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Hitchens Wrong About the Census, Eyewitnesses, St. Paul, Scholarship, Gospel Truth, and Gospel Disagreements

By Mark D. Roberts | Monday, June 11, 2007

Part 5 of series: god is Not Great by Christopher Hitchens: A Response
Permalink for this post / Permalink for this series

So far I’ve shown nine errors made by Christopher Hitchens in his treatment of the New Testament in god is not Great. Today I’ll add six additional errors.

Hitchens Wrong About the Augustan Census

He writes:

There is no mention of any Augustan census by any Roman historian . . . .” (112)

This comes in an argument where Hitchens is attempting to show that Luke’s account of the birth of Jesus is “quite evidently garbled.” But what Hitchens says is not true. In the Annals of the Roman historian Tacitus there is a reference to a document produced under Augustus that contained a description of “the number of citizens and allies under arms, of the fleets, of subject kingdoms, provinces, taxes” and so on,” in other words, a census. (Photo to the right: An obelisk in Rome that Augustus used to celebrate his greatness, including his being the son of a god.)

But we don’t even need to go to a Roman historian to find evidence for the censuses of Augustus. In “The Deeds of the Divine Augustus” written by Augustus himself and published throughout the empire in 14 AD, we read of three censuses conducted under Augustus’s authority (in 28 BC, 8 BC, and 14 AD; see Acts of Augustus, section 8). If Augustus decreed a census in 8 BC, as he claims, it’s quite possible that this was the census described in Luke 2, which was not finished in Judea until a year or two later.

Hitchens Wrong on the Eyewitnesses of the Crucifixion

In his denunciation of The Passion of the Christ, Hitchens notes that promoters said the film was based “on the reports of ‘eyewitnesses’.” (p. 111). Then he continues:

At the time, I thought it extraordinary that a multimillion-dollar hit could be openly based on such a patently fraudulent claim, but nobody seemed to turn a hair. (p. 111)

Nobody turned a hair because even the most skeptical of scholars believes that the accounts of Jesus’s death have some connection to eyewitnesses. The vast majority of New Testament scholars and classical historians believe that Jesus was in fact crucified under Pontius Pilate around 30 AD. This is found, not only throughout the New Testament, but also in the Roman historian Tacitus (Annals 15.44) and the first-century Jewish historian Josephus (Antiquities 18.3.3). It’s would be incredible to believe that the reports of Jesus’s death were not based at least to some extent on eyewitness accounts. This is made even more likely by the fact that the Gospels actually show the followers of Jesus in a very bad light during the passion of Jesus. Most of them abandoned Him, not exactly the sort of thing that early Christians would have made up unless it were true. (For a recent scholarly treatment of the role of eyewitnesses in the development of the Gospel material, see Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony by Richard Bauckham.) Even if one wishes to argue that eyewitnesses had little to do with the stories about Jesus’s death, an informed scholar would never say that the eyewitness claim is “patently fraudulent.”

Hitchens Wrong About Paul and Women

One of the first things Hitchens writes about the New Testament is:

The New Testament has Saint Paul expressing both fear and contempt for the female. (p. 54)

This is one reason among many Hitchens brings forth as part of his “consistent proof that religion is man-made” (p. 54).

Conveniently, Hitchens offers no references for his claim about Paul’s “fear and contempt” for the female. He offers no references because there are none. Indeed, there are four places in Paul’s letters where he says something about women that we might find uncomfortable, especially if we fail to consider the context in which Paul was writing and thus read him anachronistically (1 Corinthians 11, 14, 1 Timothy 2, Ephesians 5). But in none of these chapters is there anything vaguely resembling fear or contempt. Elsewhere in his writings, Paul strongly affirms the value of women, their role as his co-workers (Romans 16), their empowerment for ministry along with men (1 Corinthians 11-14), their extraordinary right to remain single, apart from male authority (1 Corinthians 7), and even their authority over their husbands’ bodies, along with the husbands’ authority over their bodies (1 Corinthians 7:4). In Paul’s light of Paul’s own culture, his view of women was shockingly progressive. This helps to explain why women, even powerful and wealthy women, we’re drawn to the early Christian movement (Acts 17:1-12; Romans 16:1-2).

