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.
Hitchens is the Kitty Kelley of political writing- a professional contrarian, with that mean streak the British do so well. He doesn’t have the gravitas or skill for a career in depth, and I predict we’ll see some real ‘look at me’ absurdities from him- when he finally offends the last reader on earth.
I responded in message 20 to Invisible hand. You, too, deserve a response and an apology. I am sorry to have offended you. It is just so amazing to me that creationists and fundamentalists firmly believe that man was not on this earth before 6000 years ago. How can the theory of evolution deny that God created the earth, man, etc.? Taking Genesis literally..that is how. Christ spoke in parables and metaphors...is it not possible that Genesis and other books of the Bible do the same?
All of this may not matter much to you, but I have two earned degrees, one in biology and chemistry, and the other a DDS. I have INTENSELY studied the evolution-creation debate for about 35 years, and have read something like 250 books on both sides of the issue. I have come to the studied conclusion that evolution is junk science, sort of like man-made global warming. We have been told so many thousands of times, for so many years, that evolution is a fact. As a result many people who are basically uninformed have been brainwashed. You might look at some of the articles and archives at the Discovery Institute. You might want to read some of the offerings by Michael Denton. By the way, Dr. Ken Ham of the creation museum is INCREDIBLY well-informed.
Well even though I will most likely step on your toes, I will address this presentation of the Word of God.
Yes indeed Christ did in fact speak in parables to the masses, however, if you keep reading he privately explained them to his disciples..... That means that we have this day, God willing the understanding of what was said and at least a hoped for comprehension of what is going on in and on this earth this day.
Genesis literally does NOT say how old this earth is. So to claim that people are literally using what Genesis actually says is not correct. Yes there are *parables and metaphors* hidden in Genesis, and while I know that I do not have full and total understand, still working, Christ Himself said that He foretold us all things. That to me means that it will be at the *WILL* of the Heavenly Father to be given that knowledge.
I appreciate your rephrasing. I often say things hastily myself, and then wish I’d been more thoughtful of others. If nothing else, it’s then too easy to get caught up in an argument about how one’s put things, and never get to any discussion of the actual issue!
However, if you’ll pardon my saying so, your new posts to “invisible hand” and to me seem to make the same point as the original, only in more (and more polite) words.
As I understand it, your contention (and the author’s) is that anyone who disagrees with your perspective on the origin of the earth and the origin of life must be either mentally deficient or educationally deprived. You’re allowed to believe that if you like, of course, but you can’t expect everyone who disagrees with you to accept your definition of them.
I think you need to be very careful making assumptions that fundamentalists and creationists are limited intellectually. I myself used to make the same assumptions, but as I left those liberal assumptions behind and began to broaden my mind, I realized that many are well educated people who have given these matters a great deal of thought and study.
Take this man for example:
I am an ID’er. You might notice that the Discovery Institute has tried to distance themselves from the fundamentalists and especially the creationists.
Apologize for something worth apologizing for.
Michael Pearl is obviously and intelligent gentleman and I like what he has to say. As I mentioned in previous posts I believe in Intelligent Design. The Discovery Institute has made somewhat of an effort to distance themselves from the ‘Creationists’and fundamentalists.
The theory of evolution never threatened my faith. There were too many gaps when I studied it 30 years ago. But there is enough science to blow the ‘man was created 6000 years ago bunch’ out of the arena of reality oriented discussions.
I just can’t understand how the theory of evolution which is nothing more than a theory can threaten Christians.
Newsweek Poll, March 2007:
1)Nearly half (48 percent) of the public rejects the scientific theory of evolution.
2)One-third (34 percent) of college graduates say they accept the Biblical account of creation as fact.
3)Seventy-three percent of Evangelical Protestants say they
believe that God created humans in their present form within the last 10,000 years.
4)39 percent of non-Evangelical Protestants and 41 percent of Catholics agree with that view (#3)
Darlin', evolution doesn't terrify "them." "They" merely disagree with you.
Have you read my comments? I am clearly a proponent of Intelligent Design. They don’t disagree with me, they simply have no desire to take their faith beyond the literal Bible.
Not according to some here
What 'man' says is not where the 'right' emulates from, and it is quite the freeing of the mind to finally get a glimpse of that. At least for me it has been, although I do not believe one ever fully flushes out of the mind the concern or awareness of what others think of them.
