15 July 2007

The Christopher Hitchens / Douglas Wilson Debate

Somehow I missed the online debate between Christopher Hitchens and Douglas Wilson that took place in May at the Christianity Today website. ("Is Christianity Good for the World?")

I must say that I found it disappointing. Wilson was able to control the debate by avoiding the topic (which was supposed to be about the goodness of Christianity) while forcing Hitchens to explain how an atheist determines what is good. So Hitchens was kept off balance trying to defend his own ethical system, rather than reveal the harm caused by the Bible and Christian belief.

Although Wilson is an entertaining writer and a skilled debater, I am surprised that he was selected by Christianity Today to represent Christians, given his views on the goodness of slavery, the subjection of women, and the need to execute homosexuals, non-believers, disobedient children, etc. But times are changing. Christians are returning to the Bible, the whole Bible, and nothing but the Bible (which is why, at least in my opinion, there are fewer Christians each day).

It is a pity that Christopher Hitchens was unable to reveal Wilson's views in the debate. It is only necessary to list them; anyone with any morals will immediately conclude that such views are not good for the world.

Here is a list of the views of Douglas Wilson and his followers. (As found on the Credenda/Agenda website):

On Slavery

[N]othing is clearer – the New Testament opposes anything like the abolitionism of our country prior to the War Between the States. The New Testament contains many instructions for Christian slave owners, and requires a respectful submissive demeanor for Christian slaves. See, for example, Eph. 6:5-9, Col. 3:22-4:1, and 1 Tim. 6:1-5.
. . .
The reason why many Christians will be tempted to dismiss the arguments presented here is that we have said (out loud) that a godly man could have been a slave owner. But this 'inflammatory' position is the very point upon which the Bible speaks most directly, again and again. In other words, more people will struggle with what we are saying at the point where the Bible speaks most clearly. There is no exegetical vagueness here. Not only is the Bible not politically correct, it was not politically correct one hundred thirty years ago.
. . .
This entire issue of slavery is a wonderful issue upon which to practice. Our humanistic and democratic culture regards slavery in itself as a monstrous evil, and acts as though this were self-evidently true. The Bible permits Christians to own slaves, provided they are treated well. You are a Christian. Whom do you believe?
On the Law, Homosexuality, and the Sin of Pity (1, 2 )
Let's pretend, just for a moment, that we could have it our way. The great revival we have been praying for has occurred, and every executive, legislator, and bureaucrat in the capital has just been saved. Knowing they ought to begin applying Scripture in their jobs, but not knowing how to go about it, they come to you and your church for advice. What will you tell them? How should they apply God's law?

Looking at the Bible with an eye toward applying it in the civil realm, several things become apparent. First, it is pretty small. … [O]n the average, a little over 1,000 pages. Think of the money governments will save on printing and shelf space!

If biblical law is to be biblically applied, then the biblical punishment must be used. … Of course, there would be laws enforced against certain crimes which are currently ignored, such as homosexuality.

The civil magistrate is the minister of God to execute wrath on the wrongdoer (Rom. 13:4). God has not left his civil minister without guidance on how to exercise his office. The Scriptures set forth clear standards of judgment for many offenses. Capital crimes, for example, include premeditated killing (murder), kidnapping, sorcery, bestiality, adultery, homosexuality, and cursing one's parents (Ex. 21:14; 21:16; 22:18; 22:19; Lev. 20:10; 20:13; Ex. 21:17).

In contemporary American jurisprudence, none of these offenses is punishable by death, with the occasional exception of murder. The magistrates have dispensed with God's standards of justice. Some Christians believe this is an improvement. They would be horrified to think that the "harsh" penalties of the law should still be applied. Sometimes this is the result of the mistaken belief that the Old Testament has no further application after the advent of Christ. This is an exegetical problem. Too often, it is the result of a sinful view of the criminal. This sin is called pity. … Why is pity a sin?