Hitchens Wrong About New Testament Scholarship

He writes:

The contradictions and illiteracies of the New Testament have filled up many books by eminent scholars, and have never been explained by any Christian authority except in the feeblest terms of “metaphor” and “a Christ of faith.” (115)

Christopher Hitchens appears to have read a bit of what is sometimes called “liberal” New Testament scholarship. Here you find an effort to hang onto some measure of Christian faith while rejecting the historical core of the Gospel (the ministry, death, resurrection of Jesus). Marcus Borg provides a popular example of such an approach.

But Hitchens, once again, writes confidently about that which he does not know. For one thing, it rather begs the question to refer to the “contradictions and illiteracies of the New Testament.” But if we interpret Hitchens as referring, for example, to diverse treatments of Jesus among the four Gospels, then he is simply wrong to say that no “Christian authority” has explained these except in terms of “metaphor” and “a Christ of faith.” Some of the finest biblical scholars of recent times have done this with academic rigor and care, including F.F. Bruce, Martin Hengel, Ben Witherington III, Craig Evans, N.T. Wright, Richard Bauckham, and Craig Blomberg, just to name a few. Now it’s certainly possible to argue that these scholars are wrong. But it’s certainly wrong to reject their efforts as non-existent.

Hitchens Wrong on the Nature of the Gospels

He writes:

Either the Gospels are in some sense literal truth, or the whole thing is essentially a fraud and perhaps an immoral one at that. Well, it can be stated with certainty, and on their own evidence, that the Gospels are most certainly not literal truth. This means that many of the “sayings” and teachings of Jesus are hearsay upon hearsay upon hearsay, which helps explain their garbled and contradictory nature.” (120)

Virtually every scholar I’ve read, including the most skeptical, would agree that the Gospels are “in some sense literal truth.” The proof is that virtually every scholar who says anything about Jesus of Nazareth bases his or her history on the “facts” of the Gospels. So when a scholar states that Jesus was crucified under the authority of Pontius Pilate, this scholar takes at least that part of the Gospel account as literal truth.

It’s hard to know what Hitchens means by saying that the Gospels, “on their own evidence . . . are most certainly not literal truth.” But whatever he means, this cannot be sustained by a close reading of the Gospels. Now, let me add, that very few scholars, including conservative Christians, would argue that the Gospels are merely literal truth. They believe there is something more in the text. They are literal truth shaped in light of theological conviction. This isn’t a new idea. The Gospel writers say this very thing (see Luke 1:1-4, for example).

The “hearsay upon hearsay upon hearsay” claim shows ignorance of the oral culture in which the Gospel traditions were passed down. It’s an anachronistic mistake. I would point Hitchens to Bauckham’s book, Jesus and the Eyewitness, and to Kenneth Bailey, Poet and Peasant Through Peasant Eyes.

Finally, I’d be the first to admit that the sayings of Jesus are sometimes hard to understand. But one who refers to them as “garbled and contradictory” has simply not taken the time to understand them. One can certainly reject Jesus’s teaching as untrue, but to criticize them as “garbled and contradictory” says more about the critic than about the teaching itself.

Hitchens Invents or Exaggerates Gospel Disagreements

He writes:

The scribes cannot even agree on the mythical elements: they disagree wildly about the Sermon on the Mount, the anointing of Jesus, the treachery of Judas, and Peter’s haunting “denial.” (112)

One wonders in what sense the items Hitchens mentions should be included among the so-called “mythical elements.” Usually “mythical” is reserved for things like the miraculous birth, the miracles, etc. Be that as it may, Hitchens invents or exaggerates Gospel disagreements.

For example, the Gospel writers don’t disagree at all about the Sermon on the Mount because that “sermon” only appears in the Gospel of Matthew. Luke has a similar “sermon,” sometimes called “The Sermon on the Plain” but it’s not the same discourse. Furthermore, if you look closely at the different Gospel accounts of the anointing of Jesus, the treachery of Judas, and Peter’s denial, you will see some differences. The story of Peter’s denial, for example, is found in Matthew 26:69-75, Mark 14:66-72, and Luke 22:54-62. The three accounts are very similar, both in English and in the original Greek. The major difference has to do with whether the rooster crowed once or twice. But this could hardly be an example of the Gospel writers disagreeing wildly.

Is Hitchens a Reliable Witness?

I have now shown fifteen errors in Christopher Hitchens’s treatment of the New Testament. (A stickler would note that I’ve actually identified more than fifteen if I count every single mistake in a an excerpt.) These errors fall within relatively few pages of the overall book, only about 6% of the total. As I explained earlier, I’m not an expert in many of the areas about which Hitchens writes, so I’ll leave it to others to assess his accuracy there. But fifteen mistakes in relatively few pages doesn’t impress me positively.

