in charge of everything.
CH: Well, they invite these kind of…I mean, after all, did you not just say to me that if I contemplated the history of the Jews, I would have to see that God was planning everything for them? HH: No, you see in history an unfolding of a reconstruction effort that Mark Roberts was referring to, not one driven forward in every detail, but one in which that mystery of free will is allowed to operate.
HH: I want to get to one of the big questions, the impact of religion on the 20 th Century. Has it been a net positive or a net negative for human civilization, Christopher Hitchens? I mean, we behaved worse in the last century, probably as a species, than we ever had before.
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And the implication of religion in all of these was pretty, pretty gross. HH: Of course, we do have the neo-pagan Nazis, we have the atheist Stalin, we have the atheist Mao, we have the atheist Cuba, we have the atheist North Korea…. Turning to Stalinism, look, in , in Russia, when the regime falls, millions of Russians for hundreds of years have been told that the head of their government is a person just a little below God.
He replicates it perfectly. Everything comes from the top, everyone has to say thank you all the time for the great benefits. Roberts, did you find persuasive Mr. MR: Well, I must admit that did feel like that was a bit of special pleading, because it seems to be evidence contrary to his main thesis that religion poisons everything. Something poisons everything. I think we could be agreed in that. It seems to me that we can look for something else. It said past and present religious atrocities have occurred not because we are evil, but because it is a fact of nature that the human species is biologically only partly rational.
Religion, when it gets messed up with totalitarianism, when it gets messed up with partial rationality, religion can be turned to bad uses. Irreligious people the same. There is plenty of sin to go around on all side, and so then we begin to ask what is the deeper problem with human nature, and can we get at that somehow? And I think blaming religion, especially for Stalinism and Mao and stuff, seems to be twisting the definition of religion out of any kind of normal definition, dictionary mode.
It freed Poland. CH: And in that respect, and in others, too, though terrible things to be laid to his charge, as well. By any standards, he was a great mammal. This might be the time to reiterate my earlier challenge, because we still have some time left. CH: Because otherwise, you see, religion becomes optional. You can have a nice Pope, you can have a nasty Pope.
You can have an honest priest, you can have a dishonest priest.
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You can have a fraudulent Church or a frugal and scrupulous one. You make yourselves believe this. But let me try to answer your question with an action that I consider to be one of the most moral that I do as a human being, though you and I might disagree on that, and that is the action, I did it last night. When my son was going to bed, I got next to him and I prayed for him. I doubt an atheist could do that.
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To me, that is one of the most moral of things I do as a human being. CH: Gosh. Well, I mean, I think it does as much good as aerobic dancing would do, frankly. MR: No, you can do many other moral deeds. You might get with your children in the evening, and tell them how much you love them, and that would be absolutely fantastic. And for me, praying for my children before they go to bed is one of the most important things in my life, and I believe it to be highly moral, and I doubt that an atheist could do that in good conscience.
But I must tell you what I think, which is that it is an irrelevant one. HH: Well, that brings us to one of my propositions. The vast majority of people listening disagree with you on that, Christopher, and atheists have always been with us, they always argue passionately, you better than most, now, with a fine book that is entertaining. And so by any objective measure….
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HH: Atheists…but atheists have failed again. Why is that, do you suppose? CH: Well, I say in the book that religious belief is ineradicable. One of the most awful things in the Bible, I used to think when I was a child, was seek and ye shall find. But I mean, you have to allow me to be unimpressed. I hate that sort of pseudo-modesty that Christians sometimes have. MR: I appreciate that. You may not like the book, but it would be helpful in a couple of ways, because I think it would help you to get what Christians believe to be the larger purpose and story, and it might also help to explain whey there is this yearning in us for God, because we happen to believe God put it there.
HH: I want to go now to the Anthropic Principle, because a number of people asked me to bring this up in the course of preparing for this. Mark Daniels wrote it requires greater blind faith to believe that the universe has just happened into existence than to believe an intelligent being created it. I was written to about Robert Rood and James Trefil, astronomers who believe that when you look at the twenty unique characteristics of the globe, that it could only have been fulfilled in, actually, it should never have happened, even in the trillion universes, and the billion stars, and each of them so magnificent as the Creation, and so delicately balanced.
