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Will Rhetoric Like That of Christopher Hitchens Make the World a Better Place?

By Mark D. Roberts | Friday, June 15, 2007

Part 9 of series: god is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens: A Response
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series

Yesterday I began to express my concerns about Christopher Hitchens’s tendency to ridicule people with whom he disagrees, especially people of faith. I explained that, in my experience, a debater resorts to ridicule only when he or she realizes that rational arguments won’t prevail. I also suggested that scorning people almost never helps them hear what you are saying. I ended by suggesting that ridicule is, in most cases anyway, immoral, and that most people would sense this intuitively (a curiously Hitchensian moral argument on my part).

I want to press the moral point a bit further because I’m deeply concerned about the state of our world and the extent to which ridicule and its cousins are hurting us rather than helping us. Even if Christopher Hitchens is right that god is not great, and that religion poisons everything, I’d propose that his tendency to belittle people will not make the world a better place. And if those who agree with him follow suit imitate his example, this will make matters even worse.

When I asked Hitchens about this in our debate on the Hugh Hewitt Show, he said:

CH: Ah, well, it’s just the way I am. I mean, I am a polemicist, if you like, and one has to get people’s attention first of all.

I admire this honest and straightforward answer. But the question is whether one ought to be such a polemicist or not, especially when dealing with touchy issues like religion. To put it differently, when you survey the religious conflicts in our world today, when you take seriously the tinderbox of religion, do you really think we’re helped by polemics, or would another approach be more helpful? Is it best to get people’s attention by putting them down? The word “polemicist” comes from the Greek word polemos, which means war. So I ask: Will the world be helped by more warlike words?

I am not saying that we should just all be nice and pretend as if we all agree about matters of religion. I’m not an advocate of Rodney Kingism, wondering why we can’t all get along. If you’ve read my last several posts on god is not Great, you know that I’m perfectly willing to take on someone’s ideas and to criticize those ideas. But I try to avoid ad hominem low blows. And when I make them, which I do at times, I repent and retract.

Why have I chosen to engage in respectful discourse rather than ridicule? To be sure, I’ll own that it comes from my Christian convictions. Silly as it may sound to some folks, I try to love my neighbors and my enemies even when I’m debating them. (For the record, I do not consider Christopher Hitchens to be my enemy. In human terms, he may want to disabuse me of my faith, but at least he won’t blow me up. And in Christian terms, human beings are not the enemy.)

Yet I have chosen the way of respectful discourse, not only because it reflects my faith, but also because I’ve found that it works better in practice. It fosters better understanding of all sides. It helps me to learn things I haven’t learned before and would be unable to learn if I were too busy blasting away at my opponents. And, get this, respectful discourse sometimes helps my opponents in arguments to actually hear what I’m saying and, in some instances, even to be persuaded by it. If I call somebody stupid, he won’t hear a word I’m saying. If I speak with somebody respectfully, she just might listen.

I resolved to try and be a respectful interlocutor years ago when I was an associate pastor at the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood. I had invited Dallas Willard to speak to a group at the church. Willard was (and still is) a Professor of Philosophy at USC, and one of the most brilliant people I have ever met. He was also a Christian who spoke on matters of faith to church groups. Willard gave a fantastic lecture, insightful and challenging, yet clear enough for lay people. His content was serious but he didn’t take himself too seriously. (Photo to the right: Dallas Willard)

Following the lecture we had time for questions. A person from my church raised his hand and asked one of those questions that makes one cringe. It was an embarrassing and self-serving question, one that wasn’t so much a question as an attack on what Willard had just spent 45 minutes teaching. The question came close to an insult, actually. “Here I’ve got one of the smartest men in the world speaking to my church,” I thought, “and he’s got to deal with this sort of thing.” I was mightily embarrassed.

But before I had a chance to fret, Willard responded to the question. His answer was straightforward and fair. He didn’t seem to mind repeating things he had already said. He didn’t seem bugged by the insinuation of the questioner that his ideas were foolish. More striking to me was the manner of Willard’s response. He treated the questioner with kindness and respect. I watched as the questioner stopped being defensive and started listening for the first time to what Willard was saying. I also saw how other people in room, many who sensed the tension of the moment, relaxed enough to start engaging with ideas rather than with raw emotions.

