What to do when some one writes a long reply to a simple question and then doesn’t even answer the question in the first place? At first I considered just ignoring it all (Poodles, possibly quite rightly, ignored points 1-3, but answered point 4 well. I knew it would be easy but Poodles saved me a few moments looking up the many bible passages that clearly show Jesus wasn’t afraid of promoting a bit of violence now and again), but then I thought I should respond, because it is the courteous thing to do. After all, it’s all about the discussion, isn’t it?

I was going to respond to makarios’ comments on the original post, but it got so long I thought I’d start a new post. Please read the original post and makarios’ comment here first. I’ll answer each of points 1-3 one-by-one.

Firstly I don’t see how Hitchens is trying to slip anything past anyone. He has simply laid down a challenge to which no one has been able to respond to.

Secondly makarios your assertion that he is using the word religion instead of christianity is only your opinion, and what is “normal, everyday Christianity” anyway? (see the many tomes on ‘what is a “True Christian”‘).

How about some definitions:

religion: A set of beliefs and practices often organized around supernatural and moral claims

christianity: A monotheistic system of beliefs and practices based on the Old Testament and the teachings of Jesus

So the only difference between religion and christianity is that your ‘supernatural power’ is defined as jesus. As Poodles has rightly pointed out jesus’ teachings are at times quite violent, a good moral teacher? I wonder.

In Hitchens’ article he used the word religion three(3) times as follows:

his own supposedly kindly religion

In this context he has used the term correctly, Hitchens was referring to Gerson’s [his] religion, whatever that may be (Jewish?).

whether or not religion is metaphysically “true,” that at least it stands for morality.

Again I think Hitchens has used the term correctly, religions (of whatever flavour) and christianity profess that some higher being (in christianities case that being just happens to be jesus) somehow provide a moral basis for life; and that’s not necessarily the case. Hence Hitchens article and challenge.

The final use of the term religion in the article is as follows:

If you credit any one religion with motivating good deeds, how (without declaring yourself to be sectarian) can you avoid crediting them all?

Please read that carefully makarios, christianity is but one of many religions, what is your answer to the question.?

The bottom line is that no matter which religion you are talking about they all claim a moral high ground backed by their particular messiah. As Hitchens’ article points out these so-called higher morals are in fact quite often flawed, and not adhering to any of these religions does not equate to lacking in any good morals.

Besides being an Ad Homen attack on Hitchens, perhaps accusing him of being a bigot is a little hypocritical makarios?

more definitions:

bigot: One strongly loyal to one’s own social group, and irrationally intolerant or disdainful of others

perhaps there is some kettle calling back to you makarios?

(Yeah, OK, I’ve stooped to my own ad homen attack, but I couldn’t resist)

Re-read Hitchens’ article, his attacks on so-called ‘good morals’ covers various religions, including jewish, christian (particularly catholicism) and islam. I’m sure there would be quite a few catholics who would consider themselves ‘normal,everyday christians’ but they are members of a religion that has been just as radical and violent as islam.

In all your words in point 2 all you really pointed out is that Hitchens is correct (thanks for that). The is no one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever.

Your assertion that the majority of christians would adhere to the “love thy neighbour” principle and atheist wouldn’t is purely your opinion with no facts to back that up.

I think you will find many christians who have killed and want to kill their enemy. Have a read up on some of the shenanigans going on in Iraq and Afghanistan by the right wing christian brigade; and their slandering of atheists – “no atheists in foxholes” (by the way there are many atheists in foxholes)

Have you any evidence for any of that?

I’m quite sure there are many atheists who have a “concept of grace”, and “bestowing unmerited favour” though they might not put it in those terms. The difference is they do it because of humanity, not because they think it might get them to some mystical nirvana.