But if Hitchens were a witness in a trial, a trial to determine whether God is great or not, and whether religion poisons everything or not, and if, after testifying for the prosecution, the defense was able to show that a small part of his testimony was filled with errors, then this would surely discredit him as a reliable witness. Some mistakes show up in the best of books, no doubt. But 15 mistakes in so few pages is unusually bad. Thus, ironically, I find myself with no option other than to treat Hitchens’s claims about “facts” with the sort of skepticism that he applies to the New Testament Gospels. He has not shown himself to be the kind of careful writer whom I can trust to be truthful.

Topics: Hitchens: god is not Great |

32 Responses to “Hitchens Wrong About the Census, Eyewitnesses, St. Paul, Scholarship, Gospel Truth, and Gospel Disagreements”

  1. Matthew Goggins Says:
    June 11th, 2007 at 1:47 am

    I did a little fact-checking of my own.

    I read the three accounts of Peter’s denial which you cited, in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. And then I read John’s account in chapter 18, from about John 18:15 to John 18:27.

    While there are great similarities among all four accounts, there are also several divergences.

    I would not characterize the greatest discrepancy to be the cock crowing once or twice. I would say the greatest discrepancy is the way John places Peter’s three denials at different parts of the narrative from Matthew (and the other two evangelists as well).

    Since John’s story is the most divergent of the four, I would say you committed a significant error by not even mentioning John’s version in your post today.

    Mr. Hitchens’ error is, at most, one of misinterpretation. He is asserting the existence of “wild” disagreement where one could dispute such a characterization. Your error of omission regarding John’s account of Peter’s denial would appear prima facie to be more serious than Hitchens’. You left out the most divergent version of the episode out of all four versions.

    Moreover, using your standard of courtroom testimony as a reflection of eyewitness accuracy and reliability, there are in fact significant and irreconciliable differences among the four gospel accounts of Peter’s denial of Jesus. Certainly enough to reject the mutual coherence of the gospels on the level of eyewitness testimony: someone is wrong about Peter’s sequence of actions that evening, they can’t all be correct.

    Indeed, it actually looks like, from simple logical analysis, at least two or three of the gospel writers have to be wrong about some of the details of Peter’s words and whereabouts.

    Inasmuch as you make a big deal out of the fifteen errors in 6% of the pages of Hitchens’ book, I imagine you are probably chagrined and disappointed that you appear to have committed at least as serious an error yourself.

    I don’t know if your error rate is closer to 1 out of 15 or 15 out of 15 in your series on Hitchens’ mistakes, because I only checked this one item. But since your error seems to be greater than the one Hitchens himself made, and since you are the one putting yourself forward as meeting a higher standard, even a 1 in 15 error rate seems hard to justify.

    Please note that I am not saying the discrepancies in the gospel accounts of Peter denials are material in the sense of contradicting the main point: Peter denies knowing Jesus three times before the cock crows once or a couple of times. There is perfect agreement on this main point.

    The only discrepancies are on the level of eyewitness testimony: who, what, where, when, how, and in what order. For the purposes of religious faith and understanding, this lack of eyewitness consistency is not very meaningful perhaps. It is not an indictment per se of the reliability of the gospels.

    But the discrepancies are real and would seem to contradict the points you are making about Hitchens: that he makes mistakes that you would not countenance in your own work; and that his alleged exaggerations are not only open to dispute, but are tendentious to the point of being unreasonable.

  2. David Kleykamp Says:
    June 11th, 2007 at 3:08 am

    Dr. Roberts:

    Could you please explain to us why that ALL of the disciples of Jesus were martyred, as well as Paul. If they really made the whole thing up, as Mr. Hitchins has asserted, then why didn’t they save themselves and simply apostasize? Why die for a cause you know is a sham since you created the sham. I know this is not an argument for the authenticity of the Gospels, but it does seem very persuasive nevetheless.

  3. Ted Volckhausen Says:
    June 11th, 2007 at 5:18 am

    To David Kleykamp

    James the brother of John, Peter, and James the brother of Jesus (who was also a witness to Jesus’s resurrection according to Paul) were certainly martyred. John the brother of James, was almost certainly not martyred but died of old age in the reign of Trajan. As to the other disciples, the stories of their martyrdom are ancient but not close enough to their deaths for us to be certain that they are true. Many of these stories tell of executions outside the Roman Empire (in India for Thomas, for example). Not knowing the circumstances, we can’t be sure that apostasy would have saved their lives.