At that moment I resolved to try and be like Dallas Willard, which, given my own history of headstrong, prideful argumentation, wouldn’t be easy. For over twenty years I’ve tried to “be like Dallas,” in my speaking, in church business meetings, when I teach seminary, when I blog, and even when I do debates on the radio. Though I’ve failed in this effort many times, I haven’t stopped trying. I only wish I were as smart, mature, and kind as Dallas Willard. Yet, lacking these qualities is no excuse for not trying to emulate his example.

I don’t doubt that Hitchens’s tendency to call his opponents “stupid” and to label a highly-regarded theologian as an “ignoramus” helps to sell lots of books, just like he said to me. And I expect it does get more attention than a respectful and reasonable approach. But I’m just not convinced that the world is any better off with more ridicule-filled books or with more people paying attention because derision is more interesting than respect. Would that we could learn to disagree about ideas without disparaging each other. This, I believe, would in fact make the world a better place.

Topics: Hitchens: god is not Great |

19 Responses to “Will Rhetoric Like That of Christopher Hitchens Make the World a Better Place?”

  1. Chris Says:
    June 15th, 2007 at 7:41 am

    No wait, I have a hoot. So when your sparring partner Robert Funk of the Jesus Seminar dies, this blog (9/12/05) posts a picture how he reminds you of “Skipper” Alan Hale, the buffoonish captain of the Minnow—-maybe when the surly Chris Hitchens dies you could claim he looks like grumpy Thurston Howell III (Jim Backus) the guy on “Gilligan’s Island” who put money before God (get the link? Hitch wants to sell lotsa books off his atheism?) and post that picture.

    I’m kidding. This blog is overall a wonderful, respectful, insightful think-piece for anyone who wants to better understand evangelical Christianity. Pastor Roberts is invariably kind and respectful. Yes I’m serious, and grateful for the chance as a non-believer to dialogue with believers.

    There’s some great truth to Pastor Roberts’s posting today. It seems in any internet dialogue between atheists and believers, we need to go through the stabbing cliches: Atheists ridicule Christians’ Invisible Friend and Christians claim atheists are responsible for Stalin’s genocide.

    But after awhile it all settles down, and serious discussion takes place. Dr. Roberts, you’re the kind of good guy who wants big brothers not to tease sisters. I admire the sentiment, but it’s just not going to happen. The good news is quarreling brothers and sisters often grow up to love and respect each other throughout life.

    I love my Christian friends. We tease. We laugh at each other. Despite my nonbelief, they seem to love me back.

  2. Chris Says:
    June 15th, 2007 at 10:44 am

    I listened to the entire broadcast, am an atheist and great admirer of Christopher Hitchens. While he does tend to be direct, confrontational, bordering on outright hand to hand combat this is his style, it sets people back on their heels, takes them out of their game, I don’t think that happened to you at all. While I’m in disagreement with most of your philosophies I was truly impressed by your deportment and unwillingness to engage in that sort of fiery discourse.

    I think you sounded just like Dallas Willard from your description of him.

  3. Jeff Doolittle Says:
    June 15th, 2007 at 1:44 pm

    Hi Mark,

    Let me start by apologizing for being totally off topic. In this post you mentioned that Christians are to love their enemies. Then you said you do not consider Christopher Hitchens to be your enemy. Finally, you said that from a Christian perspective, human beings are not the enemy.

    Help me understand: when Christians are to love their enemies, if their enemies are not human beings, then who are the enemies which Christians are to love?

  4. Jason Drexler Says:
    June 15th, 2007 at 2:18 pm

    Hi Mark,

    You’re right on in your argument that ridicule has often taken the place of reasoning in our society. One need only look at our politicians to see that reasoning and truth make almost no difference in today’s government, nearly always being cast aside in favor of inter-party bickering and partisan backstabbing. And while antagonistic brothers and sisters often do come to love each other when they become mature adults, such a development hinges on maturing in the first place, and our politicians will never become mature as long as they think that “civil service” means serving themselves instead of the public. I find it darkly ironic that in a culture that often skewers Christians for being “blind, unreasoning non-thinkers,” secular society is the entity that often acts in just that way.

