Writer, Church leader, Eccentric Nut, Marketer

I'm Church Leader, Writer, Speaker, Marketer, Kindness Project Founder, Broadcaster and Superhero. But most important I'm a Husband, Father and a worshiper of Jesus.

21 September 2010

COLLISION: Christopher Hitchens vs Pastor Douglas Wilson

Last night at our Young Adult/Campus Ministry night, we watched and discussed a wonderful documentary called "Collision". The film followed noted "Anti-theist" Christopher Hitchens and Pastor Douglas Wilson around pubs in the American Northeast as they engaged each other in some of the most contested, witty, bright and respectful... but divisive dialogue I've ever watched in a film like this. The topic was, "Is Christianity good for the world?" Both men came across looking good, which as a Christian used to cringing, is a terrific thing. But as Hitchens said, in a discussion like this... one person HAS to be right and one HAS to be wrong.

One thing that struck me as fascinating was Hitchens aggressive crusade to expose religion and Christianity as "a wicked cult that it’s high time we left". He turned his sights on America after 9/11 and said, "Enough is enough. This has to stop. God is not Great (the name of his book) and I must spread this 'truth'". That's the "direct opposition to organized religion or to the belief in any deity" that comes with Antitheism. It's evangelistic. And frankly... I don't understand the mindset of those who DON'T share what they believe is truth with others. On the way to a speaking engagement, both Wilson and Hitchens (who personally seem to very much like and respect each other) agreed that the God issue is NOT a trivial issue. It's a supremely important thing to know what you believe because EVERYTHING else revolves around it.

While no "winner" was declared, as a Christian... I found that Wilson made some excellent points. Most of them coming back to the concept that without a source of truth, ethics are simply borrowed from God. At one point, Wilson said to Hitch, "You have no car of your own to drive". Wilson pointed out that in with an evolutionary worldview, "Everything is up for grabs".

Hitchens claims that "The Bible was mankind's first, and worst, attempt at making sense of things" and that "Right and Wrong is innate in all mortals". Along that vein Hitch also argued that things like coveting what your neighbor has is OK... along with one of the main reasons why Christianity isn't good for the world being, because we're relying on someone else to be OK. He used the example that he gives blood because it makes him "feel" good because it's "right" (based on who knows what). He says if you say, "it's for God" it's just cheaper.

Kinda all reeks of selfishness to me.

The most intriguing scene was the final one where Hitch and Wilson were riding in a car talking and Hitch says that he's been asked if he had successfully converted (or DEconverted) every man in the world but one, would he finish it and get that one too? He answered no. It was an answer that Richard Dawkins didn't understand when Hitchens told him. He said that it wasn't just because he wouldn't have anyone to argue with anymore either. Dawkins pressed him and asked why. Hitchens said, "I don't know why. But I wouldn't". He says that Dawkin's look of confusion still sticks with him.

Fascinating, honest answer. I'm going to pose a possibility of why that I'm sure he would refute with veracity if I made it to him. But maybe it's the same sentiment that lifelong atheist and comedy legend W. C. Fields gave when he was caught reading a Bible on his deathbed:

"I'm looking for a loophole"

I do believe what Blaise Pascal said that:

"There is a God shaped vacuum in the heart of every man which cannot be filled by any created thing, but only by God, the Creator, made known through Jesus”

Maybe the idea that it might be a good idea to leave one Christian around... is a deep down "just in case I'm wrong and really do need a savior one day" safety net. Maybe it's the same thing that made me occasionally run home in a drunken, panicked stupor in high school to make sure my Mom was still there and I hadn't missed the rapture. I knew if anyone was going... it was her. It didn't make me change, but it did put my mind at ease for the night, knowing there was still time.

There is a clip on YouTube of Hitchens on a radio show (linked here). I don't vouch for the show or the host or even the line of questioning... but there is an interesting exchange at the end of the clip that answers one of Wilson's repeated queries to Hitch, about WHY exactly he feels the need to denounce Christianity?

Host: Sir is it possible that the reason you rage so much against God is that you just want to live your own autonomous way, living however you want to, and any lifestyle you prefer without having to be accountable to your creator?

Hitchens: I think that's highly probable yes.

I'll say this. I think Christopher Hitchens argument is full of holes and the conclusion he's arrived at, is the wrong one. It's a road to nowhere. But few men can so excellently communicate a position as well as him. I think I'd very much enjoy his company and he's a very intelligent man.