    So your point is a good one, but overstated.

  4. Nathan Says:
    June 11th, 2007 at 7:49 am

    I think by “mythical,” Hitchens refers not to the mystical or supernatural events (miracles, etc.), but rather the major elements of the “Jesus myth.” In this context, “myth” does not mean a story that is untrue, so much as a story which may or may not be true, but carries a larger spiritual significance for believers.

    Thus, while the question of what Jesus did throughout his teens and twenties might be of interest, it does not form a part of the “mythology.”

  5. Dan Says:
    June 11th, 2007 at 8:36 am

    David makes a good point. Why die for a sham? In the modern day world something like 200 million Christians are at risk of losing their lives for the Gospel. Why do they risk it all, if the Gospel is a sham?

    Hitchens is just so full of himself. I can’t take him seriously anymore.

  6. Lady Liberty Says:
    June 11th, 2007 at 8:53 am

    Thoroughly enjoyed the intellectual and spiritual standing.

    Why not a regular debate with Christopher Hitchens, Hugh Hewitt as moderator, on his radio program?

  7. Natrium Says:
    June 11th, 2007 at 9:05 am

    Dying as martyrs for a sham is not unknown, even in modern times. Think Nazism and Communism as two horrible examples.

    Also, I believe that your estimate of the amount of Christians in the modern-day world is off by an order of magnitude.

    Those quibbles aside, I think it of interest to note that both Christianity and Judaism survived more rocky times than most.

  8. Robert Says:
    June 11th, 2007 at 9:24 am

    “Dying as martyrs for a sham is not unknown, even in modern times. Think Nazism and Communism as two horrible examples.”

    But… Dying for a sham that you KNOW is a sham is unkown.

    In the case of the Nazi’s and Communist, they were true believers in the cause.

    In the case of the early Apostles, they would know it was a shame and choose to be crucified upside down anyway.

  9. Evan Says:
    June 11th, 2007 at 9:56 am

    When the dust has all settled, Hitchens’ complaint against “religion” need to be broken into two parts: Non-Christian “Religion” and Christian “religion.”

    The reason for that is that whenever some institutional evil is laid at the feet of Christianity, the actors in question had to trample over the express teachings of Jesus in order to do it. Jesus never once called for his followers to kill or even harm others, for the sake of the faith or any other particular reason. I won’t try to answer for other religions, but that is Right Out with Christianity. Jesus continually affirmed to His followers that He had come to save, not to condemn, and that His goal was that everyone would attain everlasting life.

    Specific to Christianity, Hitchens’ charges can likewise be broken into two general groupings: 1) Complaints that an “Almighty” diety has not acted in accordance with Hitchens’ expectations of what an “Almighty” diety should/could do and 2) Opinions or other contested data or theories expressed as irrefutable fact.

    In the first group falls things such as Hitchens sneering that the “Q” document is lost to history, which is “careless” on the part of “the god who is claimed to have ‘inspired’ it.” In other words, an “Almighty” diety would never have let that happen, ergo, clearly there is no “God.” He is certainly not alone in this, but it begs the question in order to be dispositive. It assumes that human beings have sufficient 1) data and 2) mental facilities to completely comprehend and analyze an infinite being, and that if something does not fit with our analysis, it excludes the possibility of such a being. The converse, however, would be that it is quite possible that given our limitations, a particular action by a being unlimited by time, space and a mere five senses might not be comprehensible to us, even as our actions might befuddle a lizard. But here is the point: I don’t beg the question in the other direction and claim that all matters are irrefutably settled. ie, we can’t understand diety, so push your child into the volcano and stop asking questions. Hitchens’ objections in this regard are not invalid, but they are simply not so dispositive as to refute any contrary thought.

    In the second category, Hitchens will assert that “many a life was horribly lost on the proposition” as to which of the Gospels should be regarded as divinely inspired. How does one disprove a false assertion like that? The scope of history shows no conflict resulting in the loss of life regarding this issue. So the “debate” comes down to “Yes, there was,” “No, there wasn’t,” “Yes, there was” with no letup in sight. So if I say, “Thousands of people lost their lives as a result of the Teapot Dome Scandal,” only a student of American history would know the silliness of the assertion off the top of their heads. For anyone else, how to “prove” there wasn’t amounts to making them read volumes of history to note it is NOT there.

