I am pretty sure I was one of the only, if not the only, Christian standing in the book-signing line to meet Christopher Hitchens last night. At least it seemed to me that I was surrounded by his fan club, people deliriously happy, almost intoxicated, to meet the great Atheist Gadfly. I was eager, too, my copy of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything tucked under my arm. After all, I am something of an admirer of the man whom I would describe as our generation's H.L. Mencken. Witty, acerbic, occasionally insightful, and (very much like Mencken) woefully inept in really getting at the ultimate questions of Life, the Universe & Everything. At any rate, upon meeting him, I did tell him that I was both a Christian and an admirer. I wished him all the best with his health problems, wished him a full recovery, and told him that I would pray to that effect. I figure that kindness, care, and compassion go a lot further than the seemingly-futile efforts of trying to reason Christopher Hitchens into the kingdom of God.
It was the Babcock Theater in Billings, Montana, a rather small-time venue for the great public intellectual to appear. It was a debate with Larry Taunton, a Christian apologist and president of the Fixed Point Foundation, over the question of which kind of society is more preferable to live in, one substantially influenced by Christianity or one dominated by atheism?
Larry Taunton did a fine job, for his part. The debate was just over an hour, so short it was more like an exchange of sound bites than a debate. And when it comes to quick, witty one-liners and sound bites, nobody can really hold a room's attention like Christopher Hitchens. That puts Larry at a decided disadvantage. Who is not riveted (and amused) by Hitchens lampooning the idea that pretty soon a "Muslim-coddling, chinless, spineless, poor-taste-in-women philanderer" is set to become the head of the Church of England? Scintillating descriptions, and he was just getting warmed up...
Delightful as it is to listen to skillful rhetoric, Hitchens (alas) will never face the real problems in his worldview. A master of misdirection, he purposely and repeatedly misses the point. It is a point made many times in many ways, including last night, and, once again, Hitchens managed to bury the inconvenient truth under a barrage of witty one-liners. But no amount of witty one-liners, no amount of pointing that scornful finger at the hypocrisies of the faithful, can obscure the gaping disconnect at the heart of Christopher Hitchens' worldview.
He is an eloquent advocate for the meaninglessness of all things. There is no purpose for and no direction to the cosmos. He flatly stated that human beings are, in essence, brutal, not-particularly-well-evolved primates. The cosmos is, simply, full of "sound and fury signifying nothing," as Shakespeare put it. This is the "sometimes terrifying" reality, as he says. But it is the only reality there is and, in a slip of the tongue, he said it is our only... hope.
Well, now. The listener cannot help but notice: in addition to all that, there's a mighty high horse Christopher is riding. The horse is white. It is tall. Its name is "Righteousness." Christopher makes his living being the judge and executioner of everything hypocritical and wrong with the world. We heard, just last night, that Priests are BAD; Iranian mullahs are BAD; circumcision is BAD; creationism is BAD; Jesus is BAD; vicarious atonement is BAD. Bad, bad, bad, bad.... BAD! All that is BAD must be opposed. Christianity is not just BAD, it is an "evil" and "wicked" cult.
Well, in Montana we don't think much of horse thieves. So I would like to see Christopher's registration papers for that high horse he rides. Someone who believes in the meaninglessness of the cosmos and that we are just primitive primates has no business riding that horse. Primates do what primates do. Atoms collide as atoms collide. How Christopher can go from this bedrock "is" to mount the high horse of "ought" is his dirty little secret hiding in plain view. You can have sound and fury signifying nothing, or you can have a moral universe in which a high horse makes sense. You cannot coherently have both.
The horse is stolen, and Christopher Hitchens needs to prove his ownership.