Skip to comments.The Cultural Illiteracy of Atheist Christopher Hitchens
Posted on 07/01/2007 4:42:27 AM PDT by Kaslin
Best-selling atheist authors are riding a wave of ignorance and illiteracy.
The latest offering, God Is Not Great, comes from a bon vivant with a British accent, an attribute that lends sophistication in the eyes of the pseudo-intellectuals whose vision of the Christian is the Bible-thumping backwoodsman.
But Christians on the far right and on the far left, fundamentalists, or literalists of both stripes, have given Christopher Hitchens much to work with.
For example, Memorial Day saw the opening of the Creation Museum in Kentucky, where Genesis comes alive with Adam and Eve alongside animatronic dinosaurs from 6,000 years ago. More of God’s country in Tennessee is slated for despoliation with a theme park to be called Bible Park USA.
Then the following week Arianna Huffington preached on CNN that the most pervasive message in the Bible concerns charity. Huffington, the publisher of the blog with the most vile words against Christians, commenting on the Democratic presidential candidates’ interviews on faith, pontificated on how the Bible advocates income redistribution.
We know that the Devil can quote Scripture, but Huffington misrepresents it egregiously. Real charity does not come at the end of a gun pointed by the IRS.
I do not assign the same obviously ulterior motives of political manipulation to those who build creation museums or Christian theme parks. While Huffington and her ilk hate Christianity, the theme park and museum builders have sincere intentions. But, gosh, I wish they’d read some books. And I’m talking about more than the Bible.
We are instructed to love God not only with all our hearts, but also our minds. But it seems that some people have simply abandoned their God-given reason.
These zombie-like people with smiles plastered on their faces are the worst ones to convince those with doubts. I had one of them send me to reading Ralph Waldo Emerson at a time when my faith was already wavering. She cornered me while I was doing laundry. With an expression between one of the early martyrs at the point of death and a hippie on an acid trip she asked me if I "knew Jesus." This of course implied that she did and what was wrong with me? I was out of the club. That was it. Nothing else. No other discussion. I know Jesus. You don't.
What was much more convincing to me were the great works of literature written by Christian authors. Though I saw these authors mocked in graduate school, the force of their ideas showed through. Their wisdom and humanity contrasted sharply with the nonsensical nihilism put out by the trendy authors, and their exponents, the professors.
Reading Milton led me back to the Bible. The late Walker Percy allowed for the idea of evolution. But he, like the proponents of intelligent design that I met at a Christian Faculty Forum at The University of Georgia, read the Bible not literally, like an instruction manual, but allowed for the possibility of a metaphorical meaning that went beyond their understanding. Shakespeare revealed the evil of atheism through characters like Iago. Flannery O'Connor demonstrated how her characters' estimations of their own goodness provided the opening for Satanic influences. Dostoyevsky exposed the evils of pride and self-devised "justice."
Surprisingly, Hitchens cites some of these Christian authors in his claim that atheists are not simply scientists gone off the deep end of rationalism. They appreciate Art:
"We are not immune to the lure of wonder and mystery and awe: we have music and art and literature, and find that the serious ethical dilemmas are better handled by Shakespeare and Tolstoy and Schiller and Dostoyevsky and George Eliot than in the mythical morality tales of the holy books."
But Hitchens must be banking on a readership that has not read Shakespeare, Tolstoy, and Dostoyevsky. These Christian authors dramatized the themes and stories of the very holy book that Hitchens disparages. Has he forgotten how Shakespeare explicitly has Iago explain the materialist origins of his wickedness: "Virtue? A fig! 'tis in ourselves that we are thus or thus. Our bodies are our gardens"? Iago is a sociopath because he is an atheist.
