On the late Christopher Hitchens

On the late Christopher Hitchens May 29, 2020


Hitchens, Christopher
Christopher Hitchens (1949-2011), from Wikimedia Commons
I actually miss him; he was an interesting voice and a superb writer.


Curtis White, who identifies himself as an atheist, had some very interesting things to say in Curtis White, The Science Delusion: Asking the Big Questions in a Culture of Easy Answers [Brooklyn and London: Melville Books, 2014].  Among them are these passages regarding the late Anglo-American “New Atheist” writer Christopher Hitchens:


Hitchens’s God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything is an intellectually shameful book.  To be intellectually shameful is to be dishonest, to tell less than you know, or ought to know, and to shape what you present in a way that misrepresents the real state of affairs.  In this sense, and in Hitchens’s own term, his book lacks “decency.”  (27-28)


As critics have observed since its publication, one enormous problem with Hitchens’s book is that it reduces religion to a series of criminal anecdotes.  In the process, however, virtually all of the real history of religious thought, as well as historical and textual scholarship, is simply ignored as if it never existed.  (28-29)


This case has been well made by others, if mostly in places far more obscure than Hitchens’s privileged position on the New York Times best-seller list.  For example, William J. Hamblin wrote a thorough and admirably restrained review (“The Most Misunderstood Book: Christopher Hitchens on the Bible”) in which he held Hitchens to account for historical howlers of this kind:

In discussing the exodus, Hitchens dogmatically asserts: “There was no flight from Egypt, no wandering in the desert . . . , and no dramatic conquest of the Promised Land. It was all, quite simply and very ineptly, made up at a much later date. No Egyptian chronicle mentions this episode either, even in passing. . . . All the Mosaic myths can be safely and easily discarded.” These narratives can be “easily discarded” by Hitchens only because he has failed to do even a superficial survey of the evidence in favor of the historicity of the biblical traditions. Might we suggest that Hitchens begin with Hoffmeier’s Israel in Egypt and Ancient Israel in Sinai?  It should be noted that Hoffmeier’s books were not published by some small evangelical theological press but by Oxford University—hardly a bastion of regressive fundamentalist apologetics. Hitchens’s claim that “no Egyptian chronicle mentions this episode [of Moses and the Israelites] either, even in passing” is simply polemical balderdash.

Hamblin is thorough, patient, relentless, but also, it seems to me, a little perplexed and saddened by Hitchens’s naked dishonesty and, in all probability, by his own feeling of impotence.  You can hardly blame him.  Criticism of this character would have, and surely should have, revealed Hitchens’s book for what it is . . . if it hadn’t been published in The FARMS Review of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship at Brigham Young University.  Hitchens need never have feared the dulling of his reputation for intellectual dash and brio from that source.  (30-32)


Ah, the bad old days of the evil FARMS Review.  I founded it, and I edited it for its entire history until the Purge of 2012.  Nothing but lies, vicious ad hominem insults, and obfuscation.



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