A General Evaluation of Christopher Hitchens

I recently watched an online video of atheist Christopher Hitchens. He was apparently speaking at a Freedom Fest in 2008. Hitchens was quite influential, and to read the comments to the video, he was much beloved and missed by atheists. He had a good platform and audience by late in life, and made quite a splash with his books, speaking engagements, and debates.

I have found Hitchens interesting.  The reason I find him interesting is that the first time I watched him I was hit hard in the gut by the force of his statements. A few moments of reflection made me realize that he was not saying very much, at least nothing academically respectable to anyone trained in apologetics or philosophy. Reading his book confirmed to me that his arguments were indeed quite shallow (See here for one example). The writings do not rise to the level of a very good journal article, but read closer to the level of a of a popular magazine.

So why does Hitchens remain so influential? I think it is his stage presentation. He spoke with a force and vigor bordering on anger. My first reaction was that this was a formidable opponent, but a little while of cold-blooded reflection reveals that his arguments simply do not hold up.

For example, in the video I watched recently, Hitchens criticizes New Testament as a Jesus myth, one that is haphazardly put together. Jesus’ story is so fake, Hitchens claims, that we have no evidence that Jesus ever existed, the virgin birth does not prove Jesus’ messages, and the writers had to force-fit the birth of Jesus being in Bethlehem by inventing a census that would take Mary and Joseph to Bethlehem. According to Hitchens, the whole thing reeks of legend, haphazardly slapped together and obviously fake to any thinking person. Of course, he says all this in the midst of a long string of other criticisms, such as the virgin birth being a copy of many pagan virgin birth myths. The story of Jesus is supposed to be an outright and obvious fake full of historical inaccuracies.

At first Hitchens statements seem quite persuasive, but after some thinking, they reveal themselves as having enough error to keep us going for a while. Hitchens eventually cedes the point that if the whole thing was made up from the start, why not have Him just start out in Bethlehem? This where we first notice the flies in Hitchens ointment. He is saying that the story is an obvious fake, but the central story is based in fact about a real person. Which is it, Chris? Hitchens would have us believe that the authors of the New Testament took a real person that everyone of that day knew where He was born, then wrote a story about Him that convinced large numbers of people to defy Rome, but was sloppily put together, riddled with historical and geographical error, and included teachings that are immoral on the face of them. Plus, believing in this story would get one ostracized from Jewish society and killed by the Roman government.  Chris has obviously glaringly missed something here.

As to Hitchens claims about Jesus being a copy of several ancient virgin birth myths, this is just false on the face of it, and Hitchens may have plagiarized this part of his writings and public speaking (Again, see here for detail on this).

Hitchens goes on to claim that even the virgin birth and the resurrection, if they are true, would not prove the value of the proposition that we should “take no thought for the morrow” which was one of Jesus’ statements in Matthew 6:34. Hitchens holds this to mean that we should not save money and should abandon our families. As the only qualifications Hitchens seems to bring to the table are that of a journalist, surely he knew what he was doing here. One sentence taken by itself does not make an accurate presentation of someone’s views. In the same paragraph of the speech, Jesus is telling His listeners to not worry or be anxious, for God knows what we need. The sentence just prior to the one Hitchens quoted tells us that if we seek first God’s righteousness, our physical needs will be taken care of. Further, in other passages, Jesus tells us to care for our families in Mark 7:9-13 and makes provision for His own mother after His death in John 19:27. Add to this the many passages throughout the Old and New Testament that tell us to help the poor and the widows, to work and not be a burden on anyone, and on and on about being good citizens.

Hitchens is also wrong about the historicity of the Bible. The New Testament alone has a large amount of historical fact that cannot be dismissed by a wave of the skeptics hand. For but a few examples, see here, and here, and here. The criticism about the census in Luke is tired and old and has been soundly refuted for years. See here.    The Old Testament is also historically accurate, as shown here.

No journalist would get very far by making such a misstep in any other field, but Hitchens made a good living by doing it to the Bible. He either knew what he was doing and did not care, or more probably, was so emotional about religion that he self-blinded himself to obvious and glaring flaws in his arguments.

But think about one statement Hitchens made. He claimed that even if someone rose from the dead, it would not prove their statements were true about life’s anxieties and worries. This is interesting and revealing. Hitchens is saying that even if someone were to actually, truly rise from the dead, he still would not submit and trust Jesus. It reminds me of the passage in Luke 16:19-31 where Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus. In the story, a wicked man is in torment in the afterlife, and wants to go back and tell his family to change their ways. In v.31, Jesus teaches that if someone does not believe the Bible, they would not believe even if someone were to come back from the dead. Christopher Hitchens proves this point, for even though Jesus did rise from the dead, he did not believe, just as many Jewish leaders of the day did not believe even when Jesus rose before them.