    Many of Hitchens’ assertions are certainly evidence for his viewpoint, but they simply don’t cut off debate by being “irrefutable.” Let
    me give an example in the other direction. IF Jesus indeed rose from the dead, then that would give credence to His divinity and His teachings. But would it be irrefutable? Some might disagree even there. But if I started with the assertion that Jesus HAS risen from the dead as an irrefutable historic fact and proceeded to argue based on that “irrefutable” proposition, I would be commiting the same error that Hitchens does in so many instances. Reasonable minds can differ over many things, but as I have said before, it comes down to formulating a theory that cannot be scientifically or mathematically “proven” beyond doubt. It is “Faith” one direction or another. Hitchens has viewed the evidence he has and has Faith in “non-Faith.” It is not beyond dispute any more than my belief that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead. I accept this, but Hitchens wants to act as though there is no dispute possible to his worldview, which is silly.

    I might add a related note that Hitchens raises the bar for historic attestation regarding Biblical events to heights I do not think he requires for other historic events that he does not contest. For example, on the radio he scoffed at the Gospel account of an earthquake at the Crucifixion and the resurrection of some folks from their graves and being seen in Jerusalem subsequently. Since there is no extra-Biblical attestion to these events, Hitchens rather huffily dismissed any possibility of their being true. Which is fine until attestation of Shakespeare entered the scene, and then such stringent standards went by the boards. Hitchens sees no doubt that all the works of Shakespeare were “written by the same person, whoever that may be,” but did not seem to really have a problem with attributing the works to Shakespeare. Juxtaposed with Hitchens’ assertion (paraphrasing) that the evidence for the historic person of Jesus to be virtually non-existent so as to call Jesus’ existence into serious doubt, it is clear that Hitchens is imposing a far higher standard of history. He justifies this by insisting that the stakes are higher with a claim to diety, which seems logical until you realize that you can continue raising the bar until you are requiring personal appearances and miracles by God before you will accept anything “since the stakes are so high.” At that point you are simply unhappy that Faith is Faith as opposed to Irrefutable Continuing Evidence. That is certainly an objection, but it is quite far afield from the “no historic evidence” that Hitchens reached by re-defining what constitutes evidence whenever the topic is Jesus.

    Hitchens has really hurt his “cause” when he cites non-existent events as “fact” or contested issues as being no contest in his favor. One can certainly view the evidence Hitchens has and come to his conclusions, but it is just silly to assert that no other conclusions are even possible, which is the nub of his end of the “debate.”

  10. Shane Says:
    June 11th, 2007 at 10:24 am

    This is great stuff!! I wonder if anyone is debating the positives and negatives of Mohammed and Islam anywhere in the middle east or Westen Europe right now.

    Maybe that should be Mr. Hitchens’ next book…oh wait, I forgot. He’d be decapitated by the practitioners of Islam wouldn’t he? Hmmm….my guess is he won’t be writing any critical analyses about Islam then.

  11. Weeble Says:
    June 11th, 2007 at 11:05 am

    Natrium, the point is not that people can die for something that is ultimately untrue but rather why would so many die for something the knew to be untrue because they had made it up.

    This is entirely different from simply not knowing any “better” and greatly undermines the modernist notion that the early Christians invented Christianity simply as a means to achieve power.

  12. Ben Says:
    June 11th, 2007 at 11:12 am

    Why not a regular debate with Christopher Hitchens, Hugh Hewitt as moderator, on his radio program?

    I don’t think there would be much to debate anymore after this house-cleaning. It really boils don’t to one person’s choice to live a challenged life. Being atheist is much easier in the short run since hard evidence of God does not exist as science would like it. Typically that evidence is in a very personal witness that can’t be handed out. We can lead a horse to the water, but you can’t make it drink.

    All in all, a very good discussion that was very well handled.

  13. Ben Says:
    June 11th, 2007 at 11:15 am

    don’t … should be down

  14. Ian Says:
    June 11th, 2007 at 3:34 pm

    hitchens is full of hitchens. There is a verse in Romans chapter one that says professing to be wise they became fools. I would rather trust the acient book the bible than hitchens foolish writinhs.

  15. Ian Says:
    June 11th, 2007 at 3:35 pm

    hitchens is full of hitchens. There is a verse in Romans chapter one that says professing to be wise they became fools. I would rather trust the acient book the bible than hitchen’s foolish writings.