I mean, there was an extraordinary event that brought the universe into being, which the word big bang, originally invented by Professor Fred Hoyle, was originally designed to scorn that idea, to make it sound silly. HH: Mark Roberts, when my correspondents point out that the Earth being fit for habitat requires the number of stars in the planetary system, the parent star birth date, the parent star age, the parent star distance, the parent star mass, surface gravity, axial tilt, all these other things, does that increase or decrease your belief? MR: Well, to the extent that I understand it, and I need to confess that I am quite limited in my understanding of that kind of science, it certainly increases….
CH: Because Christianity comes from a time when people thought the sky was bowl, and they had no idea that the Earth was round, or that it revolved around the Sun instead of the Sun around it. MR: Yes, in not one of the happy chapters in our history. I mean, let me point to another book that I found to be quite helpful. Owen Gingrich is an astrophysicist at Harvard. We would eat lunch in the same place. And he says a couple of things I think you can find interesting. He says as a Christian who needs to be humbled before God and as a scientist, there may well be other life in other places.
I think one of the things I would want to say myself is that the extent to which in the history of the relationship between religion and science, Christianity has often opposed scientific inquiry. Much of that I find very grievous, and would agree with Christopher Hitchens that that was a sorry thing. All your work is still ahead of you. I keep asking you, I will keep asking you, why do you impose this extraordinary burden on yourself?
Because the faith in the first place, to me, makes ultimately the most sense of all things, and because of something that I realize you would have a hard time agreeing with, but what I would also say is my experience of God. I think they did, I think they really do think they saw them.
HH: And Christopher Hitchens, you believe people are deluding themselves when they believe they have experienced God? CH: Well actually, I was a friend of a bishop of the Church of England, a very decent and gentle man called Hugh Montefiore, who converted from Judaism to become a Christian, who became a very senior figure in the Anglican Church, because of a personal visit that he had from Jesus Christ when he was one of the few Jews at a Protestant boarding school.
It did change his life, he acted for the rest of his life as if it had happened. Is that in the book, Christopher? He wanted this proposition to be put out there. An understanding of the existence of something greater than ourselves gives us the ability, as Dostoyevsky states in The Brothers, to not only live, but to live for something definite. Without a firm notion of what he is living for, man will not accept life, and will rather destroy himself rather than remain on Earth. And of course, he is one of the great Christian mystics, Christopher Hitchens, but do you believe that man absolutely must have some understanding of something larger than himself, meaning God, or that it becomes meaningless and insane?
CH: Well, I think we do probably need something on the order of the transcendent in our lives, and I think humanism fulfills these needs, incidentally. The example you just gave of people who have personal experiences that must be considered valid must be valid for everybody in that case. In that case, it is true that the archangel Gabriel told the prophet Mohammed what to do.
It was…it seems to have been very convincing to him and to many other people. Do you accept the validity of that or not? MR: Well, this is where Christopher Hitchens and I would, though, I think, end up in different places, agree that one of the things we desperately need is open-mindedness, clear thinking, the ability to ask difficult questions, to test our own hypotheses. I believe that in my own way. What luck. Is there some absolute standard? But I do believe…. It would have to have something to do with proof.
MR: Well, that is actually, I have said that to different kind of people, because of course, schizophrenics also believe that have religious experiences when in fact…. HH: Mark Roberts, early in the show, you said that Christopher Hitchens does not seem to inhabit the same universe you do when it comes to the religious people that you know. I can speak for what I know, I can speak for myself and my congregation of people whose faith in God is a prime motivator of goodness. I think of recently some folk from our Church went down to an orphanage in Mexico, and some of the folks fix bicycles, and some of the folks worked on teeth, because we have a couple dentists in the Church.
