The Assault on Religion (part 1)

By Richard Pimentel

One of the notable occurrences in the publishing industry during the last two years has been the wave of atheist manifestos that have been published. Some of their more famous spokesmen have published popular books on atheism with the aim of not only promoting atheism but also presenting arguments against Christianity and organized religion in general. Writers such as Richard Dawkins (The God Delusion), Daniel Dennett (Breaking The Spell: Religion As A Natural Phenomenon), Sam Harris (Letter To A Christian Nation), and Christopher Hitchens (God Is Not Great) wrote books that, for some, have elevated atheism to a popular level and for others, has enhanced the influence that atheism has on Western culture. Subsequently, these books have produced other books that have served as responses. Authors such as Dinesh D’Souza (What’s So Great About Christianity) and Alister McGrath (The Dawkins Delusion?) have written highly publicized responses. The recent prominence of atheistic books has produced a modern-day assault on religion. Because of this, it is important to examine the four major players mentioned above who are essential to this movement. This will be accomplished by exploring their anti-religious views along with the means that they utilize to express their arguments.

Of the four atheists mentioned in the previous paragraph, Christopher Hitchens is arguably the most enigmatic. Unlike many atheists/freethinkers, who tend to adhere to left-leaning political views, Hitchens’ political views are in stark contrast. Hitchens, a former Trotskyist and advocate for the American left, became disaffected with the American left and broke off his long relationship with The Nation in 2002. Hitchens’ support for the Bush administration’s war on terror, the removal of Saddam Hussein and further military action in Iraq created serious disagreements with writers on The Nation. Hitchens also felt that writers on The Nation were wrongly diminishing the guilt of Islamic terrorists.

Hitchens is certainly an insightful and colorful writer when it comes to politics and cultural criticism. He is equally adept and witty in his verbal communications. Hitchens debating George Galloway on Bill Maher’s HBO show, Real Time With Bill Maher, was memorable for the animosity between the two men but also for the witty and concise criticisms that Hitchens directed at Galloway. Following the release of his book, God Is Not Great, Hitchens issued an invitation for Christian pastors to debate him about the contents of his book. In addition to pastors, Dinesh D’Souza, a conservative writer and fellow at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University, has taken on the role of Hitchens’ interlocutor in a recent well-publicized debate on the topic, “Is Christianity The Problem?” The debate attracted attention on FOX News, C-Span, and numerous radio talk shows throughout the country.

One of the best places to familiarize yourself with Hitchens’ views is on his website www.buildupthatwall.com. Hitchens’ debates posted on his website provide an excellent overview of Hitchens’ assault on religion. One thing that is made clear by Hitchens in the debates is that he considers himself “anti-theist” rather than an atheist. In a debate with Marvin Olasky, professor of journalism and editor of the Christian news weekly, World Magazine, Hitchens describes why he is an anti-theist during his opening statement. Hitchens remarks that it is fortunate for man that God does not exist. He contends that

if a supervising creator existed that took a personal interest in your life from the moment of your conception, what you would have…would be a permanent, inescapable, unchangeable, unalterable, unchallengeable rule which would involve round-the-clock surveillance and supervision of every single waking and sleeping moment of your life; the abolition of any privacy in your life and even in your mind and most private thoughts; the most complete form of totalitarianism ever imagined.

This is quite an interesting description of the theistic God. Moreover, Hitchens strongly feels that anyone who believes in God is abdicating reason and abolishing their individuality. However, he is assured that there should be no worries regarding this because there simply is no evidence for the existence of such a being. What is notable about Hitchens are not necessarily his arguments but his epistemology. There are two types of evidences that Hitchens allows in his writings and speeches: appeals to reason (which, according to Hitchens, is something that religious adherents abdicate when they devote themselves to God) and the adequacy of science in showing the absurdity of religion. This epistemic approach is nothing new. But what stands out is Hitchens use of clever rhetoric to describe God, the Bible, and monotheistic believers and his use of numerous, mostly pejorative analogies (e.g. believing in God is like living in a celestial North Korea) that he utilizes to support his arguments for the absurdity of religion. Hitchens is clearly belligerent towards religion and hates the idea of God.

The content on Hitchens’ website is well-presented, comprehensive and easy to access. He has links to websites of some of his fellow atheists such as Richard Dawkins and Sam Harris and links to the works of Charles Darwin and organizations such as American Atheists. The website includes videos of Hitchens on television programs such as The Daily Show and of debates with Dinesh D’Souza and Alister McGrath. The videos along with his writings on the website present a good overview of Hitchens’ anti-theistic views. The writings section is quite extensive with numerous articles that Hitchens has written for Vanity Fair, The Atlantic Monthly, Slate.com, and The Nation.

Although it is quite cumbersome to summarize all of his writings and ideas presented on his website via his articles and videos, there are a couple of examples about Hitchens’ arguments and presentation that are worth pointing out. In a recent article that Hitchens wrote in Newsweek about the recently disclosed personal revelations of Mother Teresa, he offers his appraisal of religious adherents as irrational types who do not respond to reason. Hitchens utilized Mother Teresa’s crisis of faith as an argument for the irrationality of religion, specifically Roman Catholicism. Hitchens writes,”Now, it might seem glib of me to say that this is all rather unsurprising, and that it is the inevitable result of a dogma that asks people to believe impossible things and then makes them feel abject and guilty when their innate reason rebels.” Likewise, one can conclude that it is rather “unsurprising” that Hitchens looks at religious devotees in this fashion.

Moreover, Hitchens article in Slate.com about the death of Jerry Falwell is another example of Hitchens’ militant and, sometimes demeaning attitude towards religious believers. He refers to Falwell’s death in the following manner: “The discovery of the carcass of Jerry Falwell on the floor of an obscure office in Virginia has almost zero significance….” and then later on writes, “It's a shame that there is no hell for Falwell to go to….” Whether it is in his writings or in his debates, it is unfortunate that such an articulate person like Hitchens resorts to ad hominem attacks on religious believers. Hitchens is truly on the front lines on the modern assault on religion