It’s That Man Again

So Christopher Hitchens continues to promote ‘God is not Great’ otherwise known as ‘Why I am Smarter than God.’ I saw this statement he made in a recent Q&A session in the Times newspaper.

‘I have a challenge that I have issued in America which I’ll put to you. You have to come up with a moral statement made, or a moral action performed by a believer or a person of faith, that could not have been uttered by an unbeliever. I haven’t so far had anyone come up with an answer to this and I’m genuinely interested to see if they can. My point is therefore that religion is optional and if you say, “Well I think we should free the slaves because Jesus wants it”, I think it is a fatuous thing to say but it is not a wrong thing to say. It ought to be enough to say “I think we should free the slaves.” There is no scriptural authority of any kind for freeing the slaves, none, but there’s a good deal of scriptural warrant for slavery, which is why it lasted as long as it did and why it persists, especially in the Muslim world. Because it is indeed warranted by the text, which emancipation is not. It is a very important question. In my book there is a good deal of material about the conditions under which Jews can have slaves and what they are allowed to do to them. A lot of it is in Leviticus and Exodus, I believe.’

Obviously Hitchens thinks this is the Gordion Knot revisited. Rather it is as usual good knock-about stuff. Also as usual it misses the point. No-one denies that an atheist may perform a moral action or make a moral statement. The real question is what is it that determines the morality of an action? When an atheist performs a moral action whose code of morality is it according to?

As for the comments about slavery he as usual doesn’t bother too much about facts or context. A careful reading of the OT would show that slavery was only regarded as a temporary condition and often regarded as a means whereby a man could regain economic independence. Furthermore slaves had rights under the OT law and could not be mistreated. Slavery is recognised as a social reality and not an ideal. In the NT it is again clear that slavery is never regarded as ideal. A slave should gain their freedom if they can. A Christian slave owner should respect his slaves. And slaves should respect their masters because in serving their masters they are in fact performing a service to Christ who is the great liberator. Of course Hitchens skilfully forgets that the impetus to end slavery came not from humanism but Christianity.

But of course we’re getting into facts again. Sorry Christopher.

4 Responses to “It’s That Man Again”

  1. Feargal Says:

    Richard Dawkins, like Christopher Hitchens, has rightly been accused of having ‘not the slighrest sense of history’ ( This particular spray from Hitchens makes me wonder which party drugs he mixes! The abolitionist movement in the pre-Civil War USA, like its more effective cousin in Great Britain, was born from the Evangelical Awakening, midwived by Welsey, Whitfield, Wilberforce, and so many others…

    Can someone PLEASE confront him on these issues? It seems to me atheism thrives on lies; whether Huxley’s horses, the slur on Bishop Wiberforce in the Oxford debate in 1860, Brecht, now Dawkins and Hitchens. Who has the courage to take this to these men?


  2. sibbesian Says:

    Alister McGrath makes some attempts to deal with Dawkins in such books as Dawkins and the God Delusion and The Twilight of Atheism.

  3. Vikram Says:

    I think you’re more or less conceding one of Hitchen’s essential points, ‘but there’s a good deal of scriptural warrant for slavery’. The New Testament talks about a great deal of reform, massive earth-shattering reform and yet its unable to tackle slavery? does it just say, oh well, we have to live with this (but we can change almost every other aspect of our lives)’?. because thats, erm, lame.
    and how disillusioned must you be to even consider this a rational statement:
    ‘And slaves should respect their masters because in serving their masters they are in fact performing a service to Christ who is the great liberator’.
    It smacks of a primitive fundamentalism. That statement perpetuates slavery as part of Gods design. which doesn’t say a lot about either God or you.

  4. sibbesian Says:

    Thanks for the comment Vikram. I think there may be be some confusion here about what I have said. Hitchen’s states ‘but there’s a good deal of scriptural warrant for slavery’. The word warrant means justification. The Bible does not justify slavery but recognises it a social state in a fallen world. So in the OT there is law to regulate it amongst the Israelites. This does not condone it but like other aspects of a fallen world such as divorce it seeks to regulate. Likewise in the NT the state of slavery is recognised but not condoned. Indeed slaves are told to gain their freedom if they can.
    Does the NT suggest, as you say it does, that we must undertake massive reform but ignore. Certainly not as I read it. The NT urges people to repent of their sin as a consequence of accepting God’s salvation. But I do not see that it urges the ‘massive earth-shattering reform’ that you suggest. Christianity is not essentially a movement of social and political protest as you seem to imply. Instead it urges personal repentance. Yet where Christian values are widely accepted in society social and political reform have often followed.
    Again I do not accept that my statement based on NT teaching ‘perpetuates slavery as part of God’s design.’ Nowhere is that taught in the Bible. What we are taught however is that there is for each of us a much great slavery to sin and the fear of death. The Bible teaches us that God does not change the circumstances of our lives but He enables us to live for Him amidst those circumstances. It is something that 1st century slaves testify to as a reality in their lives as did 19th century African American slaves and many other people in the midst of terrible circumstances.
    I hope these comments help clarify what I said.

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