Hitchens gives lip-service to these Christian authors, despite his claims of erudition. Literature endeavors to reveal some truth and its beauty. Therefore, the enterprise has to presuppose some end, some ultimate source of truth. Contrary to his beliefs, that truth does not reside in Hitchens’s brain. That source is God. For if literature does not aim for the revelation of some truth, then what is the purpose of suspending disbelief? (This view, of course, contradicts the postmodern, i.e., atheistic notion of art: the solipsistic presentation of the chaos of the universe—but that is art that only its practitioners seem to enjoy and not the kind of art Hitchens is citing.)
Nor is Hitchens’s dismissal of religious faith as something that arises from primitive fear and ignorance of the workings of nature as clever or new as he imagines. He only needs to go to one of his referenced authors and read in The Brothers Karamazov, "socialism is not merely the labour question, it is before all things the atheistic question." In Devils, Dostoyevsky exposes the self-delusion of the atheistic revolutionaries who presume themselves bold and more intelligent that the God-fearing around them. In a send-up of "free-thinkers" meetings, Dostoyevsky has a female student say:
"I mean, we know, for example, the superstition about God derived from thunder and lightning . . . It’s only too well known that primitive man, terrified by thunder and lightning, deified his invisible enemy, conscious of his own weakness with regard to them."
Hitchens, like the other dilettantes writing the books on atheism, now recycles this tired argument and sells it to weekend intellectuals striking a pensive pose with The New York Times and a $4.00 latte in front of them on Sunday mornings.
Another old example that Hitchens uses to claim atheists’ moral superiority is Abraham’s willingness to kill his son Isaac. But this citation betrays ignorance of explications made by everyone from Sunday school teachers to Kierkegaard. Hitchens brags that atheists make the best life in this life and see posterity in their children, whom they treat better than Abraham did Isaac.
But the question remains for the atheists: what do you do with children incapable of fulfilling your demands for immortality?
Hitchens also ignores Dostoyevsky’s prediction of the death toll from atheistic communist regimes. One of the characters in Devils refers to pamphlets that urge "total destruction, on the pretext that however much you try to cure the world, you won’t be able to do so entirely, but if you take radical steps and cut off one hundred million heads, thus easing the burden, it'll be much easier to leap over the ditch."
But if you go into a Christian bookstore you will not likely see Dostoyevsky on the shelf. Instead, you'll find pastel-covered saccharine tomes, the pious stories that the devout Catholic Flannery O'Connor disparaged.
The literalists, the theme park and museum builders, do to the Biblical stories what Disney does to fairy tales, stripping them of the tragic, the comic, and the sublime. In effect, what these people ask is just leave your mind at the door, get on the ride, and be happy!
But easy Christianity is vulnerable to easy atheism. Hitchens is too stupid to see the origin of art: the never-ending artistic imperative to wonder at and explore the mystery of God’s creation. It’s too bad that he has a readership prepared for him by an educational system that ignores, distorts, and disparages Christian art.
Mary Grabar graduated from the University of Georgia with a Ph.D. in English and currently teaches at a university in Atlanta.
Interesting that Hitchens points to art in order to show that Atheists appreciate the Mystery and Wonder, did he skip the entire Renaissance with the Church being the focus of great Western European artists.
I don't know what kind of bookstores this woman is going into, but there is plenty of heavy-duty reading material in BOTH of our local Catholic shops. John Henry Newman's autobiography, the early Church Fathers, etc. Didn't see Dostoevsky, but then again I wasn't looking for him.
I agree with this writer absolutely! Fundamentalists and Creationists give fodder to the atheists by their sheer ignorance.
There’s plenty of heavy-duty reading material in our local Protestant bookstores, too ... as well as fluff, of course.
Like so many, this writer seems to think there’s only one way of approaching Christianity, only one set of relevent thoughts and experiences ... HERS! It makes me wonder if she’s really 16 years old, and the photo with the article is “age-progressed” to fool the reader :-).
Plenty of "book-larnin'" but no common sense and an inflated estimate of her own ideas.
Well, then. Lest you identify yourself with the ignorant, how might you factually prove or support this passionate assertion?
Please begin by defining "sheer ignorance." For our sakes, if you will.