Back to our question: Why was Hitchens so popular?  I believe it was because of his tone and presentation style. He spoke quickly and threw out a lot of criticisms in a short time. Even though most of them are patently untrue, it sounds impressive and makes it difficult for debate opponents to respond to all of them. I also believe his popularity was because of the force and bluster in which he spoke. He spoke with emotion bordering on anger, sprinkling in some ad hominem insults. Such a style sounds impressive. The irony is that upon close inspection using a reasonable evaluation, we find the arguments fail.

Christopher Hitchens’ style lends itself to what TV personality Bill Maher was quoted as saying after his death, saying he was “one of the great talk show guests of all time.” Things that make an outstanding talk show guest will influence many, but nevertheless be hollow upon close inspection.

Advertisement

About humblesmith

Christian Apologist & Philosopher
This entry was posted in Apologetics, Skepticism. Bookmark the permalink.

7 Responses to A General Evaluation of Christopher Hitchens

  1. John Branyan says:

    It is true that HOW you say something is frequently more important than WHAT you say. Forceful words are intimidating. Sarcasm and ridicule were hallmarks of Hitch’s speech. Many atheists mimic his vitriol and think that makes them nimble debaters.

  2. Ron Moore says:

    Have you read “The Faith of Christopher Hitchens” by Larry Tauton? Larry came to the same conclusion as he was perparing to debate him. Larry reviewed transcripts of Hitchens’ other debates and realized that he came off much more convincing when he listened to the debates vs. reading them. His booming voice and British accent gained him unmerited points in debates.

  3. sortingoutayoungcontrarian says:

    Hmm I wonder if you would find Hitchens’ points valid if they were made by a compilation of ancient misogynistic people who believed that genocide, dispossession of land, slavery, polyamorous incest, virgin-child-sacrifice-scapegoating, and baby genitalia mutilation was acceptable (all of these acts adamantly encouraged even), and then translated by a committee of megalomaniacs lead by a man who boiled his wife in a bathtub… All of whom believed the universe revolved around them in every sense the phrase entails and murdered those who said differently whilst claiming absolute morality. The reason why atheists do not mind that Hitchens may or may not have plagiarized is that they value what is true and don’t ​care how they get that truth. Christians, however, claim the bible to be the inerrant word of god despite its countless plagiarisms and contradictions.

    If you could respond to those points which Hitchens made rather than the one he obviously did not care about (the validity of Jesus), then maybe your thoughts of critique would hold more water, maybe even have an atheist flicker with doubt​. To be quiet honest, I have a very hard time believing you actually read any book by Hitchens’, due to the fact that his main focus was not to refute the overall accuracy of the bible but rather reveal the overall hypocrisy. You chose to give a general evaluation of a man by highlighting an argument he argued carelessly because there was no need at all to even argue it. Or maybe you were just scared to touch on the points he made that would open the eyes of any free thinking rational mind to see the lie they have succumbed to.

    • humblesmith says:

      Your first paragraph has a large number of mischaracterizations similar to what is typical of Hitchens. You seem to have learned him well. Unfortunately, upon close examination, it is sophistry through and through, nothing but a hollow shell of an argument. In but one point:
      Flatly, circumcision is not mutilation, and to phrase it like you have is not making an argument, but merely using hollow emotional rhetoric. I gave cold explanation of a point, and you respond with emotionalism. This is typical of modern atheism, which Hitchens exemplifies. It always amazes me that atheists deal so much in emotionalism. Personally I prefer reason and logic.

      Concerning what I have stated, I backed my claims. For example, see the first link in the post above. As to the Canaanites, I have responded to that as well:
      https://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2010/07/10/was-god-immoral-when-he-commanded-israel-to-destroy-canaan/

      Also please take note of my comment policy.

