I have been tempted to read Christopher Hitchens’ latest screed against religion, but have held off in favor of other projects and interests. My main question is whether the new atheists are really any different than the old atheists. I once started reading Bertrand Russell’s Why I Am Not a Christian, only to stop a short while later due to his laughingly bad understanding of what Christianity actually teaches.

Mark Roberts, one of the most saintly men I’ve ever met, has read Hitchens’ work and discovered that he is not so different than his atheist predecessor Russell.

The bad news for Christopher Hitchens is that he gets a low mark for accuracy when it comes to his statements about the New Testament and New Testament scholarship. In fact, I found fifteen factual errors in this material. I also identified sixteen statements that show what I consider to be a substantial misunderstanding or distortion of the evidence, even though a few scholars might agree with Hitchens. That’s why I distinguish between factual errors and misunderstandings/distortions, in an effort to be clear and fair.

Roberts carefully details not only the inaccuracies of Hitchens’ work, but his inflammatory tone and oddly unscientific approach (given how much he loves science) to studying religion. What’s more impressive, he does so while still managing to be respectful in his approach. It is most impressive that he takes some of Hitchens’ claims as seriously as he does, rather than laughingly abusing them (as I and other lesser men might have done):

During my interview with Hitchens I said, more than once, that it seems like he and I inhabit alternative universes. I said that because, among other things, his view of what Christians believe and experience is so contrary to my view, and I’ve been a practicing Christian for 44 years. For example, in one place Hitchens writes that believers claim, “Not just to know, but to know everything” (p. 10). Now even allowing for a good bit of hyperbole, this statement reflects nothing of my experience as a believer. I do claim to know certain things, but I freely admit the fallible nature of my knowledge. Has Hitchens ever spent any time with thoughtful Christians (or other religious folk) who wrestle openly with matters of faith, who sometimes struggle with doubt, and who freely admit their own ignorance? If not, I could introduce him to dozens of such people. Moreover, I can’t even begin to think that I know more than a tiny percentage of what can be known. Know everything???? If Hitchens thinks this is what the average religious person claims, then he knows little about the average religious person, at least in my experience.

Thank you, Mark Roberts, for reading Hitchens’ work for the rest of us. It seems it was obviously a gruelling task.
Buy Mark Roberts’ new defense of the reliability of the Gospels here.

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Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

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