Sunday, October 28, 2007

Is Christianity the Problem? A Debate

Noted essayist, author, and editorialist Christopher Hitchens, whose books include God isn't Great: How Religion Poisons Everything (see: and The Trial of Henry Kissinger, debates conservative pundit Dinesh D'Souza, author of the new book What's So Great About Christianity and The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11 in which he blames the American "cultural left" for causing the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (see: The debate is held at The King's College, a Christian college in New York City.

Despite bringing up some valid points later in this debate, particularly in regard to the secular Tamil Tiger's of Sri Lanka and the idea that none of the new militant atheist intellectuals (Hitchens, Sam Harris, Prof. Richard Dawkins) can prove the nonexistence of of a divine being, ultimately falls flat when he attempts to "prove" the validity of a particular religion, his own (generally speaking), Christianity. He makes absurd claims such as that the heart of morality came into the world thanks to Christianity. This is a frequent falsehood which believers assert when on the contrary, morality is not tied to religion let alone a specific one as D'Souza laughably asserts. In fact, two of the most ethical and principled persons which I am privileged to know are atheists. Are they any less moral than my religious friends? No. Despite the anectodal nature of this example, I feel that it is instructive.

In the end, Hitchens, as is often the case, gets the better of a lesser debating opponent. D'Souza, though more formidable than many of Hitchen's sparring partners, ultimately helps his (D'Souza's) own defeat.

D'Souza also brings up the words of Jesus in the Christian Bible, the so-called "New Testament", as "proof" of his claims, ignoring the inconvenient existence of the Revelation to St. John, which is much less tolerant. This is the same pitfall which apologists and defenders (there is a difference) of Judaism and Islam fall into. Arguably a more useful counter-point would be that religious texts should be evaluated according to their historical contexts, this is what religious "fundamentalists" and militants do not want to do.

D'Souza in Part 9 claims that many Hindus converted to Christianity because it did not have a "4-tiered" caste system. Although this is partly true, D'Souza conveniently neglects to mention that a similar phenomenon predates the coming of European colonialists and missionaries when many Hindus converted to Islam, which lacks a caste system within its theology and preaches spiritual equality, in principle, as well. D'Souza is also incorrect when he refers to a 4-level caste system with the "Untouchables" at the bottom. The Hindu caste system, loosely speaking, is made up of, depending on how one looks at it, either 4 levels (Brahims; Kashatriyas; Vaisyas; Sudras) and a fifth "outcast" level (the "Untouchables") or in reality five levels.D'Souza also relies on the argument of "you can't disprove it, so it must be true." A more useful manner of thinking might be, "I believe it, you don't, and I'm fine with that." It makes for a much easier, happier existence.

A long struggle ensued during the 19th century in Europe and the United States in the academe before a segment of believing Christian and to a lesser extent Jewish scholars accepted textual criticism as a valid and even essential aspect of secular, academic study of religion as a cultural, societal, and historical phenomenon. From personal interaction and experience a growing number of believing Muslim academics are attempting to do the same thing and is facing a similar negative reaction from large segments of their own communities who resist such an attempt.


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