    By the way, Mark, do you know if Mr. Hitchens has ever read “Mere Christianity”? I’d be interested to hear what he thinks about the arguments of that dumb Christian C.S. Lewis.

  5. Matthew Goggins Says:
    June 15th, 2007 at 3:34 pm


    Will rhetoric like that of Christopher Hitchens make the world a better place?

    My answer:

    Yes. And no.

    Yes, because, aside from snarky comments about long-dead church fathers like Augustine, and harsher attacks on genocidal maniacs like Milosevic and Kissinger, Mr. Hitchens generally refrains from personally disrespecting anyone directly. He aims his witty daggers strictly at the arguments and reasoning of his religious targets, and not at their persons. In fact he displays quite a bit of respect, admiration, and love for some of the most religious figures in his book.

    I am sure you agree that religion and religious faith are reasonable objects of criticism and analysis. Accordingly, Mr. Hitchens’ efforts to probe, doubt, and scrutinize faith, and to reject theose faith-related ideas and habits that are immoral and/or illogical, should be commended, as a matter of principle, by believer and non-believer alike. The only potential problem is whether or not Mr. Hitchens has crossed any line of disrespect in the use of his language or rhetoric.

    For as you yourself said in your debate with him, by attacking faith’s weak points, Hitchens does the invaluable service of strengthening a religious person’s beliefs by helping to purge those beliefs of their bad aspects.

    On the other hand, satire and ridicule can and does breed hurt feelings and ill-will. In addition, it can perhaps lead some atheists to a smug complacency that is not entirely warranted.

    I don’t have time right now to get into some of the negative aspects of atheism that folks like Hitchens and Dawkins could talk more about in order to provide a more balanced picture. Suffice to say, like just about everyone, Hitchens has a few blind spots which detract from the merits of his book overall.

    On balance, though, I think “God Is Not Great” is quite a great book. It skewers a number of theses that richly deserve to be skewered. He approaches the subject with an approximately correct mix of self-assured righteousness and modest self-deprecation.

    If Mr. Hitchens hadn’t used any satire at all, it may have been practically impossible for him to penetrate the residual reverence and reflexive respect that most people, including not a few skeptics and agnostics, still have for religion and faith. And the book would have certainly been a much less entertaining and incisive read.

    Hurt feelings may just be the price that must be paid for the privilege of having Mr. Hitchens share his own feelings in such a provocative, yet sincere, honest, and moral manner. We don’t expect everyone to walk on eggshells when discussing such highly emotional topics as sports and politics. So when if comes to discussions of faith and religion, one should welcome a vigorous exchange of ideas and feelings there as well, as long as the underlying attitude on each side is the pursuit of respectful debate and engagement.

    You will notice that I used the word “moral” just now to describe Mr. Hitchens’ work. In your debate you freely acknowledged that Mr. Hitchens is a deeply moral person, and that his morality comes across in his writing. So how can it be that the rhetoric of ridicule, which is frequently, if not normally, immoral, could be used in a moral way?

    Because it all depends on the target.

    Just like in the mythical Wild West, where there were some folks who just “needed killing”, there are some ideas and arguments and behaviors that call out for mocking and rejection.

    Mr. Hitchens has chosen his targets, aimed his weapons, and fired at will. By doing so, he is, in effect, challenging each one of us to prove him wrong, to show him (or just show ourselves) why any particular target of his wit is actually not an appropriate object of scorn or disrespect.

    Now, even if some of Hitchens’ targets are personally very, very dear to you, it would probably be a mistake to take the attack very personally. Because Mr. Hitchens is most decidedly not attacking you, or others like you, he is just challenging your assumptions and your upbringing and asking you to think outside the box. Which you are, of course, free to do or not, as you wish.

    Perhaps you could even get yourself to a place where you could actually be happy that Mr. Hitchens’ has another best-seller on his hands and is making some good money out of promoting these scandalous ideas of his. Or maybe you are already happy for him on this account — it’s kind of hard to tell!

    Peace and love,

  6. *Ken Says:
    June 15th, 2007 at 7:57 pm


    very well said … and remember he can take it as well as dish it out.

