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Backward, atheist soldiers!

"Backward, atheist soldiers!" Continued...

Issue: "The 2007 Books Issue," June 30, 2007

Harris also criticizes the niceties of political rhetoric concerning Islam: "The idea that Islam is a 'peaceful religion hijacked by extremists' is a fantasy." Too bad he and other atheistic authors are determined to believe that Christianity is inevitably hijacked by hate, and that they pick up support from reviewers like Natalie Angier, who wrote in The New York Times that "Harris writes what a sizeable number of us think, but few are willing to say."

Harris' work has also engendered several Christian responses this year. Doug Wilson's Letter from a Christian Citizen (American Vision) points out that Harris uses morally loaded words like "should" and "ought"; Wilson rightly asks Harris, "What is the difference between an imposed morality, an imposed religion, or an imposed secular ought? Why is your imposition to be preferred to any other?"

Wilson notes Harris' fondness for Eastern religions, and in particular the "utter non-violence" of the Jains in India. Letter from a Christian Citizen correctly notes that "Devout Jains will wear a mask to avoid breathing in and thereby killing any insect," and then asks whether Harris would commend evangelicals who "forsook the use of antibiotics because of the genocidal devastation it was causing to the microbes within."

Wilson also points out that the litany of religious folks fighting each other that Harris recites "is beside the point. We don't believe that religion is the answer. We believe Christ is the answer." Harris' list of religious messes merely confirms "one of the basic tents of the Christian faith, which is that the human race is all screwed up."

And what about this year's champion screed, offered by Christopher Hitchens? His scorn-"monotheistic religion is a plagiarism of a plagiarism of a hearsay of a hearsay, of an illusion of an illusion, extending all the way back to a fabrication of a few nonevents"-oozes off every page of God Is Not Great, with its extraordinary subtitle, How Religion Poisons Everything.

"Everything"? That sounds improbable. Are 1.3 billion Muslims all murderers? Might Christianity have produced 50 percent evil and 50 percent good? If not, how about 40 percent good? Thirty percent? Twenty percent? Ten percent? Will not Hitchens relent from his anger if we can find 5 percent that's good?

God Is Not Great has received extraordinary publicity, including an adulatory review in The New York Times, so it's worth going page by page to see what Hitchens is selling and many atheists are buying:

  • On Page 4 he writes that religion produces a "maximum of servility." Islam, maybe, but were Abraham, Moses, and Job servile when they argued with God?
  • On Page 5 he writes, "No statistic will ever find that without [religious] blandishments and threats [atheists] commit more crimes of greed or violence than the faithful." Prison Fellowship and other organizations can show that prisoners who go through evangelical programs have much lower recidivism-committing new crimes after release from prison, leading to new sentences-than others.
  • On Page 7 he writes, "Religion spoke its last intelligible or noble or inspiring words a long time ago." Leaving aside the inspiration millions get from daily Bible reading, what about Martin Luther King Jr.'s speeches, with all their biblical imagery? Or Pope John Paul II, whose words inspired many people to rise up against Communism in Eastern Europe?
  • On Page 17 he writes that religion "does not have the confidence in its own various preachings even to allow coexistence between different faiths." At the annual March for Life in Washington tens of thousands of Catholics and Protestants walk side by side along with individuals from Jews for Life, Buddhists for Life, and so on.
  • On Page 32 he writes, "The nineteen suicide murderers of New York and Washington and Pennsylvania were beyond any doubt the most sincere believers on those planes." Todd Beamer, the man who said "Let's roll" on United Flight 93, and made sure it didn't crash into the U.S. Capitol, was a strong Christian believer. So were others who died, stopping the terrorists, when Flight 93 crashed in Pennsylvania.

Hitchens of course thinks the Bible is nonsense (see also "The world according to Hitch," June 3, 2006). On Page 102 he writes, "It goes without saying that none of the gruesome, disordered events described in Exodus ever took place." Without saying. A slam dunk. On Page 103: "All the Mosaic myths can be safely and easily discarded." On Page 104: All five books of Moses are "an ill-carpentered fiction."

Such pronouncements were repeatedly made in the 19th century, but again and again biblical accounts considered mythical back then have gained new archeological support. For example, scholars at one point said that the Hittites described in the Bible did not exist, nor did rulers such as Belshazzar of Babylon or Sargon of Assyria. Archeologists now have records of all those civilizations and reigns.

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