By the way, many atheists who I have spoken to DO get “that Christians think they’re going to heaven because they’re better people than atheists”. We just think that you are deluding yourself; as there is no evidence for any heaven, we see no evidence that generally most christians are any better than most atheists, we think that doing good deeds as a way to get to ‘heaven’ is not as good as doing good deeds just for the sake of it.

An atheist cannot conceive of any life or any salvation that is based on grace. I’ve never seen it – ever!

No salvation necessary, thanks for the concern though (TIC)

Grace – you have used this word a few times, perhaps another definition is needed:

grace: (Christian theology) a state of sanctification by God; the state of one who is under such divine influence

If that is what you mean then no, no atheist can conceive of a life without ‘grace’, because we can’t conceive of a god, we can’t conceive of having to live a life needing sanctification by anyone, thing, or mystical supernatural being. Atheists don’t consider being ‘under a divine influence’ a good thing, or even a possible thing.

grace: elegance and beauty of movement or expression, or
grace: a disposition to kindness and compassion

Now if you are using either of those definitions then I would hazard an educated guess that the vast majority of atheists would live a life of grace and admire grace in other humans. Whilst I am personally not the most elegant in my movements, I certainly admire it in others, I love watching professional dancers for instance. Whilst I am not always kind and compassionate (my own personal failing, nothing to do with a lack of any supernatural being running my life), I try to be and I’m quite sure so do most other atheists.

No matter what religion or lack thereof, there will always be exceptions. There will always be bad or immoral theists and atheists alike. This doesn’t undermine
Hitchens original challenge.

To date makarios I don’t see you meeting that challenge.

Care to try again?

Anyone else care to try?


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6 Comments to “Can YOU meet the challenge?”

  1. John Morales says:

    Sure, I’ll try.

    How about a religious believer who defies his religious beliefs to conform with his job description? e.g.

    It’s ethical, and it couldn’t have been done by a non-believer.

  2. Poodles says:

    I totally took the lazy way out. I was tired, went for the easy stupid.

  3. AV says:

    There are two problems with Hitchens’ challenge, and they are sort of interrelated. One is the ambiguity in the usage of the word “ethical”, which arises because of the distinction between descriptive ethics (the study of what people believe to be right and wrong conduct) and normative ethics (claims about what people ought to believe about right and wrong conduct). The scope for what might count as an ethical statement is therefore much wider within a descriptive ethics framework than it would be within most normative ethical frameworks. I don’t think it would be drawing too long a bow to assume that Hitchens is talking from a normative standpoint, but if so, this leads to a second problem: his presupposition that he and his antagonists agree on what people ought to believe about right and wrong.

    Do you remember “The Great God Debate” on the Hugh Hewitt show between Hitchens and theologian Mark Roberts? Hitchens posed that very challenge to Roberts, who responded that he prays every night with his daughter before she goes to bed, and that’s something a non-believer couldn’t do. Hitchens’ response was to dismiss prayer as an ethical action: in his words, “it does as much good as aerobic dancing would do.” But what is it exactly that makes it non-ethical? Certainly I can’t see how it is useful: prayer can’t control the weather, or change the outcome of a sporting event, or regrow an amputated limb, or lower the cost of fuel. But does that make prayer non-ethical?

    As for Gerson’s woeful screed . . .

    Atheists can be good people; they just have no objective way to judge the conduct of those who are not.

    For “objective way” read the dogmas of Gerson’s own religion. The problem is that there are many religions, each with their own set of ethical doctrines, each of which are claimed by the adherents of these religions as the “objective standard of morality”. How do we objectively decide between these so-called “objective standards of moralty”?

    George Washington warned against the “supposition that morality can be maintained without religion.”

    Fallacious appeal to authority, and falsified by the fact that—as Gerson himself acknowledges—atheists can and do behave morally.

    The Founders generally believed that the virtues necessary for self-government — self-sacrifice, honesty, public spirit — were strengthened by religious beliefs and institutions.