First, pity is not always a sin. But neither is it always good. … God included in the law specific prohibitions against the exercise of pity in meting out punishment.

If your brother, the son of your mother, your son or your daughter, the wife of your bosom, or your friend who is as your own soul, secretly entices you, saying, "Let us go and serve other gods,". . . you shall not consent to him or listen to him, nor shall your eye pity him, nor shall you spare him or conceal him; but you shall surely kill him . . . (Deut. 13:6-9).

If two men fight together, and the wife of one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of the one attacking him, and puts out the hand and seizes him by the genitals, then you shall cut off her hand; your eye shall not pity her. (Deut. 25:11, 12).

God commands the judge to evaluate the crime rather than the criminal. If the crime is one for which God requires death, then death must be the punishment. Your eye shall not pity. … Thus, the Bible teaches that pity is not an option where God has decided the matter. The magistrate, God's minister, is to faithfully execute justice according to God's standard, not man's.

On Crime and Punishment
Responsibility for the civil order is placed in the hands of magistrates, who act as God's ministers of wrath against those who do evil (Rom. 13:1-7).

God's law sets forth three basic punishments for crime: death, lashing (essentially, a government-sponsored spanking), and restitution. There is a conspicuous absence of county jails, state penitentiaries, reform schools, and hospitals for the criminally insane. The goal of the sentence is to execute God's wrath….

On Elected Officials
If we have God-hating tyrants ruling over us (and we do), then we must recognize that they rule by our invitation.

First, our rulers are to be able men. … The responsibility of civil, ecclesiastical and family leadership is given to men. … [I]t is an embarrassment and a reproach to the men to have women ruling a nation (Is. 3:12).

The men we choose are to fear God. The unregenerate do not fear God by definition (Rom. 3:18).

We are to choose men of truth. … A man who honestly believes erroneous doctrine may be sincere, but he is also deceived.

From this list of qualifications, it is apparent that, biblically, it is only professing Christians who are qualified to hold public office.

On Disobedient Children
[A] father may (and must) discipline his son, but he may not exercise capital punishment against him on his own authority. Instead, he must bring a son worthy of death to the elders of the city, who are charged with applying the civil penalty (Prov. 13:24; Deut. 21:18-21).
On Church and State (1, 2 )
God has established the magistrate for the purpose of executing His wrath, but He has not made the civil ruler the exclusive authority on the question of when wrath is appropriate. If a matter is too hard for the judges to determine with the knowledge at hand, then they are commanded to take the question to the church for clarification. The church decides, based on God's Word, what judgment should be carried out, and the judges are obliged to pronounce sentence accordingly.

The state wields the sword, and must wield it in submission to God's law. But if the law is not clear on a particular point, and the state has a question about what God's law requires, it is powerless to interpret Scripture on its own authority. Instead, the state must take the question to the church, which has been charged with protecting, interpreting, and teaching the law of God. The leaders of the church are instructed to make a judgment as to what the law requires, but the church does not thereby take up the sword. Rather, the judgment is passed back to the state, and the magistrates then wield the sword in a manner consistent with the judgment of the church.

[I]t is not enough that the civil government give Christianity a place at the table, even if it is the most honored place. … Nor is it sufficient that the magistrate render "personal submission to the spiritual government" of the church. While our rulers should be members of Christ’s covenant household … a Christian who is also an executive, legislator, or judge owes a duty of submission different than that of the ordinary layman.

On Non-Christians (1, 2)
[T]he political leader is the head of the civil covenant. If that head acknowledges that his authority comes from God (as he should), is it enough that he honors God personally? … Or can he also require, for example, oaths of allegiance to the Lord as a prerequisite of citizenship? (Before you balk, keep in mind that we don't have any problem saying pledges of allegiance to mere flags or the nations for which they stand.)