AND I respect him because he speaks what he believes. SOMETHING is true. As CS Lewis put it... Jesus was either a liar, a lunatic or Lord. It's one of the 3. Everyone is NOT right. And whatever RIGHT is, the rest of the world is based on this. It's cruel, disrespectful and foolish not talk about this and discover real foundational truth.

Hitchens believes that things are not "resolved". Wilson questioned him, "Why don't you write like things are unresolved?" Because everyone is grasping for truth.

Thankfully... it exists.
And it sets men free.


Spicer said...

I am all for civil debate and discussion, because it allows for understanding and insight. I also don't think there is necessarily the need to 'convert' everyone to my own line of thinking and beliefs. For one thing, it isn't a matter of believing one thing or the other. Besides Christianity, you have the possibility of Hinduism, Buddhism, Shintoism, Muslim, or pink unicorns. For each person, they 'know' it to be true and can feel it to their core. Looking for loopholes or hedging your bets doesn't necessarily 'save' you, because there could be a god but just not the one you were counting on.

In my own life, I've witnessed that people of varied religions and beliefs can get along just fine. I believe in a diverse world that people of different mindsets can function together without the need to change each other's minds.

I recognize that religion gives many hope or love, thus I wouldn't want to rob them of that. But what I do have a problem with and where I think there is a need for 'deconversion' of some form, is when certain groups use their religion as a means to push political agendas or to bash certain lifestyles and beliefs or to essentially, justify their own bigotry and close mindedness.

For the most part, I don't think different religions (or lack of religion) has to cause conflict or the need to change others minds. Rather, the focus should be on how we can work together as a community to make a better world.

Dave Carrol said...

Thing is... both religion (and not-religion)are used for bigotry, political agendas, etc. It's life. It actually has nothing to do with religion. That's just people being dumb. And "dumb" is not in short supply. Lots to go around.

Religion gets saddled with the "close minded" tag WAY too easily. I actually find it to be at least equal, if not more, the opposite direction.

I do very much agree with you that we SHOULD be able to get along and work together. Very much so. This doc was terrific in that manner that both guys were very respectful and DID very much get along.

Part of the issue is that people rarely treat others with a differing view respectfully. It's one of the reasons Hitch liked doing this movie, because "good discourse is a lost art".

But the reality is still the reality that SOMETHING is true and it means that other things are not. World religions and viewpoints on God are disparate.

As an evangelical Christian... I do believe that Jesus said to go into all the world and preach the gospel. (But it doesn't mean I have to be jerk about it). I do respect people for speaking their beliefs. Religion, Politics, Socially.... it means you're thinking and care enough about truth to battle through it.

I think that the biggest mistake we can make in life is believing that it's about ME and what I believe. Life is about others. It's about giving what you have that's good away so that more than one can prosper. (in my opinion)

Spicer said...

I totally agree that closed mindedness and bigotry can come from all side and every single belief. I am not denying that. I was just stating that some will use their religion to justify such things, and that is really the only time I find religion to be poisonous and harmful (thus worth my time to try to actively change or dispute one's opinion).

I also agree that most of the time other religions (or non religions) are not getting along with each other (the recent issues in New York being a perfect example). I also don't think that leads to the automatic conclusion that we then need to aspire to have one 'true' religion. I think, that is a rather large leap, especially since we live in a rather big world with lots of people who are convinced their religion is the correct one (and know to be true with their very being).

Of course, you are right that there really is only one truth. It is almost impossible that the entire world will ever agree on this truth. I obviously believe I am correct with my view, but I also know there is million others who disagree with me. You can provide facts and evidence and appeals to emotions, but the reality is, no one can know with a 100% certainty that they are right. Or at least, you can't prove it to the person who doubts you. When it comes to religion, most will admit they believe because god talks to them or they can sense his presence, but the reality is, people may get that same feeling with another religiion (or a really good concert or book or spicy chili). Should the goal be to get all others to believe in your religion, even when they are content and loving on their own (and you can't prove they're wrong)? Or is the goal to try to find ways of understanding and cooperation despite our differences?

I agree that life is about others, and that our goals should be to help each other to make this world amazing (heaven on earth). Though our ways of going about it, or at least our perspectives (and beliefs), are very different.