    If it is the case that some religious people require religious motivation in order to behave in accordance with the virtues necessary for self-government, that simply means that such individuals are sociopaths, and religion is their medication. In that case it is probably wisest for all or sakes to keep these sociopaths medicated. According to Gerson’s defence of a divine command approach to ethics, we’re all sociopaths. If this is what Gerson is indeed claiming, he has provided no supporting evidence. (Indeed, he explicitly suggests that “There is something innate about morality that is distinct from theological conviction.”)

    So the dilemma is this: How do we choose between good and bad instincts? Theism, for several millennia, has given one answer: We should cultivate the better angels of our nature because the God we love and respect requires it. While many of us fall tragically short, the ideal remains.

    Have you ever played Jenga, and pulled out the wrong wooden block, bringing the whole tower crumbling down? Here is the point in the wobbling tower of Jenga that is Gerson’s apologetic where he removes the wrong wooden block. His argument against atheism is that it cannot provide an answer to the problem of how to judge what people ought to believe about good and bad. His defence of theism is that theism does provide an answer: whatever God says you should do, just do that. OK. So how exactly does this answer the dilemma—how does it tell you why the things God says are good are indeed good, and the things God calls bad are indeed bad? It doesn’t. You’re not supposed to ask questions like that. Gerson’s answer to the dilemma he poses boils down to this: “Shut up and obey.” This kind of moral reasoning—insofar as it can be described as “reasoning”—is the thinking of an authoritarian submissive. (See Bob Altermeyer’s The Authoritarians.) If God decides that genocide is OK—as he clear seems to think so at certain points in the Bible—Gerson’s authoritarian-submissive approach to morality leaves him no alternative but to flush his brain down the toilet and conclude that genocide is OK.

    The period between the 18th and early 20th centuries witnessed the emergence of popular phenomena known as automata. These were humanoid and animaloid machines that were programmed to perform elaborate tasks—playing the flute, writing letters and poems, drawing pictures. These machines didn’t know what they were doing—they were clockwork devices, after all, and there was nothing there to do the “knowing.” There was no “there” there. I’d like to know what makes Gerson, in his capacity as a moral agent blindly following orders—any different from the clockwork machines I have just described.

  4. ozatheist says:

    How about a religious believer who defies his religious beliefs to conform with his job description?

    What is the ethical statement or deed? Defying his religious beliefs would not be seen as ethical by fellow religious people surely; and anyone could do the job just as ethically.

    A non-believer could still uphold the same job as Ashcroft, so the ethical action (not interfering in abortion laws) could be done just as easily (if not better) by a non-believer.

    So I’m still with Hitchens that the challenge has not been met.

    On another note.
    Only time will tell if Ashcroft does defy his religious beliefs. A man who has said this:

    “If I had the opportunity to pass but a single law,” he told a conservative newsletter in 1998, “I would fully recognize the constitutional right to life of every unborn child and ban every abortion except for those medically necessary to save the life of the mother.”

    does not seem to be defying his beliefs. I understand his position is not to make laws but to uphold them, but another part of that article is also a concern:

    Ashcroft has pushed repeatedly to enforce far tougher restrictions on what types of procedures abortion clinics can provide, at what point in a woman’s pregnancy, under what circumstances and with what funding. Although the results of his efforts have been mixed, Ashcroft has vowed not to give up the fight.

    Sorry, but to me, and quite a few others according to that article, I don’t see him completely divorcing his beliefs from his job. Thus I at least would question his ethics.

  5. ozatheist says:

    nice critique of Gerson’s screed.
    Thanks for the lesson in ethics
    descriptive ethics (the study of what people believe to be right and wrong conduct) and normative ethics (claims about what people ought to believe about right and wrong conduct).
    I have a lot to learn, including reading Bob Altermeyer’s The Authoritarians which you keep mentioning.

  6. [...] Christopher Hitchens’ challenge? 20 08 2008 (In which I blatantly steal content from OzAtheist’s Weblog, in lieu of having anything original to write [...]

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