  16. Lisa Says:
    June 11th, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    Before I became a Christian, I found Jesus’s teachings “garbled and contradictory.” Now when I read scripture with faith, much is revealed that was hidden before. This is the strongest proof I have for the truth of the gospel, though it is ineffective to convince a skeptic.

  17. ZZMike Says:
    June 11th, 2007 at 5:16 pm

    Hitchens is a bright and clever guy. On those things where he’s expert, I consider him top-rate. But he does have a severe problem with religion. Maybe he was frightened by an Abbot while young.

    As for Islam, to him, it’s just another human foolishness:

    “I went on Crossfire at one point, to debate some spokesman for outraged faith, and said that we on our side would happily debate the propriety of using holy writ for literary and artistic purposes. But that we would not exchange a word until the person on the other side of the podium had put away his gun. (The menacing Muslim bigmouth on the other side refused to forswear state-sponsored suborning of assassination, and was of course backed up by the Catholic bigot Pat Buchanan.)”

    Whatever else he may be, he’s never dull, and only fools and angels should consider bebating him. About anything.

  18. Robert Duquette Says:
    June 11th, 2007 at 6:33 pm

    “Natrium, the point is not that people can die for something that is ultimately untrue but rather why would so many die for something the knew to be untrue because they had made it up.”

    Joseph Smith died for his beliefs. Did he know that he had made it up?

  19. Bobolink Says:
    June 11th, 2007 at 8:19 pm

    I listened to Hitch v. Roberts once at Hewitt’s site. I haven’t read Hitch’s book. I’m an agnostic.

    Roberts’s arguments here seem so crazy teeny to Hitch’s point that “Great claims require great evidence.” Our universe is 150 billion light years wide, there’s a billion billion billion stars the size of our sun in the thing, and…let’s suppress our smug atheist smiles here… Roberts feels he has a proof of a god that created that by arguing whether Hitchens got the evidence on a Roman census correct? Or a sermon on a mount is similar to sermon on a plain?

    Roberts is arguing about a gnat’s eyelash, and Hitch is standing on Everest. Or Hitch has the sunrise and Roberts is trying to blind him with a dim penlight. Whatever the comparison.

  20. Gary Brown Says:
    June 11th, 2007 at 8:43 pm

    Robert, the point is that the disciples had to know if the life of Jesus and the resurrection were true or false. They knew him. Hitchens incredibly believes that Jesus never existed and then these followers who KNEW he didn’t exist each died horrible deaths for professing that not only did he live but that he was resurrected from the dead. People will did for a lie they believe to be true but will not - ever in history - die for a lie they know to be a lie. Joseph Smith was killed in a jail by a mob. That is not remotely relevant.

  21. Tim Smith Says:
    June 11th, 2007 at 9:08 pm

    “Joseph Smith died for his beliefs. Did he know that he had made it up?”

    Joseph Smith didn’t die for his beliefs, he was killed trying not to die for his beliefs. In fact, he shot several people in self-defense.

    I believe he did know he made it all up, that’s why he fought so hard because he had a harem and lots of adoring followers waiting for him in this life.

  22. Bill C Says:
    June 11th, 2007 at 9:08 pm

    I haven’t read Hitchens’ book nor all of the comments to these posts, but it appears that Hitchens frequently makes pronouncements regrading the “morality” of this or that action, opinion, etc. I know he did this on Hugh’s show and was surprised when he wasn’t called on it. Does Hitchens, in his book, explain the basis for his judgments? That is, with reference to what authority does he judge some of Jesus’ teachings “immoral”. Or is “morality” something he intuits?

  23. meMarc Says:
    June 12th, 2007 at 1:27 am

    Re. 6 Shane

    Hitchens has criticized Islam many times not only in print but also in public speeches. And let’s not forget that for many years he hid his friend Salman Rushdie. Hitchens may be many things, but he is not a coward.

  24. David Kleykamp Says:
    June 12th, 2007 at 7:50 am

    Thanks Ted for giving us some insights. I think you are probably right. I’m not keeping score though.

    Indeed, I suspect the “Great God Debate” was argued once before in the head of the German theologian Rudolph Bultmann. Wasn’t he the one who created form criticism and led efforts to demythologize the Bible? I am only a novice, but I suspect that arguments over the minutiae of the New Testament are not going to be very satisfying — except to those who like to count the score by enumerating the hits, runs, and strikeouts.