Jeff said...

I have to say that I quite dislike Hitchens. Actually, I dislike most of the so-called "New Atheists" (even though they're really not all that "new"). But out of that group, Hitchens strikes me as the worst. He deals largely in rhetoric with very few actual arguments. And you're right, Dave - he's evangelistic. But I don't think that's a good thing. Or rather, evangelism without solid evidence and reasonable argumentation is not a good thing. I don't care if the person really really really believes themselves to be right (newsflash: everyone does!) - if they don't have solid arguments, they should sit down and shut their mouths.

Of course, with free speech being important and all, I certainly support their right to say stupid things, but I also reserve the right to criticize them for it.

Anyway, I'd argue with you about the silliness of the "God-shaped hole" thing, but I just really could care less right now. Let's just say that atheists tend to get lumped in with alcoholics and drug addicts and lonely people for some reason, which is entirely ridiculous. Certainly there are "empty" people out there, but they come in all stripes and flavours, and I have witnessed first-hand many people who do not believe in God and yet are full of exuberance and life. Well...so maybe I argued about it anyway :P

Dave Carrol said...

I very much agree with you about Christian's misconceptions about how atheists are miserable reprobates. Ha. It's a ridiculous thought.


Again... I don't care to debate the God shaped hole debate... but the human need for something bigger is pretty darn undeniable Jeff. And think there is an arrogance that comes with those who are "enlightened" and have those well formed arguments and therefore have the right to speak... as they look down on the poor ignorant shlubs who are still mired in the "God-delusion".

When Hitchens says condescending things like, "do it if it makes you feel better", It's like a parent child a soother to pacify itself. There is a superiority that comes with it and it's unbecoming.

Christianity is a beautiful faith (and I believe it just happens to be true too) where it gives even the ignorant and lowliest of man... who knows they've experienced being filled with life largely unexplained to them... a voice to share their story.

I've watched the very poor share this gift with the very poor. Neither of them could communicate the theology of what was happening but you could see truth and life coming alive in each. It was a stunningly beautiful thing. They DARED to share in it.

Spicer said...

I don't want to have this discussion veer too far off from the original post, but I wanted to address the notion humans need something bigger.

I agree with this to an extent, and this is why I do see value in religion. Religion can provide the hope and love that some are yearning for especially if they come from a broken and painful past. But again, it isn't necessarily Christianity that provides this, because I know people who have found peace in the Muslim faith or Buddhism.

I also believe that religion is not the necessary solution to people looking for something bigger. I know that one can find contentment through family or through charity or through the sense of making a difference. The notion that their is a need for something bigger could also just be a drive for success and reaching one's full potential in a career. For example, I know Christian people who still are also looking for 'something bigger' or at least, not fully satisfied. It isn't like religion fills those desires fully for everyone, or as I said, that religion is the only thing that can be that 'something bigger.'

As I stated before, sharing is fine, but one also needs to know when to stop too. It is rather presumptuous to assume what has filled your own needs will be what another needs or wants.

Skyler Danes said...


Good morning,

I haven't seen this doc, but plan to shortly. I would however like to comment on the discussion.

As for the question 'Is Christianity good for the world?", one cannot simply look at the current times and must also consider the past. I would also find it beneficial to the conversation to include most major faiths together. I understand there are contrasting points between some major religions, but for the sake of the argument I think a better question is "Is religion good for the world?".

Even as an atheist, I am very aware of all the great things that religion has done, or at least what people have done in the name of religion. Their charities, missions and community involvement are something to be admired. The ethics of family and goodwill agreeable. I do find a few things troubling however. One is the past.

Even the most dedicated religious person will have to admit that there have been great atrocities committed in the name of religion. I understand that people of all backgrounds commit terrible crimes, though religion has provided an additional 'reason' to commit these terrible acts. Look at the Dark Ages. Monasteries intentionally skewing truths to line up with Bible teachings. The murder and detaining of philosophers and scientists who were only seeking truth, yet unfortunately contrasted the religious authority of the time (it is not a stretch to assume we could have had man on the moon 1,000 years ago if it weren't for these overly religious times). The validated inferiority of women (which still exists today). The teaching/brainwashing of native/poor/uneducated people who were seen as lesser beings without the faith of the authoritative religious government. I could go on.

Skyler Danes said...


