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The God-Haunted Atheism of Christopher Hitchens
The Catholic Thing ^ | December 23, 2011 | Francis J. Beckwith

Posted on 12/23/2011 3:13:01 PM PST by NYer

On December 15, contemporary unbelief lost one of its most gifted apologists, Christopher Hitchens. He, along with Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Daniel Dennett, are often referred to as the four horsemen of the New Atheism. It is called the “New” Atheism because of its evangelistic zeal, an enthusiasm largely absent from the more urbane and engaging infidelities of “the Old Atheists” like Bertrand Russell, John Dewey, or Antony Flew. 

But like all undisciplined enthusiasts who confuse wisecracking proselytes with wisdom-seeking pilgrims, the New Atheists seem incapable of completely ridding themselves and their disciples of the metaphysical infrastructure of the creeds from which they claim to have decisively fled. Hitchens, for example, in his book God Is Not Great, argues that “religion poisons everything,” blaming religious believers and their beliefs for many of the atrocities of history.

Setting aside the question of Hitchens’ historical accuracy and philosophical acumen, his thesis correctly affirms that human beings have had their rights violated by other human beings who committed their wicked deeds in the name of God and for bad reasons.

Some of the cases that Hitchens cites involve legitimate governments perpetuating and protecting wicked acts that these states had the legal power to perpetuate and protect. And yet, this fact would have not moved Hitchens to say that the acts he thinks are wrong are now right. Why? Because human beings are beings of a certain sort and thus by nature possess certain rights that their governments are morally obligated to recognize and protect.

In fact, Hitchens writes that he and other atheists “believe with certainty that an ethical life can be lived without religion,” thus implying that he and others have direct and incorrigible acquaintance with a natural moral law that informs their judgments about what counts as an ethical life.

But to speak of a natural moral law – a set of abstract, immaterial, unchanging principles of human conduct that apply to all persons in all times and in all places – seems oddly out of place in the universe that Hitchens claimed we occupy, a universe that is at bottom a purposeless vortex of matter, energy, and scientific laws that eventually spit out human beings. 

And to speak of an ethical life is to say that morality is more than rule keeping, that it involves the shape and formation of one’s character consistent with a human being’s proper end. But proper ends require intrinsic purposes, just the sorts of things that a theistic philosophy of nature affirms and Hitchens’ philosophical naturalism denies.

In the same book, Hitchens writes that “what we [atheists] respect is free inquiry, open-mindedness.” Unsurprisingly, Hitchens procures pages and pages of evidence to show how the suppression of open-mindedness has led to the vice of ignorance and thus untold mischief and misery in the history of the human race.

His point is clear:  human beings have the power to act consistently or inconsistently with their own good and the good of others, and open-mindedness makes advancing that good more likely.

Open-mindedness, of course, is a good thing. No right-thinking person denies that. But to say that anything is a “good thing” cannot be understood apart from what makes it a good thing for the being who ought to actualize it. 

So, for example, it would make no sense for me to say that my dog, Phydeaux, ought to be open-minded, since a canine is not the sort of being for which open-mindedness can ever be a virtue (or closed-mindedness a vice), just as the number three can never be the reddest letter in the alphabet.

Natures matter. Consequently, we learn from Hitchens’ commitment to open-mindedness what he thought about the nature of the human being’s intellect and the role of its proper functioning in advancing the good of the individual and the community in which he resides.

For Hitchens there is a normative natural end, an intrinsic purpose, to a human being’s active power for self-movement to engage in free acts initiated and/or accompanied by thought and reflection. Thus, like Hitchens’ allusion to a natural moral law and his commitment to the ethical life, his call for open-mindedness requires a philosophy of nature that his philosophical naturalism cannot sustain.

It presupposes a nature teeming with intrinsic purposes, the sort of nature that the New Atheists tell us smacks at an ancient understanding with which we are no longer saddled – thanks to the ascendancy of philosophical naturalism. 

So, in order to show us that God is not great, Hitchens relies on the philosophical infrastructure that only this diminished deity can adequately provide.

Hitchens’ atheism was a God-haunted atheism.  May he rest in the peace in which he did not believe.


TOPICS: Religion & Science; Skeptics/Seekers; Theology
KEYWORDS: christopherhitchens; francisbeckwith
Francis J. Beckwith is Professor of Philosophy and Church-State Studies at Baylor University. He is one of four primary contributors to the forthcoming Journeys of Faith: Evangelicalism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism and Anglicanism (Zondervan, 2012).

1 posted on 12/23/2011 3:13:04 PM PST by NYer
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To: netmilsmom; thefrankbaum; Tax-chick; GregB; saradippity; Berlin_Freeper; Litany; SumProVita; ...

Ping!


2 posted on 12/23/2011 3:13:52 PM PST by NYer ("Be kind to every person you meet. For every person is fighting a great battle." St. Ephraim)
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To: NYer

As much as I try to escape agnosticism, my limitations always win out.


3 posted on 12/23/2011 3:16:32 PM PST by gorush (History repeats itself because human nature is static)
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To: NYer

RIP? There is no PEACE in HELL.


4 posted on 12/23/2011 3:28:52 PM PST by Coldwater Creek (He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty Psalm 91:)
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To: Coldwater Creek

I don’t know that he’s in Hell, as he seemed to just not have the faith - which is given by God. Depends on the merciful heart of Christ, not my understanding.

But he certainly believes now, open minded or not.


5 posted on 12/23/2011 3:35:22 PM PST by If You Want It Fixed - Fix It
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I sometimes wonder why someone who claims to be an atheist get so evangelical about it. For Hitchens it was a money-making venture but how many others can say that? From the believers side, we’re passionate because we want to see people saved but if you’re truly an atheist, why not just shrug your shoulders and move on?


