Christopher Hitchens and Lessons for Evangelicals

Al Mohler had a thought-provoking post yesterday, “Learning from Christopher Hitchens: Lessons Evangelicals Must Not Miss.”  The entire post was good.  The specific part of the article that captured my attention was lesson five:

5. Hitchens revealed the danger of cultural Christianity and exposure to tepid, lifeless, superficial Christian teaching.

In his childhood, Hitchens was exposed to the mild Christianity of his father and the Hitchens home. (Later in life, he discovered that his mother was, in fact, partly Jewish.) As a schoolboy, Hitchens received the customary dose of tame religious instruction. In God is Not Great, he wrote of Mrs. Jean Watts, “a good, sincere, simple woman, of stable and decent faith,” who taught him religion at his school near Dartmoor. Even as a boy, Hitchens was not impressed by her emotivist expressions of doctrine and her answers to his questions. He wrote also of a school headmaster, who seemed, among other failings, to believe that belief in God served a mainly therapeutic function. Hitchens described himself then as “quite the insufferable little intellectual,” but the damage was done. Unlike others who, as he wrote, might have rejected belief in God because of abuse or “brutish indoctrination,” Hitchens simply developed indignant contempt for a belief system that seemed so superficial and fraudulent. An exposure to tepid, lifeless, thoughtless, and intellectually formless Christianity can be deadly (emphasis added).

This is a particularly important point for Christian parents, pastors, and church members to note well and never forget.  We have to own and be serious about our faith if we intend to pass it down to the next generation.  We can blame the world, the public schools, evolution, atheists, etc., etc., etc.–all the “culprits” we can think of–but the reality is that the greatest enemy to Christianity is a professing Christian who shows little to no interest in living like a follower of Jesus.  In this sense, the biggest enemy of Christianity may be inside the walls of the church not outside of them.  Of course, the best thing believers can do is to own their faith and live it, love and serve Jesus in a way that is so inter-woven with their daily lives that it is impossible to separate the so-called sacred from the secular.  Our aim should be the sincere kind of Christianity Paul describes in 2 Corinthians 2:15-17 (ESV):

For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, [16] to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things? [17] For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.

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Christmas Meditation

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying, [14] ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’ (Luke 2:13-14, ESV)

After the angels announced the birth of Jesus in Luke 2, a heavenly host erupted in praise declaring, “Glory to God in the highest!”  They were glorifying God for His work, in this case redemptive work of sending the promised Messiah in Jesus.  The works of God in nature also redound to the glory of God.

The now late outspoken atheist Christopher Hitchens said,

Religion has run out of justifications.  Thanks to the telescope and the microscope, it no longer offers and explanation of anything important (Christopher Hitchens, God is not Great, 282).

One man would beg to differ.  The man’s name is Wilson Bentley (1865-1931).*  Bentley was taken by Job 38:22 which speaks about “the treasures of the snow” (KJV).  At 14, Bentley already showed a scientific bent.  Bentley’s mother, a school teacher, gave him a microscope.  He used it to observe anything that fit under the lens.  Later in his life, Bentley said he felt compelled to proclaim the Great Designer’s glory through the microscope.  He recounted,

I became possessed with a great desire to show people something of this wonderful loveliness, an ambition to become in some measure, its preserver.

What was Bentley talking about?  He was talking about the snowflake.  When he first began observing snowflakes, he expected them all to look the same.  He was surprised to learn that they were all different.  Bentley concluded that, to the best of his knowledge, no snowflake

was an exact duplicate of any other snowflake!

adding

with profound humility, we acknowledge that the Great Designer is incomparable an unapproachable in the infinite prodigality [extravagance] and beauty of His works.

Turns out that the combination of water molecules, air currents, temperature, and humidity make it extremely unlikely that one snowflake will resemble another—much like a human fingerprint.  Bentley explained that the matchlessness of each snowflake

can only be referred to the will and pleasure of the Great First Cause, whose works, even the most minute and evanescent, and in regions the most removed from human observation, are altogether admirable.

So taken by their beauty, Bentley began to draw snowflakes when he was 15 but they melted before he could finish.  He learned about a camera that could be used with a microscope.  He bought it when he was 17.  A year after he bought the camera—he did it!  He took a picture of a snowflake; the first one ever taken.  It was tedious work.  Even with a camera, the snowflakes would melt or break like glass depending on the temperature.  Over the years, he managed to take many pictures of snowflakes capturing their unique beauty.

The beautiful seasons give us cause to join the heavens as they declare the glory of God.  Thanks to William Bentley, we now know that the white stuff that falls from the sky is made up of intricate little masterpieces called snowflakes.  These snowflakes are another reason to proclaim the glory of our powerful Creator.  This brings us back to the angelic proclamation of the good news of Jesus’ birth and the heavenly choir.  The Christmas season is a time when we ought to give glory to God not only for His handiwork displayed in the snowflake but supremely for the first advent of His Son, Jesus Christ.  This is the work of our Divine and gracious Redeemer.  With the heavenly host, we too should exclaim, “Glory to God in the highest!”

*Taken from Jerry Bergman, “Snowflake Bentley: Man of Science, Man of God,” Acts & Facts (December 2011), 12-14.

Respectable Accomodation?

Douglas Wilson wrote a good word in an article reflecting on the death of Christopher Hitchens, “Christopher Hitchens Has Died, Doug Wilson Reflects“.  As I read and interacted with Hitchens’ writings, I found that Hitchens’ was likeable.  I haven’t found the same to be true about the others who are of the same philosophical ilk as Hitchens, such as Sam Harris or Richard Dawkins.  Consequently, the news of Hitchens’ death saddened me.  What is even more sad is that Hitchens’ views led him down a path that now is unalterable.  The Lord knows those who are His (2 Timothy 2:19).  If Hitchens repented of his sins and placed his faith in Christ, the Lord knows it and has welcomed Hitchens into heaven on the merits of His Son, Jesus Christ.  If he didn’t, the Lord knows this too and Hitchens will spend an eternity in hell away from the presence of the Lord he rejected (2 Thessalonians 1:5-10).

One part of Wilson’s article caught my attention because I’m teaching a class at church on the gospel and evangelism.  This Sunday we will talk about the importance of knowing, believing, and defending our faith.  Wilson mentioned this in his article.  You cannot approach a person like Hitchens and be tentative about your faith.  You cannot strive for respectability and accommodation at the same time.  You either believe it with conviction or why bother.  I hope this citation spurs you on to be a Christian who holds your faith with conviction instead of seeking to accommodate for the sake of respectability.  It won’t work.  Here’s what Wilson said,

So we [Hitchens and Wilson] got on well with each other, because each of us knew where the other one stood. Eugene Genovese, before he became a believer, once commented on the tendency that some have to try to garner respect by giving away portions, big or small, of what they profess to believe. “If other religions offer equally valid ways to salvation and if Christianity itself may be understood solely as a code of morals and ethics, then we may as well all become Buddhists or, better, atheists. I intend no offense, but it takes one to know one. And when I read much Protestant theology and religious history today, I have the warm feeling that I am in the company of fellow unbelievers” (The Southern Front, pp. 9–10). Ironically, the branch of the faith most interested in getting the “cultured despisers” to pay us some respect is really not that effective, and this is a strategy that can frequently be found on the pointed end of its own petard. Respectability depends on not caring too much about respectability. Unbelievers can smell accommodation, and when someone like Christopher meets someone who actually believes all the articles in the Creed, including that part about Jesus coming back from the dead, it delights him. Here is someone actually willing to defend what is being attacked. Militant atheists are often exasperated with opponents whose strategy appears to be “surrender slowly.”