Obviously religion has shed many of these terrible practices in modern times, yet this may only be due to secular pressure, moral evolution and a 'watering-down' of religious fundamentalism. We do still see ill-effects of religion today. One being child indoctrination. I do not wish to offend a mature religious person, though a very large number of the religious are only believers because their parents have drilled this into their heads at a very young age. Any parent, myself included, understands how easy it is to convince a child of something, regardless of whether it's true or not. Child indoctrination, puts a child in a disadvantaged position to properly and without bias perceive the world in a natural and free way. We also still see many 'old-way' religious practices happening today. Look at the recent proposed stoning of an Iranian woman because she was believed to be involved in adultery, or at least an accessory to it. The very questioning of faith is still punishable by death in many jurisdictions. Then we have the 'crazies' who believe Katrina was punishment for gay tolerance and the Haitian earthquake was punishment for 'making a pact with the devil'. I call these people 'crazies', however, their line of thinking is not a stretch from some of the acts of violence that God uses in the Bible to punish entire populations. 'Crazies' to me, righteous believers to somebody who takes the word of God too literally. We also have the exclusiveness of religion. Today's 'kind' religious people are quick to say that they are tolerant and love all people equally, but the book they carry tells otherwise. I am constantly reminded on a daily basis every time I pass a church, see a crucifix, or even hear the word 'God', that I am an atheist and therefore I will burn in hell for all eternity. Of all the terrible things that have been said to me in my life, by any kind of person, this fundamental religious belief is by far the worst. What a horrible thing to wish upon a person. As an innocent atheist who is very kind, leads a good family life and volunteers in his community, it is incredibly painful to know that many, if not most people around me, assign themselves to a religion which wishes the most terrible of futures upon me.

Skyler Danes said...


Finally, we come to the difficult topic of truth. Am I an atheist? Yes. Can I be 100% sure there is no God? No. I say this because I am human and no human can know anything 100%. 100% is a big number and I believe that 99.9% is good enough to affiliate yourself either way as long as you allow for at least a discussion which may bring into question your 0.01%. Now, as humans we have collectively decided that science is what we know about our world to the best of our knowledge. Religion simply doesn't fit into science at this point in time. Should we cast it aside? No. But we cannot allow people to act on it as if it were truth. Especially when these actions are harmful and offensive. Religion is exclusive. If I'm not mistaken, God forbids any other way of life, whether it's for another God or no God at all. This is simply not acceptable. All things in life should be subject to criticism, science included.

My proposition, and what I strive for when speaking with people regarding religion, is a personal belief system void of organized religion. To believe in God alone, makes no particular threat to anyone and I believe would still appease God come Judgment Day. It is only when one inherits the title of 'Christian' or 'Catholic' or 'Muslim' that they have now inherited all of the good and bad that is associated with that religion and its past.

Do the good acts offset the bad? I suppose that's an argument, though I can easily say that good done in the name of religion is simply ones own innate sense of good coming through, irrelevant to their religion. In religions defense, so may the bad things, yet as I stated earlier, religion has actually created more reasons to commit bad acts, whereas the good acts have variable reasons. These religions simply do not allow for compromise and freethought, and this is why I believe that religion is not good for the world.

Speaking on the topic of ‘something bigger’, I cannot understand this need. This world is incredibly fascinating, incredibly beautiful and bigger than anything one can imagine. I think the idea that we each have a purpose or mission is selfish and naïve. To look at an animal or plant and say “Sorry buddy, I’m not like you, I’m special” is just cruel to me. This idea that Earth is just a dirty stop-over and that there is something more, is a huge slap in the face to the wonders of our universe.

Thank you for opening up the discussion. These kinds of forums which allow freethought are the best thing we can do to help understand each other and have compassion for each others views.

Dave Carrol said...

Thanks for the comments and thoughts Skyler. Respectful discourse is extraordinarily important and it's a pleasure having it.

I'm not intending my response to be flippant or trite... but my response to much of the antitheist platform is.... "based on what?"

Truth has to be based on something. To even create a platform by which to make judgments of morality/right/wrong, there must be absolute truth. And for that to be, there must be a source of this truth.

As for the crusades... people have done horrible things in the world in the name of God, religion, science, education, politics... and many other things. Good gosh I wish the world could take mulligans on eras of time because what was being done was just plain wrong. But God does give man free will... and the ability to be forgiven of it too.