    Just days before Hitch spent an hour with Dennis Prager, two men who like and respect each other but disagree on their core beliefs. Prager was firm and strong and respectful but gave NO ground.

    Just the same to my ear Hitchens prevailed. Similar to Dr. R. there were points Hitchens made that stopped Prager cold. Interestingly, Prager felt no need for a whiny post-mortem.

    Thye don’t agree, won’t agree and that’s that.

    Hugh and Dr. R’s attempts to shore up the christian side really just exposes more weakness.

    In the end, and atheist believes there is no god, and you don’t need to prove that. An agnostic believes there is something more than the rational measurable world and most believe we will never be able to prove it.

    The religious person has to believe in something that is by definitions unbelievable but more than that must also believe all the other faiths are wrong and more than that those without faith are even more wrong ( but sometimes that is less wrong, is a non-believer worse than an apostate?).
    Prophecy, Virgin Birth, Miracles, Resurrection, Return, and Armegeddon … the ultimate holy war, sme must swallow transubstantiation (ick).

    why we feel a need to believe is a very interesting topic … another author, another thread


  7. Mark D. Roberts Says:
    June 15th, 2007 at 10:19 pm

    Note re: moderation of comments. I have never deleted a comment for its content. I’ve only deleted a couple for things like profanity. But sometimes the programs(s) that keep spam out of my comments (spammers LOVE comments) catch comments that are otherwise fine. Usually I turn the comments loose within a day. Sometimes, however, if I’m away from the Internet for a stretch (camping, for example), your comment will appear to have disappeared for a few days. Sorry about this. It’s a sad necessity in a spam-filled world.

  8. Evan Says:
    June 15th, 2007 at 11:21 pm

    Three things struck me about Dr. Roberts’ post .

    First, Hitchens is a superb knife-fighter, and due to the format and the nature of the “debate,” he put out consistently better sound-bites overall. When he makes an outlandish claim such as “there doesn’t exist a shard of convincing evidence that (Jesus) ever (existed.) The Gospels were written a great deal after the events they purport to describe. And they contradict each other on every important aspect of the life story,” Dr. Roberts was faced with two problems: 1) where do you start (among multiple wrong assertions) and 2) the response to this pithy bit is at least a couple of paragraphs of “rebuttal evidence.” But very often, the breaks, etc did not allow it.

    Dr. Roberts is a fine author, scholar and blogger, and appears to be a fine pastor and parent. He is not a fine knife-fighter, but that is okay. Hitchens is stellar. He outmaneuvered Hugh Hewitt, who is far more practiced in knife-fighting, more than once that day. Being “a great knife-fighter” may even be at cross purposes with Dr. Roberts’ other callings, and as I have noted, a series of essays is really the only way to discuss Hitchens’ claims, not sound-bites.

    Second, Hitchens and his supporters take the position that the “burden of proof” if you will is on the non-atheists. The atheists get to start from the presupposition that there is no God, we all happened by chance and that when we die, worms eat us and that is that. Further, Hitchens raises the bar on proof and says that since the notion of Heaven and Hell are so important, regular rules of historic analysis won’t suffice. But that is just HIS view on what
    presuppostions control and what rules follow. I could turn right around and argue from the notion that everything hangs together so perfectly that the presupposition is that Someone made the system and the inhabitants, and
    the utterly implausible and fantastic notion that it all happened by chance requires extra-superlative evidence to rebut it and that regular analysis won’t do. But then there is no discussion possible if the normal rules don’t apply! I will leave it that Hitchens’ presuppositions can be argued like anything else, and that these topics should be discussed on a level field.

    Third, I came to see Christian behavior the same way Dr. Roberts describes. One person who was an influence was Darrell Green. In 1992, he severely broke his arm early in the football season, and a rod was surgically implanted in the bone. In December, he came back, and once again, he was to cover WR Michael Irvin. Irvin
    gave an interview before the game and said that he planned to hit Green “right on that broken arm, every play, bam bam bam, maybe break it again.” The game was a fierce struggle, but the key play in the fourth quarter was Green sticking his broken arm between Irvin’s stomach and the ball and popping it loose. Green’s team
    recovered that fumble and ultimately won the game.

