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.
- A group hallucination took place when they saw the risen Jesus
- The story was all made up and the disciples were lying
- What the disciples saw actually happened
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):
- Choosing Your Faith by Mark Mittelberg
- A World of Difference by Kenneth Richard Samples
- The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel
- The Case for a Creator by Lee Strobel
- The Case for Faith by by Lee Strobel
- The Case for the Real Jesus by Lee Strobel
- I Don't Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist by Norman L. Geisler and Frank Turek
Image By: Augustine Institute