There is a Cokesbury (Methodist) bookstore here, but the only time I went in there I was buying a plain choir cross for my daughter's Alexander Anderson costume for Hallowe'en. The Japanese certainly have ODD ideas about Western religion!
People who condemn honest believers wholesale for supposed "ignorance" give more fodder to the atheists than either fundamentalists OR creationists.
Yes, that would be interesting.
It seems that the poster is suggesting that "Fundamentalists and Creationists" are ignorant of Darwinian evolutionary theory, but that's rather an odd contention to make. Practically everyone is familiar with the basic concepts of Darwinism - taught it in school, bombarded with it in the media. It's just that some ("Creationists") don't accept Darwinism as an accurate description of the past.
I don't know what the person thinks "Fundamentalists" are ignorant of (pardon the preposition.) Liberal religion? The Social Gospel? Integral calculus? Medieval Serbian history?
Maybe if we all identified ourselves by our SAT scores or college GPAs, we could get past this tendentious assumption that everyone who disagrees is stupid. Or we could just use manners ...
We have a Cokesbury United Methodist Church here. The Cub Scouts district roundtable meets there, and they often host Girl Scouting events. Methodists have such good facilities, and they’re the nicest people.
We have several chain and several independent Christian bookstores, which we visit fairly often (when they have good sales :-) because the kids like Christian rock music and novels. I’ve got some great bargains off the clearance tables: big hardback collections of C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton for $2, for instance.
I see know, a Ph.D in English. (Goodness gracious me!) It does explain her literary focus, I suppose.
I haven’t had much involvement with people who have graduate degrees in the liberal arts. Engineering graduate students usually can’t talk about their field of study to the general public at all :-)
(I know this stuff bec. my grandfather-in-law was a Methodist minister, and I had the privilege of knowing him for the last 10 years of his life. He died full of years and honors in the mid-80s. If anybody is in Heaven, he's there.)
Found cool pic of Bishop Asbury:
You know what they say . . . when America began to settle the West and the missionaries headed out, the Baptists walked, the Methodists rode horseback, the Presbyterians took the stagecoach . . . .
.. . . but the Episcopalians waited until they invented the Pullman Car. . . . .
7 The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, But fools despise wisdom and instruction. (Proverbs 1:7)
10 "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, And the knowledge of the Holy One is understanding. (Proverbs 9:10)
Atheist Christopher Hitchens has no idea just how ignorant he really is. And not just culturally.
You do have the God given right to believe whatever you choose to believe. Amazing Heavenly Father we have.
Well, now I’ve learned something! I’d seen “Asbury” Methodist churches, but I had no idea where the “Coke” came from. I figured they were both names of places back in England, and just happened to have the same ending!
I feel enriched just knowing your grandfather-in-law lived. Good people are a gift to us all.
That is cool. I like they way they posed the horse. Neat cape, too. Men knew how to dress, once upon a time ...
Must go, I’ve misplaced a couple of children. I suspect they crept off and went back to bed, the slugs.
He always had pleasant relations with the ministers of the other churches in town, wherever he was. We inherited a bunch of Bibles, prayerbooks, a Book of Mormon, etc. inscribed with good wishes from them.
Rest in peace, Reverend Fred. Your family remembers you fondly. (And if you'd whisper in St. Peter's ear when the time comes, it would be greatly appreciated.)
I am sorry I offended you. I believe there is more to Christianity than a literal interpretation of the Bible. The Creationists are stuck on man appearing on this earth 6000 years ago. Evolution terrifies them. I a fan of ID, but studying evolution at the university never shook my belief in God or Christ.
I was in Austin not long ago when a street preacher was blaring hellfire and damnation. I told him that he would appeal more to the street people by telling of Christ’s love. We left, then passed back by this guy a while later. He turned to us and remembered me and said “Oh, I have already done you”. I laughed.
Try and have a conversation with a creationist or a fundamentalist. They are amazingingly limited intellectually.
Again, I apologize if I offended you.
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