Friday, June 22, 2012

Christopher Hitchens and Dinesh D'Souza

Back in college I attended an atheism vs. religion debate at the University of Colorado campus in Boulder Colorado. Two men took the stage: a confident and voguish Atheist, Christopher Hitchens, and the humble but also confident, Dinesh D'Souza. I sat in a crowd of 600 people listening and waiting for my chance to speak up and challenge.
Hitchens (1949-2011) was the author of the best seller, "God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything." He also edited Vanity Fair and was a literature critic. Hitchens was a world renown atheist and probably as well known, if not more so, than Richard Dawkins.
The debate started and I noticed at one point in the debate Christopher argued  people will often believe an illusion because they think it is true. He used the Christians, Muslims, and Mormons as an example, how groups of us will do crazy things based on belief in a religion thousands of years old. He then talked about Muslim bombers in reference to dieing for a false religion, how Muslim extremists don't really know if their beliefs are true, but they act anyways.

That's how all people are. Whether you're a Christian, Muslim, Mormon, Agnostic, Atheist, or Buddhist, you're making a choice about what you believe is true based on suppositions you can't often prove. That's what it costs to follow  Jesus, Mohamed, Buddha, Joseph Smith, or yourself.

When Christopher Hitchens made this statement, I knew he was missing something when it comes to Christianity. I waited until the main debate was over then jumped in line to ask a question. Within about thirty minutes  I got the microphone shoved in my face and to ask Christopher my question.

“Christopher, you said it is not unusual for people to die for a myth, an illusion; however, historians agree that the twelve disciples were either maimed or killed for their beliefs. How then, being first generation believers who claimed to actually see and witness Jesus die and rise, would they willing die and be tortured willing for something they knew to be a lie?”

Christopher Hitchens didn't bother to answer my question. He said historians do NOT generally agree the 12 disciples were martyrs and left it with that. He didn't seem to even think they exsisted. He imagined them a fairytale, a false story with false characters. Unfortunately, I did not have the names of historians on hand. But some early historians, both Christian AND nonChristian who verified the early disciples were actual people who died for their faith include: Clement of Rome, Tacitus, Tertullian, and Suetonius. Many modern historians, though they disagree on who Jesus is, also agree.

Some other early non Christian historians who verified church events include: Josephus, Pliny the Younger, Phlegon, Thallus, Suctonius, Lucian, Celsus, Mara Bar-Serapion, the Jewish Talmud, Philo, and other things like coins and inscriptions.

Fortunately, D’Souza, didn’t leave leave me hanging. He argued that the real question was why the disciples, or the early Christians, would spread false rumors, they knew were lies, if they knew the rumors would cost them their lives.

In other words, people don't often die for something they know to be untrue. This is especially important for the twelve disciples because they gained no reward on earth for their beliefs. Many of them were murdered and for nothing other than religious beliefs. None of them gained political power or money from telling the gospel truth that Jesus had risen from the dead.

I think this was about the only time the entire night when Hitchens got agitated. He literally spread his arms and said, “I don’t know why they did that. I don’t know what was going through their heads. How should I know what they were thinking?” The audience chuckled.

If he had tried to answer the question of why early Christians stood by what they preached, he would have come up with three possibilities.
  1. A group hallucination took place when they saw the risen Jesus

  2. The story was all made up and the disciples were lying

  3. What the disciples saw actually happened
The likelihood of the first is absolutely unrealistic, especially them all seeing, hearing, and feeling the same Jesus at the same moment in the same room. For the second, it just doesn’t make sense to suffer for something you know is a lie, especially if you get no power or money out of it. So number three is where we naturally end up.

I don’t know if Hitchens knew the argument would go this way, or just didn’t feel like answering the question fully. However, it made him and a few others in the room think. That's all I wanted and I couldn’t have asked for more.

To dig deeper into simple but powerful arguments for the reality of God, which don't use the Bible to prove the Bible, check out these apologetic books I have read and can vouch for (all are aff links):

6 comments:

  1. Yup. When it is suggested Christians have psychological reason to beleive. out of fear or what not. People such as Dawkins are not excluded from the same analysis.

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  2. Exactly. God told us to think with our minds. This faith is based on strong reason and logic.

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  3. I have two cents I would like to contribute, if it's okay with you. I hope that the following statements will be looked at BOTH in the "out-of-context" AND the "in-context" applications.

    I think that the above-mentioned question is a dangerous one. Not bad, or evil or just plain wrong, but just dangerous. I think its dangerous on many levels, some of which we can all agree on.

    First, I think we can all agree that history has provided massive amounts of examples of men dying for causes. Actually, maybe most of the history as we know it consists of these examples. The problem is, that many people have died and put their lives on the line for many various causes, many conflicting. While I am not interested in which ones were good or bad, there are enough of them where one can easily find a cause or belief that someone somewhere has died for. Not just someone, but many someones.

    For example, within a minute of reading your story, I started thinking about all the examples of men dying for causes and beliefs that would be negatively associated with the idea, things such as: Gangs, Cults (think jonestown for people fervently believing something to be true), Armies, Political Parties such as Nazi's, and then my favorite; Islamic Suicide Bombers. Are we to put belief into their causes because they have people willing to kill themselves for their beliefs, themselves AND others? Even if they have more people dying for the causes, or more founding fathers who died for the cause, it doesnt mean it is right.

    As for the implication, I personally believe that this type of reason is bad for faith. It creates negative delusion. I would not suggest someone place even the tiniest fraction of their belief on this concept for safety. This is like some sort of fake additional reason 'why christianity is right', something for someone on the fence to jump over because of the validity of the movement. But if you jump the fence for a fake reason, your faith is built with fake reasons, and you are going to lose people later who had built their faith on these various fake reasons. You need to have them be built on REAL reasons. You dont become a christian because "someone else died for their faith, and therefore it must be true", right? Ill explain this in more detail in a moment, according to my beliefs, of course.

