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.