    For believers, religion is there because of a real and palpable spiritual hunger. Some people feel it, others do not. Mr. Hitchens finds that secular humanism fills that spiritual hunger. I look into my daughter’s eyes and think there is something more going on in Life.

  25. Evan Says:
    June 12th, 2007 at 9:25 am

    .19 Bobolink: As I have noted elsewhere, I do not have a problem as such with the notion that “Great claims require great evidence.” Where I take issue with Hitchens over it is that he raises the standard as to what can count as proof whenever the topic is Jesus.

    It is claimed that Alexander the Great conquered most of the known world… but the earliest biographies that we have of him were written around 300 years after the fact. Hitchens gets antsy over the first Gospel appearing 30 to 40 years after the fact. (You have to leave off that Paul sets out the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection in his letters, which probably date about 20 years after the fact.) If you applied Hitchens’ dictum, we would have to reject any notion of Alexander the Great, based on the great claims of his conquests… but we don’t.

    Reasonable minds can differ, and any conclusion will unprovable in a laboratory, but Hitchens has simply made the standards for proof impossible to satisfy only in this area. That does not “prove” him wrong, it simply suggests to me that his methodology is inconsistent and flawed, and will like have flawed conclusions.

  26. Weeble Says:
    June 12th, 2007 at 2:29 pm

    “Joseph Smith died for his beliefs. Did he know that he had made it up?”
    Joseph Smith didn’t die for his beliefs, he was killed trying not to die for his beliefs. In fact, he shot several people in self-defense.
    I believe he did know he made it all up, that’s why he fought so hard because he had a harem and lots of adoring followers waiting for him in this life.

    Thank you Tim, I’ve no idea who Joseph Smith was. I imagine it is also quite possible that Smith was delusional, a charge far harder to sustain when faced with a larger group of people who scattered in fear when Christ was arrested only to later submit to execution because of their beliefs.

    Ask yourself what kind of event could lead them all to have such a dramatic change of heart? Why would St. Peter not simply deny any knowledge of Christ as he had done before?

  27. Tim Smith Says:
    June 13th, 2007 at 6:30 am

    Weeble, Joseph Smith was the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormon). If one were to read contemporary accounts of those who knew Joseph Smith, he does not come across as a delusional fellow. But he does come across as someone with a whole lot to live for, namely a harem, adoring followers, etc.

    I assume your question regarding St. Peter was rhetorical?

  28. Hankmeister Says:
    June 13th, 2007 at 10:53 am

    What I find remarkable about Mr. Hitchen’s blind faith in his secular humanistic leftism is how he seems more than willing to manipulate terms to justify his own fallible historical narrative. For instance, if atheist governments murder its own people in pogroms, that makes them “religious” since only “religious regimes” kill people! Makes complete, circular sense, doesn’t it?

    For instance, Mr. Hitchens makes no distinctions between what Jesus and primitive Christianity taught with respect to living peaceably with ones neighbors where possible and to obey Caesar by giving to Caesar what’s Caesar’s and giving to God what’s God’s and how some rulers have cloaked their self-interested powergrab in religious (read: Christian) rhetoric in order to legitimize their despotism.

    That is, in the terrestrial sphere Christians are to give obedience to legitimate ruling authorities because they are “ministers of God” (Romans 13) who cause fear in the unrighteous but not the righteous. But just as assuredly we are informed in those same words (okay, it’s strongly implied by reverse example) that those governments which do cause fear in the righteous citizen (law abiders) are illegitimate usurpers of power which God will humble and destroy. In either case the Christian is to save their ultimate allegiance for God, not for the State. Likewise, having the moral law of God written on their hearts Christians should normally gravitate toward obeying Caesar in terrestrial matters - paying taxes, obey the laws of the land, giving limited fealty to law-and-order government, etc.

    That said, when Mr. Hitchens rails about the “evils of religion” like the various Catholic Crusades against Muslim predations, the various pogroms like the Spanish Inquisitions (which were often commissioned by secular authorities trying to maintain order in their respective societies - often creating a State-Church abomination), or any people being killed in the generic name of religion … when applying those standards of guilt-by-association Mr. Hitchens conveniently blinds himself to the utter ruthlessness of atheist humanist regimes that have murdered nearly 200 million innocent civilians in just the last 100 years.

