Is Christianity Good for the World?

Monday, October 27, 2008

Is Christianity Good for the World? A Debate, by Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson

Internet-wise, I was at the right place at the right time. When I was reviewing Doug Wilson's Recovering the Lost Tools of Learning, I stumbled across a blog post at Canon Press offering Doug Wilson's latest for bloggers to review. Even though I was months late, the very kind Frank sent me not one, but three books to review. This is about as close as I will ever come to winning the lottery, and this was much healthier for my soul!

This morning at breakfast, I just finished Is Christianity Good for the World?, a debate between celebrated atheist Christopher Hitchens and the always-pithy Douglas Wilson. Despite the serious subject matter and considerable intellect of the two authors, it's an engaging little book which I finished quickly (especially considering I was usually feeding a toddler while reading it). It began as a series of articles sponsored by magazine Christianity Today and evolved (if I may use that word) into this book.

I love a good debate, and this one was fun. Logical arguments, spotting fallacies and weak reasoning, trumping the opponent... these all make my nerdy heart go a-flutter. This debate all came down to authority, at Wilson's insistence. Hitchens started by railing against totalitarianism and religion, and pitted them against atheism and free will. Wilson responded by saying that unless you glorify God as God and give thanks to Him, argumentation is moot. Wilson kept trying to ask why Hitchens could use words like 'right,' 'wrong,' and 'evil' if morality, as he claimed, was a product of our evolved species. Hitchens argued that his morality was more noble because he was motivated by goodness itself and not fear of an imaginary afterlife. I thought it was interesting that despite Hitchens claiming the moral higher ground, he was consistently disdainful and made Wilson seem even more polite by contrast. Here's an example of his tone:

Deists used to agree with you about a Creator but were not religious in that the assumption of such an entity did not license the further assumption that he or she desired to intervene in human affairs, let alone the assumption that the torture and death of a single individual in a backward part of the Middle East was the solution that we had been awaiting for tens of thousands of years of brutish homo sapiens existence. (p. 52)

In my opinion, Wilson not only proved Hitchens' evasiveness in showing a basis for his standards of right and wrong, but he also showed himself to be funnier and kinder. After much civility, Wilson finally broke down and wrote:

You write like a witty but acerbic tenth-century archbishop with a bad case of the gout. (p. 64)

So, is Christianity good for the world? Hitchens seemed stuck on attacking all religion in general, and Wilson became (necessarily) focused on asking how an atheist had any moral claim to right and wrong, if we're all just 'matter in motion' and continually evolving and besides, who is to say that morality won't evolve to something totally different in the future? Wilson's arguments reminded me of "The Great Debate" between my old pastor, the wonderful Dr. Greg Bahnsen, and Dr. Gordon Stein. I'm paraphrasing from my recollections from high school when we studied this, so I encourage you to check out the video or transcript, but Dr. B trounced the guy by basically saying, "You're using the standard of 'right' and 'wrong' to judge me, but a godless world has no basis for absolutes. You're just borrowing from my own worldview."

Of course I'm a Christian, but I think Wilson showed his position to be more interesting and logically sound than Hitchens'. More than that, however, is Wilson's grace: congeniality towards his opponent, thankfulness to God and Christianity Today for the forum provided, and the grace given in the gospel message at the end of the book. Especially during the upcoming book tour and public debates, I hope this book changes hard hearts by changing stubborn minds. I think that Wilson's argumentation and Hitchen's celebrity will make this debate another one for the history books.

UPDATE: I was really thinking of the Bahnsen vs. Tabash debate, not Bahnsen vs. Stein. That's okay, they're both brilliant.

Fables: 1001 Nights of Snowfall

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Fables: 10001 Nights of Snowfall, by Bill Willingham et. al.

Dark, dark, dark. This was another one of my graphic novel experiments. My honey scoffs whenever I say the words "graphic novel" which I have to admit, really is a way to say "comic books for grown-ups." He prefers to read technical manuals, which I call "comic books for nerds." This graphic novel was definitely R-rated. I guess I should have expected it, but it still took me by surprise. The book was so imaginative and the illustrations are so beautiful, that as long as you are prepared for the subject matter it's worth the read.

Here's the set-up: story-book characters have been chased from their homeland by a mysterious and gruesome enemy called "The Adversary." He and his ogres either can't or won't follow the Fables through a portal into our world that deposits them into New York City. Snow White is sent as an ambassador to a powerful caliph in story-book Arabia to form an alliance against the Adversary. Instead of conducting political negotiations, he marries her that night with the intent to kill her in the morning. Rather than beg for her life, she tells him a story. And another, and another. Soon it's morning and he agrees to let her live for one more day... and more stories.

Each of Snow White's stories are illustrated by a different artist, and the work is amazing. There is quite a range, but the writing (by Bill Willingham, who apparently is a legend) is what really grabbed me. He had an inventive take on the stories we all grew up on, but it made me wonder if anyone reads the Brothers Grimm and fairytales for their own sake anymore. Shrek 1, 2, and 3 strip-mined every story children might know and movies like "Stardust" and "Brothers Grimm" play in those worlds but don't follow the rules. Willingham took it even further. Not only are there the dark elements from the original stories, but then there's the really dark elements from Willingham's post-modern deconstruction of the stories and his 21st-century take on evil.

The imagination in these stories is amazing, and if you enjoy art at all you'll be drawn into the illustrations. I don't think I'll read the rest of the series though. If you have (or will), let me know--I want to know how it ends!

Happy Anniversary, Me!

Saturday, October 4, 2008

I was just browsing some old posts, and I realized that I started this blog exactly one year ago. How cool is that? Usually, I don't remember dates until it's too late to do anything, so I'm glad Providence directed me towards introspection tonight.

I started this blog on October 4, 2007, with the hopes of sharing my thoughts with you, gentle reader, and learning a bit more about myself. Hopefully you've liked what you've read. Or at least, you know which books to avoid. Browsing through the categories, I'm surprised by how much fiction I read, and a little embarrassed by the fluffy stuff there. I definitely went through a foodie phase earlier this year. Christianity is a constant category. (Whew!) The titles I've chosen to read are revealing, but what has surprised me the most is how much I've come to enjoy the process of writing my thoughts, and not just giving out recommendations. I hope I am becoming a more discerning reader through the process of blogging. Thanks for reading along with me.