But even in that, atrocities that are done... men are well aware of their wrongness. Which is based on SOMETHING.

It really is an excellent doc that is a great dialogue starter. And both men very much treated each other with respect even in their stark disagreement...

... and the reality remains that someone is right and someone is wrong. And one of the reasons why I do feel the need to share it... is that IF I am right, it's a cruel thing for me not to share such goodness with others.

Our lives are designed to communicate it.

"The teachings of Jesus cannot be separated from Jesus himself. Jesus Christ is still alive and he embodies his teachings. It is a profound mistake, therefore, to treat Christ as simply the founder of a set of moral, ethical, or social teaching. The Lord Jesus and his teaching are one. The Medium and the Message are One."

Excerpt from "A Jesus Manifesto" by Leonard Sweet and Frank Viola

Spicer said...

I am sure my last three posts have laid out my own opinion on evangelism and spreading of one's view to others. So, I'll avoid being redundant and just refer you to the things I already mentioned in this discussion.

I do want to address the idea that morality or acts need to be based on something or come from somewhere. This makes the assumption that many of the things one considers moral is universally accepted. I think, to some degree that can be a bit of a leap.

I do agree there is some things that seem ingrained in us as right. I think those things come from a notion of self preservation (or protection of family/tribe/herd). We usually live in community and work together because it aids in our own survival. The notion of being good to others makes sense in this context, because then they'll be less likely to harm us. I recognize I am over simplifying things here. The fact is, all living things have a survival instinct, and among humans, the idea of looking after each other is likely reinforced with that instinct.

As for other things considered moral, I think a lot of it has been perpetuated or created by the society you live. For examples, societies that practiced cannibalism did not deem it to be wrong or immoral. Yet, most today would be absolutely repulsed by it. For the people of that era and place, I don't think there was anything inside them telling them that it is wrong or evil. Their ideas of morality was formed by the society they lived in.

History shows that things deemed moral or right do shift over time such as slavery or treatment of women. While I'll admit there was people that felt some of those things were wrong then, I do think there was a lot that felt absolutely no guilt. Which then begs the question, if there was a morality ingrained in us by some god, then why is it different for some groups of people?

I apologize if I am totally going of topic here. I'll attempt to keep things reigned in with the original article (as I had attempted with my three previous comments in this discussion).

Jeff said...

Man, now you know...post something about atheism, get a billion responses :P

I agree with many of the things Spicer has said, so I'll try not to repeat his points. But I wanted to bring up a couple of things as well.

"Truth has to be based on something. To even create a platform by which to make judgments of morality/right/wrong, there must be absolute truth. And for that to be, there must be a source of this truth."

I'm not really even sure what you mean here. I can understand when you say morality has to be based on something; that makes sense to me. But truth has to have a source? Truth is whatever accords with reality. It's not true because some being decreed it to be true. It is true because, well...because that's the way reality happens to be.

If God created a rock, for example, and then declared "This rock does not exist!", his statement would simply be false. It is bizarre to believe that truth itself is dependent on something other than whatever actually is the case. I really have no idea how you would justify that truth needs a source.

"Again... I don't care to debate the God shaped hole debate... but the human need for something bigger is pretty darn undeniable Jeff. And think there is an arrogance that comes with those who are 'enlightened' and have those well formed arguments and therefore have the right to speak... as they look down on the poor ignorant shlubs who are still mired in the 'God-delusion'."

I certainly agree...and that's my major point of contention with the New Atheists. I don't see religious people as stupid or deluded, just merely wrong. And all of us are wrong at some point, so there's no condescension in saying that.

I also agree with you (or I'm willing to concede it for the sake of argument, anyway) that humans have a need for something "bigger than themselves." But there are many things that are bigger than us. Families, groups of friends, politics, jobs, countries, the environment, the universe...and so on. These are all things that can provide our lives with meaning and purpose.

Now of course, if someone pursues one to the exclusion of all others, perhaps he might feel "empty" or whatever, but that's just an argument to not exclude these things. We need social relationships. We need things we are passionate about. People find very different ways of fulfilling these needs - and for some, that's religion - but it seems very evident that there are many fulfilled people out there who don't feel any need to be religious, or to believe in God. So yes, we have needs, but to say that God is the only source of fulfilling those needs seems, to me at least, to be shallow and constricting.

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