My opposition to the theory of evolution is that it is now the LAW of the land, and there were tooooo many sleeping, possibly blinded Christians that allowed this nation to devolve to a worldly status. So long as I am by force of LAW required to fund this half baked deceptive theory I will speak out. Of course many would say I am half-baked myself, but that is ok what they say doesn't alter what I know Genesis actually says, and it says NOT one word about the age of this planet.
These people should lighten up on Hitchens, as Sisyphean as his self-assigned task seems, we must accept that it is as allegorical as biblical tales meant to regale; after all, David would have never become a great king had he merely slain Mickey Mouse.
Padre35 - You have a myopic view of history. The Abrahamic religions (Christianity, Jewdahism, and Islam) have caused more suffering on Earth than any other religion. It was the Christians who during the Cursades kill many “Infidels”. It was a Christian Nation (Deutschland) that killed millions of Jews. Hilter said in Mein Kampf “Hence today I believe that I am acting in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator: by defending myself against the Jew, I am fighting for the work of the Lord.” It was a Christian Nation that dropped 2 nuclear bombs on Japan. Islamic people are killing “Infidels” too. There will never be peace on Earth as long as the Abrahamic religions are around. They cause so much suffering.
BTW: I am a Buddhist. Buddhist are peaceful people.
Really? So the Japanese weren’t budhist shinto practicioners? There really aren’t some 100 million graves all over the world from Communist oppression and genocide?
For all the handwringing, the crusades (in response to Islamic campaigns BTW) killed less then 1 million people, the total for “religious wars” is less then 3 million, werear communism has killed into the hundreds of millions.
And they still do today.
As for Hitler, he tried to remove the Christian religion as a dominant or even counter balance to his vision of “Aryan Purity” when ol’ Adolfie finished his confirmation ceremony, he never attended a RCC church again and told a childhood friend that he found the whole experience distasteful.
And on could just as easily say that “Buddhist Countries” like china and Cambodia killed millions of their own citizens, when in fact, it is simply mankind who uses whichever excuse that we can find to kill rape and destroy.
That’s not fair... the first church in Houston was the Episcopal church, and they conducted the services for all the denominations there, including Catholic and Jewish.
I had the privilege of attending the TLM this morning at the first Catholic church in Houston, a wonderful, glorious building completed in 1879.
Just yell at them “GOD SEES YOU LAYIN THERE IN THAT BED, BOY!” (or girl).
Naw, I expect he’ll just turn up dead in a hotel room one day and that will be the end of him. Bless his heart.
Look, Homo Sapiens may have been around longer than 5750 years, but doesn’t it strike you as significant that that is about the earliest that records of civilization can be found?
LOL! They know that, but God hasn’t dumped them out of bed on their kiesters lately. I, however, have been known to appear in wrath and sing the National Anthem in their ears :-).
“Juwdahism.” I’m sure that’s a typso, but I can’t figure out quite where it goes.
OK, I’ll bite
I am an ignorant fundy creationist - with a degree in biology, a graduate degree, and 3 years of post grad training. You can pick another argument, but I guess your ignorance slur doesn’t hold.
it may be possible that it is a parable or metaphor.
However, genesis shows breathtaking scientific accuracy. How did Moses (who wrote genesis) know that there was light in the universe before the sun, moon and stars? It took modern science until the late 20th century with the COBE experiments to prove this.
The medical advice in the Bible is thousands of years ahead of what was known at the time. If the europeans in the middle ages had followed biblical principles, the black death would not have killed a fraction of the numbers it did,.
Be very careful about limiting God, and calling the Bible parable, hyperbole or pretty stories. Usually in the Bible where parables or metaphor are being used, the text pretty clearly indicates this.
The oldest currently inhabited city in the world is Jericho, first established about 9000 BCE (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_oldest_continuously_inhabited_cities). The cities developed around agriculture (wheat and maize). Before agriculture, homo sapiens were hunter-gathers.
But the Episcopal Cathedral here is a cesspool of heretical lunacy. The bookstore (and the music) is just about the only worthwhile thing on THAT particular 6 acres of land (the building is awful, the theology is worse.)