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  4. Also, in a way, when you asked Hitchens this question, he was really right in his answer. He might have been frustrated, and I dont personally agree with hitchens for the same reasons he does, nor do i really like him nor do I think hes smart, but in this case when he says "how am I supposed to know what they were thinking or why they were doing this" he is kinda right. What DO we know? Anything we think is not entirely true. They are guesses, nomatter how logical or reasonable, there may be more or less.
    Even if we look at the reasons they specifically state as their motivations, we must know that there is more to it.Even if we think we know what they are talking about, seldom do our ideas and theirs actually coincide. You must agree with this, right?

    Does it even really matter to you why they did it? That is a tricky question, and I hope you are not to quick to answer with "yes, it does matter", for there is a trick underlying the surface of that question.

    Me personally, I think the apostles were men, and I think that it is safe to say that at least part of their reason for dying for what they believed was because they were publically associated with the cause already, and they had few options anyway. I dont think your 3 reasons encompass all the reality of the situation, I think its misleading to think that there are only three reasons why they would do it. Its kind of like the quote "if you cant think of how the situation can be any worse, its because you lack the creativity". ITs true, many times there are many reasons that require creativity to come to the truth. But sometimes it just comes down to 'Halcomes Razor' (the simplest answer is usually the right one). The options I think they were presented with were equally bad. Think of it; yes, they did have the chance to denounce their stances, revoke all they have done and then continue the rest of their lives in misery as being branded the biggest liars, manipulators, deceivers, coward, sell-outs, and creeps around. They would have no life after such a thing happened to them. They were dead either way as far as Im concerned. Thats besides the point though.

    The more main point is; faith on logic and reason and mind. Thats a scary thing. ITs okay to a certain level, then I think it needs to be destroyed. Not that 'nothing matters, this is my belief' sort of way, that is a terrible psychology to have. Learn, and learn well. Then unlearn. Like Jazz. You're supposed to learn all the scales and the formal way of playing, but then you are to unlearn it. And its hard to argue that any music is more passionate and emotional as Jazz. Jazz also has the unique ability of freedom that almost no other genre has.

    I think its more like you have to look at what your definition or idea of God is. What has made the definition of the God you have? What are the extents of you definitions? This is a loaded question, I must say, but important.

    From my point of view, I think that the best faith to have in God is the simplest, purest, and most naked one. Take away any idea you have of God, and keep taking away until you are only left with the last raw 'it just is'. Kinda like in the garden of eden. Instead of prescribing what God is, what he does, how he exists, and 'this is the proof', just find comfort in the fact that it just is. There is a great peace, and a great understanding in it.

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  5. When you look around and see things, you know there is no contradiction, there is no enemy, there is no science vs religion, or atheist vs christian. everyone who exists, simply exists having an idea of reality, and that reality is God, whether one calls it atoms, or another calls it angels is the foolish debate we see. Whether you call the tree a limb of God or 'plant' doesnt matter, because both believe in its existence, and its existence is mystical. Everyone believes in God I have found, you just have to know what definition of God they have stuck themselves with. The strongest proponents of molecular science think the atoms they believe are different than the God a priest prays to, but in actuality the atom is his God, he just used a different name. His belief is in the existence of it.

    Its like gravity, or air. Does it matter if you have a word or it? Does it matter if you know what it is, or how its made, or how it operates? No. You can be completely wrong, and it doesnt affect the gravity's existence. Its reality. We most assuredly DO have the wrong idea about gravity, scientists find it very difficult to explain its function and existence, but its unarguably there. Yet the word and idea werent present until Newton!?

    Now for the fun part, when you realize that, you find that God truly is everything and everywhere. Everything in the bible IS right, whether you understand it or not, and everything in the quran is right, and everything in the upanishads are right too. They are all seemingly contradicting at certain parts, and thats part of it. Thats the lesson that must be understood. Otherwise yur just stuck. Logic as an invention has a hard time grasping that the contradiction is part of life. Life is contradiction. There is no such thing as existing without a contradiction, the ultimate life is the ultimate contradiction. I'm willing to discuss that at length, but it would be at a very long length I think.

    God is everywhere, everything, and there is no way to believe in something without believing in God. And when you debate someone on religion, and you first set out to define this God you're debating, many times you get them to agree with you completely, simply by changing the name or ideas associated with God. They might kinda chuckle about it, but nonetheless a simple truth has become present. I think a lot of religious people get a little concerned about this, but when they understand it, their faith is solidified in the strongest bedrock possible. The bible means much more, and they begin to see god everywhere. The changes that they wanted to make before as a christian or muslim to make them believe more or be a better person creep into their lives easily through embracement instead of suppression.

    You find that any addition to the base level of 'it is' whether an idea or concept, word or definition, is the delusion that makes the struggle. The battle hardens one and makes them weary. Kind of like 'the best way to win an argument is to avoid it' sort of reasoning.

    Its a little tricky to embrace that philosophy because one is naturally afraid that it will destroy their faith or send them down the wrong path or something. But it actually opens the hidden path that the masters followed. It also helps you understand people better, ideas better, and (i think) god better.

    That was fun, even though Im not entirely satisfied with that explanation. Hopefully it serves you better than I think it will.

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  6. Hi Harry,

    Thank you for your exuberant response. Sometimes I think you contradict yourself with your arguments. First you out-rule the possibility of God being the reason for the disciples willingly dying, and then you say everyone and everything is God. You can't have it both ways.

    I think you might like the Stand to Reason website. They have some very interesting articles on Pluralism: http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5542

    For a whole list of their articles see here: http://www.str.org/site/News2?page=NewsArticle&id=5332

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