    Fast forward to 1996-7 when Irvin is in all kinds of trouble with the law over drugs and his marriage is in trouble due to his fast living. He was followed everywhere by reporters. Out of the blue, he got a call from Darrell Green,
    who offered to let Irvin stay at his own home until events calmed down. “No reporter would ever think to look for Michael Irvin at Darrell Green’s house,” he said. And everything changed between them. Irvin and Green became friends because of this gracious offer. (By the way, I heard about Green’s offer only because Irvin
    discussed it on the radio! Irvin was very appreciative and humbled.)

    Darrell Green was a man who I instantly perceived to be a Christian the second I heard him speak. And I realized that he never used a razor tongue or rapier wit, even when he had been treated evilly and his target would have “deserved” it. He exhibited grace and compassion to someone who had no right to expect it. And hopefully, I am more like Darrell Green and the source of his behavior than I once was.

    Hitchens is a brilliant man in many ways, funny and full of wit. It is unfortunate that he takes the view that those not agreeing with him are utter morons. I guess even morons can enjoy much of his non-religious writing, because I do.

  9. Matthew Goggins Says:
    June 16th, 2007 at 11:43 am


    Thanks for the compliment, and thanks for mentioning Hitchens’ appearance on the Dennis Prager show.

    I listened to Hitchens and Prager go at it, and it was very interesting.

    I view these book-tour discussions somewhat differently than a lot of the commenters here. I don’t listen to them and say, “Oh, Hitchens beat Roberts” or “Prager beat Hitchens”. I find that all sides generally comport themselves very well, very strongly, and if I happen to agree with one statement or another, it doesn’t mean the other side has lost that part of the “debate”.

    I don’t agree with everything Hitchens says, or disagree with everything Mark, Prager, and Hewitt says. I don’t even agree, necessarily, with everything that I think!

    But the main thrust of “God Is Not Great” is not only largely correct, but is also a useful message for our society: Religion is not an unalloyed blessing, but an anachronistic belief-system which causes great mischief and not a little tragedy. Moreover, even if atheism is not a panacea for everything, it does have the great merit of being true.

    Reasonable people will disagree about all this, but the disagreement is at least half the fun, in my opinion :)

  10. *Ken Says:
    June 16th, 2007 at 12:49 pm


    I read five excerpts from Hitch’s book in The National Post. And found them to be less than I expected, a bit sloppy and i was able to find some errors and over-simplifications. It isn’t an acedemic text or thesis though, it is one volley in a continuing anti-god and especially anti-religion push and stirring the pot is worth it. Hitch likes the ruffles feathers and the religious must face these things.

    Hitch has the easier side to defend because even though some of this work is sloppy he doesn’t have to defend or explain and magic or miracles. Saying he gets the “facts” of the gospels wrong … well if I got my facts re scientology wrong would anybody worry about me pointing out it was a complete fraud???? …praise Xenu


  11. Chris Pavik Says:
    June 17th, 2007 at 3:11 am

    Dr. Roberts did a solid job of debating a formidable opponent (not ‘enemy’) in Christopher Hitchens, but from what I’ve seen of Hitchen’s arguments, not having read the book, I would, humbly, suggest several approaches that should be taken when dealing with the issues he raises.

    First of all, Hitchens seems to be co-mingling, and getting away with it, I might add, TWO different lines of argument: he is attacking both the general AND special revelation of God, and jumping back and forth between the two.
    As a Christian, I think, when engaging in these debates, that it is imperative to separate these two issues.

    It is entirely UNFAIR and UNREASONABLE to allow an atheist to attack special revelation, since they reject outright the general revelation of the Creator which is available to ALL MEN, in all cultures, at all times throughout human history.

    I understand that the New Testament is Dr. Robert’s area of expertise, thus to argue on that terrain gave him an inordinate advantage, but at the least, I believe in these sorts of discussions, this distinction must be made clear, and those attacking belief in God must be made keep intellectually honest when dealing with this topic.

    On another point, it seemed that a large part of Hitchens’ argument was basically sociological, papered over with a veneer of pseudoscientific ’sociobiology’, arguing that humans DO NOT need religion in order to act ethically. While he could make a theoretical argument for his case, it would extremely easy to rebut his point with the simple evidence of the reality of human nature. Numerous studies, including the just-released Barna Group survey, indicate repeatedly that people of faith give more, and substantially more to charity than atheists or agnostics. Citing some statistics from WHO GIVES would put the lie to Hitchen’s assertions.