Now as I look at that, it is very hard for me to see how that poisoned anything. CH: Very well. And I say well, which of you is really the faithful one? CH: There are millions of unbelievers who do charitable work. CH: So I mean, and B though AIDS is bad, with condoms are worse, and must be forbidden, for a really foolish, wicked thing like that, you need to be a person of faith.
Which group is acting in conformance with the actual teachings of Jesus as you read them? CH: Or to be told to love? Therefore, you can always accuse people of falling short of it, you can always find them guilty. I believe that the universe is designed with much greater things than me in mind, and that God has enlisted me to help in His work of bringing the universe back into order. Is that a…. Mark Roberts, did you have any questions for Christopher Hitchens?
MR: Well, only in that the harder parts of your book for me were the places where you rather ridicule people of faith. Now sometimes, you ridicule people of faith that I also agree with you are thinking and doing things that are virtually worth of ridicule. CH: And that may sound to you as it somewhat slightly sounds to me as a vulgar answer, but it is the truth, right? MR: No, I appreciate that. That is a good answer. Christopher Hitchens, any final thought here?
CH: Well, yes. I say that I think the belief is stupid and unfounded and false, and potentially, latently, always wicked, because it is both servile in one way, and arrogant in another. But I certainly do not say of people who have faith that they are dumb. Isaac Newton was practically a spiritualist. These things are compatible with high intelligence and great morality. But we would be better off if we left them behind. MR: But let me say something. One of the great things I appreciate in Christopher Hitchens is he is a man of high morals. And I think any Christian or other religious person who doubts or denies that misses the point, and I share with him much of his outrage at evil in the world.
I share, I admire his willingness to do things like provide a sanctuary for Salman Rushdie, or to speak out against certain features of Islam in a day when it is risky to do so. One of the things I appreciate about Christopher Hitchens in his writing is his moral stance. The thing that I believe is that if one has a faith basis for morality, in fact, there is even greater warrant.
One can make greater arguments for saying that others must join in them. HH: Christopher Hitchens, always a pleasure. We look forward to talking, good luck in your book tour. Toggle navigation. Trending Now. Angry Staff Officer. Jerry Falwell Jr. Pastors and Church Leaders Resource Center Church and ministry leadership resources to better equip, train and provide ideas for today's church and ministry leaders, like you. Get newsletters and updates Close. Also, send me the Evangelical Newsletter and special offers.
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An Introduction to Advent What is Pentecost? Why Does It Matter? What Language Did Jesus Speak? Why Did Jesus Have to Die? Why Don't We Pray for Business? Here is an audio version of the debate. CH: Very nice of you to have me back. HH: And Mark, good to have you back as well. CH: Thank you for saying so. Roberts, does he? HH: A minute to the break.
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HH: Yes, and that is quoted repeatedly. HH: Yes. HH: Mark Roberts? MR: True. You want me to elaborate? HH: Yeah. Showing Rating details. All Languages. More filters. Sort order. David Johnston rated it it was amazing Mar 08, Becky rated it it was ok Jun 18, Paul Zieke rated it liked it May 02, Arnold Williams rated it it was amazing Jun 16, Kenneth Busiere rated it really liked it Jan 24, Kristin Palmer rated it really liked it Sep 07, Katie marked it as to-read Feb 06, Robert Strupp marked it as to-read Feb 06, Shane marked it as to-read Feb 27, Andrew marked it as to-read Mar 16, Melanie Cook marked it as to-read Mar 27, K B marked it as to-read Mar 31, J marked it as to-read Aug 07, Glenn marked it as to-read Aug 08, You seemed taken aback by how much Sharpton agreed with you on certain issues.
Matthew when he describes the crucifixion and says all of the graves of Jerusalem opened and all the corpses walked around greeting their old friends? And he answered too quickly. I must say, it's the most incredible answer I ever heard. The guy spent half the time saying that a great deal of what I wrote in the book is right.
Several of them have done that. Which is enjoyable. And I know quite a lot about what they believe. There was one guy in Illinois who was a professor of theology and an ordained minister. You had things in your book about our beliefs that I thought only a few people knew. Of course there was an impregnation of a Palestinian virgin by the Divine 2, years ago, and that proves the truth of Christ's doctrines. And not only that—he died for your sins.