    His answer: When secular atheist regimes engage in such death and mayhem, by definition they become “religious”! If that isn’t intellectual dishonesty I don’t know what is. But Mr. Hitchens does establish one truth at the expense of another arguing in this circular manner, atheism itself is a statement and view about God and is in fact practiced as an irreligious religion by a good number of people … like Lenin, Stalin, Pol Pot, Ho Chi Ming, and other secular/atheist despots. R.J. Rummel’s “Death By Government” ( documents the evils of secular/atheist governments that make even Islamofascists seem like pikers when it comes to mass death in the name of government - secular or theocratic.

    BTW, as to the pretentious argument that the various Gospel accounts are irreconcilable with reference to Peter’s denial of Jesus, one can only come to the conclusion if they are already predisposed toward the concept that there are indeed outright contradictions in Holy Writ. Simply because one account has the cock crowing once, another twice, and another three times is no contradiction at all. What would be a contradicition is if it were stated that a cock never crowed in the first place. If, for example, a Gospel account had stated that the cock crowed ONLY once and then came Peter’s denial, that would be a cause for concern. We must remember, these are PERSPECTIVES of the same event, so there will always be some “diversity” in how the accounts would be rendered and recorded. I would be willing to bet if the Gospel accounts were word-for-word, we’d be hearing from the skeptics how the Gospel writers merely copied one another or shamelessly plagiarized their accounts after attributing their renderings to having been inspired of God. You see, Christians can’t win either way because of the implacable skeptical “arguments” which have evolved to blunt the authority of the Gospel of Christ.

    Allow me to clarify other so-called “contradictions” in Holy Writ. One such example occurs when one Gospel account claims Jesus went UP the mountain to preach, another Gospel account also claims that Jesus came DOWN the mountain to preach. Though it may be legitimate to claim that Jesus preached the same kind of message many different times and maybe the gospel authors Matthew, Mark, Luke and John were referencing different preaching sessions, it’s probably actually the case of perspective. The New Testament on several occasions mentions the practice of Jesus going UP the mountain to pray before preaching. So one witness or disciple would see that as Jesus going UP to preach whereas another would see it from a different perspective of Jesus literally coming DOWN to preach … both are absolutely right and adds to the texture and tapestry of our historical understanding. There are more examples I would be glad to share which at first blush appear to be “contradictions” but are really a question of reconcilable perspectives which are absolutely true to the historical observer at that time.

  29. Hankmeister Says:
    June 13th, 2007 at 11:38 am

    Hmmmm … as a matter of clarification. Even if a Gospel account doesn’t mention the cock crowing, this omission does not create a “contradiction.” One assumes the eyewitness did not find a cock crowing relevant to Peter’s mendacious and cowardly actions in denying Christ.

    I was once told by a very wise and humble Christian man, “If a person is looking for error, they will invariably manufacture an error to keep the winds of that competing system of thought from causing their own house of cards to fall. Look for truth with all your mind, seek for wisdom with all your heart and Almighty God will see to it that you find it.”

    The Apostle Paul remonstrated, “Examine EVERYTHING carefully, but hold fast to that which is good.” This is not a call to being “open-minded”, the kind of open-mindedness which makes your brains fall out, but rather being “fair-minded.” Examining everything carefully, be fair and balanced. Most of the criticisms of Christianity or the Bible is the result of people with ideological axes to grind. I know, I used to be one of those people thirty some odd years ago. I was a practical atheist, ardent evolutionist, finder of biblical contradictions, a proud American nihilist … I WAS MY OWN GOD! I subsequently found out how wrong I was … and thank God I did.

  30. *Ken Says:
    June 14th, 2007 at 1:01 pm

    re dying for a sham you know is a sham
    1. Jim Jones, christian cult
    2. Saddam Hussein and WMD

    in both cases they got in too deep to get out of thier own lies, there are many other cases, mostly cults of one sort or another, many innocent followers also died

    Hitchens never said Jesus didn’t exist, it’s the divinity he doesn’t buy, he believes a myth was built up around a real man, who really lived and DIED

    there is plenty of contemporanius evidence of Alexander, coins, monuments, inscriptions


  31. Contra-Mundum » God is not Great: a Debate Says:
    June 16th, 2007 at 11:13 am

    […] After the debate, Roberts wrote a series of posts on Hitchens and his book (see here). […]

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

    […] Hitchens Wrong About the Census, Eyewitnesses, St. Paul, Scholarship, Gospel Truth, and Gospel Disag… […]


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