    Again, I must apologize for any appearance of hubris in this post. I in no way wish to claim that I would even stand a ‘ghost’ of a chance in debate with Hitchens, but it is interesting to see how this now all too familiar atheistic assault on faith, specifically the Christian faith, seems to take on a repititiously droning pattern. When WILL atheists start thinking up some new arguments for their seemingly endless succession of books?

    Again, thank you, Dr. Roberts, for your defense of the Faith.

    Chris Pavik

  12. ChrisK Says:
    June 17th, 2007 at 9:51 am

    You say “Further, Hitchens raises the bar on proof and says that since the notion of Heaven and Hell are so important, regular rules of historic analysis won’t suffice. But that is just HIS view…”

    No. If you tell me that you have a 50 foot pink rhinocerous in your backyard, and I say you don’t, the burden of proof rests on you, not me. Absolutely free relativism doesn’t work here.

  13. Matthew Goggins Says:
    June 17th, 2007 at 10:37 am

    Chris Pavik,

    You’ve written a feisty comment, but I believe you have made a couple of points that might not be entirely fair or accurate. Perhaps if you allow me to share my point of view with you, I can get you to see things from a slightly different perspective.

    I’m going to be very frank, not out of disrespect to you, but just to be clear about where I’m coming from.

    You say,

    It is entirely UNFAIR and UNREASONABLE to allow an atheist to attack special revelation, since they reject outright the general revelation of the Creator which is available to ALL MEN, in all cultures, at all times throughout human history.

    An atheist would say that the general revelation of creation overwhelmingly demonstrates a universe that appears to function on automatic pilot, without a hint of divine intervention. If the atheist is right about this, then it would seem that it is the theist and the Christian who are ignoring general revelation.

    Furthermore, when you go on to say,

    I believe in these sorts of discussions, this distinction [between special and general revelation] must be made clear, and those attacking belief in God must be made keep intellectually honest when dealing with this topic.

    you are strongly implying that evangelical atheists are not intellectually honest on this point. Your implication is denigrating without being witty, a double faux pas. Worst of all, as I explained above, it is not even true.

    Mr. Hitchens himself, both in his book and in his debate with Mark, dealt repeatedly with the theist premises of general revelation. You might not think highly of what he had to say, but you have no grounds to hold fast to the notion that he had nothing to say.

    One more thing while I’m here.

    When WILL atheists start thinking up some new arguments for their seemingly endless succession of books?

    This sounds very disingenuous to me. I should think you would be very, very happy if atheists could do no more than recycle tired old arguments.

    “God Is Not Great” is not a completely original treatise. Colonel Robert Ingersoll plowed a lot of the same ground well over a hundred years ago.

    Nevertheless, Mr. Hitchens has written a fresh, personal, and highly intelligent book. Your dismissiveness suggests a certain close-mindedness on your part.

    I would like to close by suggesting that you take the following biblical exhortation to heart:

    You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. [Exodus 20:17]

    I believe that the spirit of this commandment would give you permission to relax and not be so envious of Mr. Hitchens’ success with his “repetitiously droning” attacks on faith and Christianity.

    In any case, I wish you all the best, and great success in the spiritual journey through life that we all participate in.


  14. Evan Says:
    June 17th, 2007 at 12:10 pm

    12. ChrisK:

    I think you missed my point. You consider any notion of God to be “a 50 foot pink rhinocerous,” ie, a proposition so ludicrous that any further discussion is probably pointless. If I came back and said, “Of course there is a God, just look at creation, duh!” then I would warrant that all conversation from that point would likewise be limited, and if you don’t want to entertain any such discussion, that is fine. But that was not what I was talking about in reference to Hitchens’ demand for “great evidence.”

    I was not referring to the global notion of there being a God or not, but rather Hitchens’ assertion that Jesus never even EXISTED, which is a purely historic proposition. He adds, “there doesn’t exist a shard of convincing
    evidence that He ever did,” which is again, a historic proposition. And when we go to standard practices for evaluating the existence of historic personages, Hitchens won’t allow them, which is extremely disingenuous.