What about the question of morality without God? Al Sharpton spent a lot of time grilling you on that. And it was also a major theme in your email debate with the Christian author Douglas Wilson at Christianity Today. Thoughts in the brain would just be a series of chemical reactions, like bubbles in a soft drink. And I have a higher opinion of myself than that. Well, I'll put it this way: you can certainly say belief in God makes people behave worse.
That can be proved beyond a doubt. But her nuns were willing to pick lepers off the street, to devote their lives to the people no one else in society would touch. And they seemed to do it with genuine respect and dignity. I know people who do that. Everywhere you go, you meet volunteers who are giving up their lives for other people. Most of them are secular. However, the evil things missionaries do are definitely done because of religion. When Mother Teresa said abortion and contraception were equivalent to murder and were the greatest threat to world peace—nobody could have said anything with such wicked consequences!
She tried to demolish the only cure for poverty that we know for sure exists, which is the empowerment of women. And if you throw a handful of seeds and some credit to these ladies, the village will be transformed in a couple of years. Mother Teresa spent her entire life trying to make that impossible. I would say that millions of people are much worse off for her efforts. You would have gotten a terrible pasting for it.
They see through this stuff. They say Unitarians believe in one God maximum. And they do produce the Jefferson Bible. They keep it in print. I once read that only six percent of Unitarians consider God to be their primary religious motivation. Most of them are more focused on social justice and community service. At the end, the plague is over, the nightmare has dissipated, the city has returned to health. Normality has resumed.
But he ends by saying that underneath the city, in the pipes and in the sewers, the rats were still there. So be aware of this danger. The fact that everyone has now the right to invent their own creed is a point for me rather than a point for them. Reform Jews do believe that the Bible was written by humans. Should Reform Judaism still be called a religion?
Religion is saying that you know the mind of God and you want to obey His revealed commandments, on pain of losing your soul, at least. People who really live their lives in fear of that—God-fearing, as they used to say—I can respect. People who are somewhere between Unitarianism and Reform Judaism—it just seems weak-minded to me. Why bother? You mention in the book that some of your most interesting conversations are with religious friends.
What do you talk about with them? My friend Christopher Buckley and I have been discussing religion on and off for years. But giving it up was no light matter. We had some very serious discussions about it. Most of my Jewish friends are, like most Jews, non-believers—in fact, very discerningly secular. But these two are very observant. Not at all. My own way of joining a yeshiva was to become a Troskyite, I suppose. I was a member of an extremely Talmudic sect. The leading thinker of our group was a guy called Yigael Gluckstein; he wrote under the name Tony Cliff.
There was a very heavy Jewish presence in this group, too. You realized that for many people this was a kind of substitute for the yeshiva. Yeshivas were very good training, no doubt about it. At the very least, that approach to religion requires a lot of thinking. Only the Pope is infallible. There's no one in the world who is infallible for those weeks. You mention in the book that Orthodox Jews have sex through a hole in a sheet. You should see the email I got from my downstairs neighbor about it! How come only now, when I mention it in passing, does it suddenly become such an issue?
When I think of the mikvah , and other Orthodox teachings about women, some of them very obscene, I could have made it much harsher. Ironically, you've learned a lot about religion in the process of writing this book. And religious people seem more than happy to engage with you about it.
That is actually what impressed me with all these debates on my book tour. I have had almost no refusals. We might not even get a hall in Georgia to do this. Who were these hundreds of people? Were they atheists? Were they religious people who were angry at you? No, definitely not.
They are people who have had enough. They regard that association as a fucking insult, which it is. Falwell died the week of my swing through the South, making me wonder if someone up there really does like me. So I had to mention it, and I said what I thought about him, and it brought roars of applause. But yet, we also have this separate part of our lives that is about ritual and family and personal meaning. Those people meet my qualifications. They make it a private belief. The place for religion is in the mind, within the individual.
No, not once, not ever. Preferably, no teaching about hell, I think. No denial of medical care on superstitious grounds. Straight to jail for that.