  4. sortingoutayoungcontrarian says:

    Thank you, I am proud to have learned Hitchens! I simply could not do nothing about such an inaccurate “evaluation” of a great man. As to baby genitalia mutilation, I was not making an argument but stating the fact of the matter, a beautiful baby is born and on the eighth day take a blade to its genitalia. There is nothing fallacious about that claim. If it is a semantical issue, the greek translation for “mutilate” is from a compound of kata and temno (to cut); a cutting down (off), i.e. Mutilation (ironically) — concision. The greek word used in the bible for mutilation is “katatomé” which translates– to cut. While circumcision is “peritomē” which translates — to cut around. Look for yourself, please. Studying in-depth interlinear commentaries in greek after graduating seminary school is what drove me away from the hypocrisy that is the church. I am not an atheist, as you assumed in your lazily mistaken attempt of ad hominem, but I merely saw the bible for what it was; a perfect business plan to enslave the people in a time where theocracy reigned. What sane person would not respond with emotionalism over this? If you apply James 2:24 to the role christianity has played throughout the narrative of history you will never again be amazed by the emotionalism that apparently surprises you in atheists however. It causes good people to do bad things, when one takes the focus off themselves and the box they locked themselves in due to fear of losing after-life insurance the bigger picture reveals itself. It is a lame excuse for wars birthed from an ancient inherited trait of tribalism.

    You back your claims with a text you cannot prove. As to the Canaanites, I am always amazed by how christians separate real-life and their pretend world of faith as if in admittance to it not being real; Freudian slip esque. Like a child does when playing cops and robbers and their mom calls them inside for dinner and they have to break character in order to reply, “coming mom”. For example, I was stepping outside the realm of the bible and into empirical accounts in history books. who said I was talking about genocide mentioned in the bible only? I never brought up the Canaanites, you were mistakenly assuming (again) atop your omniscience tower. I was referring to, as Hitchens was, the rules for dispossession of land and the slavery of the previous land owners outlined in Leviticus 25, specifically verses 44-46. A lame excuse for justifying lust of what their neighbor has. Leviticus is the same book that outlines the pagan tradition of sacrificing life, (e)scapegoating responsibility. Chapter 25 in Leviticus was most cited chapter in the bible within memoirs of protestants during the establishing of the USA… and people wonder why black lives matter is heading a postmodernist movement.

    You still avoided addressing the topic of (1) incest, (2) misogyny (which, unfortunately for all the women of the bible, in this context implies polygamy allowed for the man alone), and (3) The irrevocable evil, with a recorded historical background that goes back thousands of years before the bible linked to ancient savage polytheistic religions : scapegoating responsibility of sins through child sacrifice.

    These were the main points of Hitchens, yes? I don’t think one could give a fair “General Evaluation of Christopher Hitchens” without addressing his main points. It seems as if you are trying to hide the reader from the points made by a man who had won countless debates with the leading apologists of all the major religions. A man who is now dead and unable to defend himself… If you could respond to those claims rather than attempting to define who I am or what I believe in then your critiques would be much more (logically/reasonably) respectable. I do apologize if I crossed a line defined in your comment policy. If you would prefer to reply privately I would still appreciate hearing your defense. Whether your audience hears you out or not is not upon my conscious. I would hope they follow you in order to hear the truth rather than feed confirmation bias. I have many issues with your past posts as well that I could refute using the bible, if you are interested. I am honestly just curious and value discussions from those that have come to opposing conclusion.

    • humblesmith says:

      As my comment policy states, this is not a discussion board and we do no go down endless rabbit trails here. Humoring you briefly is all I will do.

      –You pointed out correctly that the Greek terms for cut around and cut off are two distinct terms. In no sense is circumcision mutilation. You agree the claim is incorrect.
      –As for horrible things like incest, the Bible accurately portrays history but does not condone these practices. It forbids incest and shows the folly of marrying many wives, for all who do so are shown to inherit the problems these practices create.
      –As to the Bible’s treatment of women, any claim that the Bible has a low view of women is completely false. See here for more: https://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2012/02/27/what-does-the-bible-say-about-women/
      –Child sacrifice was practiced by the Canaanites, which is one reason God commanded they be wiped out. As I explained in the post which I linked, Israel did what you and Hitchens seem to want them to do, which is not actually kill all the Canaanites. As I explained, this resulted in Israel starting these practices, which God stopped by sending Babylon to take Israel into captivity. Please portray the whole account or stop criticizing.

      I did indeed deal with Hitchens in a fair manner. As I demonstrated here:
      https://humblesmith.wordpress.com/2014/07/30/did-the-bible-copy-from-pagan-virgin-birth-myths/
      All signs point to Hitchens copying from earlier atheist writings, then not even doing the research to check out whether the claims were true. He spent the rest of his life traveling around repeating these claims with bluster, yet they are completely, entirely, totally untrue. His claims about virgin birth myths are completely false. Hitchens did not even do a magazine grade level of research on these items, yet repeated them for years.

      The claims in this post stand.

      Per my comment policy, we will stop here.

Comments are closed.