Again, we have no problem making school children dutifully recite the pledge of allegiance, or requiring new citizens to swear oaths of loyalty to the U.S. government. Why can't they also be required to acknowledge the sovereignty of the one true God, and to "zealously renounce all heathen practices?" … Someone who is required to renounce Buddhism as a condition of citizenship is no longer trapped by a spiritual snare, and can't be a snare to anyone else. That is a blessing. Reforming the State is not about forcing people to be Christians. But it is about forcing people to outwardly conform to a Christian standard and about protecting the Christian religion. Historically, the civil magistrate has enforced laws against blasphemy, apostasy, heresy, swearing, and working on the Sabbath. The difficulty is not in defining or punishing these crimes; the difficulty is finding the strength and wisdom to do so.

On Environmentalists
An environmentalist who seeks to "manage" the environment by letting it run wild is disobeying God's command to fill, subdue, and exercise dominion over the earth.

The consequences of environmentalist philosophy are disobedience to God in the short run…. Droughts and famines do not come upon a people who are obedient, but they are promised to those who disobey. An earth left to itself will only yield thorns, thistles, disease, and decay. If Christians are to be obedient to God's dominion mandate, they must oppose the rebellion inherent in environmentalist government policy.

On Pluralism
[T]he Christian magistrate acknowledges there is such a thing as a true church, and that he has a responsibility to nurture that church so that it thrives and to protect it against those things that threaten to do it harm. Obviously, this excludes the idea of pluralism.

26 October 2009 Note: The articles quoted are no longer available at Doug Wilson's Credenda Agenda website. I wonder why. Is he embarrassed by them now that the film Collision is coming out?

In any case, I was able to restore the links via the wayback machine.


Anonymous said...

I just finished Hitchens book "god is not great", it was a good read from the POV of what religion does in the world, it poisons everything. Case in point, what you have listed here for Douglas Wilson! This is made all the more absurd by the idea of "forcing Hitchens to explain how an atheist determines what is good", as if the bible is where goodness comes from!!

zooplah said...

If anyone reads the Bible and still thinks that what it says makes you a better person, they get my sympathy.

Unknown said...

Nice big collection, Steve. Very nice.

I'll refer to this post often.

I've got to pick up the book myself (I doubt I'll be surprised by anything though)... though, finding a way to get it without my crazy evangelical mother finding out will be hard work!

Tracy said...

This is in reponse to the part about politicians becoming Christians and having to use Biblical law.

I could be wrong, but from my understanding...the law of the old testament was created to show man/woman that they could not avoid being an inheriter of Adam and Eve's sin. Adam and Eve's sin gave all their descendents a wicked heart that was turned away from God as their creator. The law given was unkeepable to show man/woman the depravity of their heart. The laws given in the old testament were based on the first covenant God made with Abraham. However, Christ's life, death, and resurrection took the place of
of the old covenant. Christ was the new promise that fufilled the law. Therefore, those that have their hope in Christ, find Him to be all sufficient, have mercy (not getting what they deserve - wrath and eternal hell) and grace (getting what they do not deserve -joy and eternal happiness) from God that no sin can take away. Because of Christ's new covenant, Christians are able to stand before God clothed in the righteousness of Christ and therefore God can look upon the Christian with forgiveness and love instead of punishment. Don't get me wrong, all man/woman will be judged by God and have to give an account of his/her actions. Christians do not get a free pass. However, if they really do love God and find their hope in Christ, they want to live godly lives because of that love. Christians sin (often) but because of God's mercy and grace, they are given the gift of repentance and desire forgiveness.
I am a Christian, but do not feel that I am an authority on every aspect of the Bible or Christianity. (Better sources would be the puritans - John Owen is great. Octavius Winslow - lots of his stuff on gracegems.org I like the old writers because I get to see how they "finished the race." Richard Owen Roberts is alive and a retired pastor/writer I have met, listened, and spoken to in Wheaten, IL.) I've heard bits and pieces about Dough Wilson, and his views on several subjects seem wacko! But I have not given him much consideration so I hate to make an uneducated statement.
For what its worth, your site came up first on my google search for verses about kindness. It was helpful. Thanks

Jason said...