    Whether Jesus even existed is a historic proposition, period. Whether He was God is another thing altogether. Hitchens mixes the two, and any discussion on Jesus whatsoever must meet the higher standard, which is never expressly set forth other than whatever proof is presented is not good enough! In a similar manner, you can claim that Alexander the Great never conquered anything that was claimed, but that is a different proposition as to whether the man ever even existed.

    As to the “rhino,” I see it more this way. It is 9/11 and you are in the World Trade Center with everyone else. There are noises and vibrations. A group of people says that the building is on fire and in danger of collapse,
    and that the only safe way out is a particular reinforced underground passage, because falling debris and the impending collapse of the building make all other ways unsafe. Now, is it an impending collapse, or a passing thunderstorm that is causing the noise and vibrations? The person talking to you may be wild and incoherent, or they could be an engineer who works on such buildings, and their explanation may be brilliant and convincing or overly dramatic and silly. The standard person has to evaluate the data and the evidence and decide on a course of action: remain, escape with the group sounding the alarm or escape another way. But here is my point: the motivation of the persons urging escape is your safety, nothing else. The message of Jesus is that the only safe way of escape is through Him, so escape, be safe and live. If the notion that the building could ever collapse is so preposterous as to invite ridicule a la Hitchens, and cut the discussion off right there, that is certainly an option, and whether you move to escape or not is certainly solely up to you. But there are a lot of folks that know the engineering, as it were, and while you may ultimately disagree with their findings, but their reasoning might be more plausible than you think. But the motivation is your safety, nothing more.

  15. ChrisK Says:
    June 17th, 2007 at 3:49 pm

    Evan, I understand your point better about your belief Hitchens is mixing historic Jesus and whether he’s God or not. It’s not easy to separate the two for me, so I have some sympathy for Hitch.

    I understand your 9/11 metaphor. In that metaphor, I can understand your point about the person making the warning (let’s call him Warner) is interested in your safety. I think the metaphor is weak for our situation, so I’m not going to let Warner off the hook.

    The better metaphor here, I believe, is we’re in a building with no noises and vibrations that I couldn’t explain by using thoughtful reason. Yet Warner and all his friends are still shouting. Not just Warner, but his parent’s parent’s parent’s parents, etc., have been shouting.

    Why the shouting? I’m not sure. I think it has nothing to do with the truth of the situation. So why? Bertrand Russell had some interesting quote, which I wish I could remember accurately, but went something like, “There are fiction writers in other cultures who aren’t pleased with their fictional heroine, until some reader is so moved by the heroine that he commits suicide over her.” Bertie was onto something. I don’t know. I cry during movies, yet they’re not real. Maybe that’s part of it.

    I do think there’s a joy in truth though that Warner will probably never feel, and here we’ll likely disagree. When Warner and everyone else around me is shouting over nothing, it feels very good, very smart, and very real to walk away from Warner. A little scary at first, I’ll admit.

  16. Evan Says:
    June 17th, 2007 at 5:09 pm

    Fair enough, Chris. Reasonable minds can differ over what the noises might mean in my admittedly imperfect metaphor. (and calling the guy Warner made me smile–very apt!) You look at the data and make your best analysis. A Happy Father’s Day to you if you are one!

  17. Roberts vs. Hitchens at PastorBlog Says:
    June 19th, 2007 at 8:17 am

    […] Will Rhetoric Like That of Christopher Hitchens Make the World a Better Place? […]

  18. Jim Anderson Says:
    June 23rd, 2007 at 12:21 pm

    Hitchens isn’t the first to be quite harsh with religious types. In fact, he merely copies a page out of Christ’s playbook.

  19. “Full of Grace, Seasoned with Salt”: Rhetoric & Respect « Says:
    June 12th, 2009 at 1:45 pm

    […] Pastor, speaker and blogger, Dr. Mark D. Roberts, offers some thoughtful reflections on his interactions with one of the most provocative anti-religious polemicists on the circuit today, Christopher Hitchens, posing the question: “Will Rhetoric Like That of Christopher Hitchens Make the World a Better Place?”   […]


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