6 posted on 12/23/2011 3:38:40 PM PST by Hayride
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To: gorush
As much as I try to escape agnosticism, my limitations always win out.

Truly ask Christ to reign in your heart and the limitations of agnosticism will take a permanent hike and then good riddance to it mate.

7 posted on 12/23/2011 3:40:30 PM PST by tflabo (Restore the Republic)
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To: NYer

I was listening to Dr McGee this AM, and he hit me with Romans 10:17 (NIV)

17 Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ.

Want more faith? Wonder why you doubt or question? You do not know enough. Spend more time understanding Christ. Make it a habit, make time for the word every day!

schu


8 posted on 12/23/2011 3:44:38 PM PST by schu
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To: Hayride
why not just shrug your shoulders and move on?
^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^

Answer: Because culture, politics, and religious belief can not be separated one from the other.

What's the prize here for pushing atheism?

Answer: Winning the game of politics. Winning the culture. Winning in the voting booth.

( This is why you will find me on nearly every government school thread. Whoever wins the hearts and minds of the children, which means their cultural, political, and religious beliefs, wins in the voting booth.)

9 posted on 12/23/2011 3:47:08 PM PST by wintertime (I am a Constitutional Restorationist!!! Yes!)
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To: tflabo
"Truly ask Christ to reign in your heart and the limitations of agnosticism will take a permanent hike and then good riddance to it mate."

So if my heart is less hearty, I will be fine? But seriously, the limitations I spoke of are imposed by the fact that I am a human, with a human truth-seeking brain. I see no way around that, not that I am complaining.

10 posted on 12/23/2011 3:48:00 PM PST by gorush (History repeats itself because human nature is static)
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To: NYer

Bookmarked.


11 posted on 12/23/2011 4:04:14 PM PST by FormerLib (Sacrificing our land and our blood cannot buy protection from jihad.-Bishop Artemije of Kosovo)
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To: NYer
I am always amused when atheists claim that they have no need of religion (usually Christianity) to behave morally. These same people who so claim are products of a Judeo-Christian culture, the morals they lay claim to are products of that culture. Everything they have experienced informs them what is right and what is wrong, what is moral and what is immoral. Their assumed independent morality is based in that same culture.

Hitchens, Dawkins and the rest can no more separate that world and its influences upon them from their intellectual posturings than they can change the fact that their native language is English. We are creatures of our culture. Whatever they claim to believe the source of their morality, that society shaped those values.

For over a thousand years, Britain has been a Christian nation (not so much these days) all of their values, all of their understanding of right and wrong, their very beings are steeped in that culture.

In a situation like that, claiming that you don't need religion "to live an ethical life," is like asserting that you don't need to tell yourself to breathe in order to inhale.
12 posted on 12/23/2011 4:06:29 PM PST by Sudetenland (Anybody but Obama!!!!)
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To: gorush

Mark 9:24 “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!”

It is part of human nature to doubt, but we should not be a slave to our human nature.


13 posted on 12/23/2011 4:13:42 PM PST by FormerLib (Sacrificing our land and our blood cannot buy protection from jihad.-Bishop Artemije of Kosovo)
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To: FormerLib
"It is part of human nature to doubt, but we should not be a slave to our human nature."

I sense a circular argument forming here...

14 posted on 12/23/2011 4:17:23 PM PST by gorush (History repeats itself because human nature is static)
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To: gorush

Hah!


15 posted on 12/23/2011 4:38:29 PM PST by FormerLib (Sacrificing our land and our blood cannot buy protection from jihad.-Bishop Artemije of Kosovo)
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To: Sudetenland

good points!


16 posted on 12/23/2011 5:06:42 PM PST by Nevadan
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To: Sudetenland

good points!


17 posted on 12/23/2011 5:06:42 PM PST by Nevadan
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To: NYer

bttt


18 posted on 12/23/2011 6:37:41 PM PST by Mrs. Don-o ("You can observe a lot just by watchin' " . --- Yogi Berra)
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To: If You Want It Fixed - Fix It

These neo-atheists seem so obsessed with God. I have to conclude that they are really Anti-theists, they believe in God, they just don’t like what He is. May God have mercy.


19 posted on 12/23/2011 8:46:48 PM PST by hiho hiho
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To: NYer; netmilsmom; thefrankbaum; Tax-chick; GregB; saradippity; Berlin_Freeper; Litany; ...

It might interest you to know that the humanist/atheist population is planning a “reason rally” in Washington, DC on the Mall on March 24, 2012. This will be to support reason and science in preference to belief and faith. This is about 2 weeks before the Cherry Blossom Festival and depending on the weather can be a nice time to visit DC. See link for more information.

http://reasonrally.org/


20 posted on 12/24/2011 12:25:25 PM PST by gleeaikin
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To: Coldwater Creek
RIP? There is no PEACE in HELL.

No but he does own of piece of hell.

21 posted on 12/24/2011 2:08:12 PM PST by dragonblustar (Allah Ain't So Akbar!)
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To: gleeaikin

At least they have a reasonable possibility of pleasant weather for their soiree. I hope they clean up afterward, instead of leaving a mess like most leftists.


22 posted on 12/24/2011 2:29:37 PM PST by Tax-chick (Two women in one house ... and one of 'em a redhead!)
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To: Tax-chick; All

I went down both to the Glen Beck and the Jon Steward/Steven Cobert events on the Mall. The Glen Beck didn’t seem particularly messy, but at the end of the JS/SC event strong announcements were made to please clean up messes, put everything in the trash containment areas or take it home. I would say that this advice was pretty well followed. I walked about 10 blocks along the Mall that day. I have seen other much messier events.


23 posted on 12/24/2011 11:14:50 PM PST by gleeaikin
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