Other then the hell bit, yes, you've got it right about the old law vs. new. It's a tough sell to the atheists around here though :)

Robert Kaercher said...

"So Hitchens was kept off balance trying to defend his own ethical system, rather than reveal the harm caused by the Bible and Christian belief."

It's a pity that Hitchens was eselected to represent the atheist view, considering the public record of some of his own questionable ethics, i.e., his support for the Iraq War.

George H. Smith's "Atheism: The Case Against God" is still, for my money, the definitive text in support of atheism. I'll bet you dollars to donuts that if Smith had been in this debate instead of the pompous, fatuous Hitchens---who is not nearly as skilled a debater as he fancies himself to be---Smith would never have allowed the terms of the debate to be defined against him in the course of the debate itself.

To actually be "kept off balance" by the half-retarded arguments of Douglas Wilson is a public disgrace.

Anonymous said...

"Wilson was able to control the debate by avoiding the topic (which was supposed to be about the goodness of Christianity) while forcing Hitchens to explain how an atheist determines what is good. So Hitchens was kept off balance trying to defend his own ethical system, rather than reveal the harm caused by the Bible and Christian belief. "

That seems to me to be at the heart of the presuppositional apologetics preached and practiced by Wilson. Its intent to undermine the other's worldview seems more a debating tactic than a position required by a particular worldview. Unfortunately, it can be a very effective tactic.

DallasDeckard said...

Hitchens wasn't just "kept off balance", he was utterly and completely destroyed by Wilson and he admitted it in the debate. He was also admonished by the moderator for coming "unprepared" and for not staying "on topic". Hitchens wasn't "unprepared" he simply got decimated by a better debater and frankly a more powerful argument.

The insipid claims that religion (Christianity in specificity) is responsible for all the ills in the world is getting VERY long in the tooth, which is why the best of atheism such as Dawkins and Hitchens get summarily embarrassed when they debate the cream of Christianity. Dawkins has now wisely limited his debates to very few and even then with lesser talents.

You would think this might signal to the atheistic crowd that the preponderance of evidence does not exist on their side, but of course we all know the power of cognitive dissonance and the levels by which men will go to quiet that mental agony.

For those that bemoan the techniques of Wilson (individuals who obviously know nothing about the goals and methodology of debate), he did a fantastic job. Debate is much like the banter of a court room, where facts delivered in a rote, list-like manner often don't figure much (if at all) into the proceedings. It is the ability of the participants to provide the best and most convincing argument to the "jury": the moderators and most importantly the crowd. In this regard (as Hitchens, the moderators and the crowd all agreed) the day was overwhelmingly Wllson's. I would also disagree that Wilson didn't stay on point, he stayed on point much more effectively than Hitchens did, and left Christopher embarrassed when it was over.

The debate was about the "goodness of Christianity" and as Socrates (or Plato, if you prefer) taught us, we must begin our dialogs with a definition of terms. That is what Wilson did, and Hitchens couldn't do that (which is exactly the point, for those of you who still don't get it). When someone you don't like or agree with deftly destroys the person you are cheering on, the grousing, spinning and whining you are doing now has a name... it's called "sour grapes". I suggest you either eat them or simply leave them on the floor to rot, because your attempts to make them sweet (which you are doing so poorly here in this blog) only serves to make you look ludicrous.

If there are those atheists, like the author of this blog, that wish deeper material than existed in this debate (which isn't where one obtains a scholarly apologetic), I suggest the following:

"Does God Exist? An Answer For Today" by Hans Kung (1980)

This is a lengthy tome by a Swiss priest that covers most arguments by atheists (or agnostics).

For those with a shorter attention span:

"I Don't Have Enough Faith to Be an Atheist" by Norman Geisler and Frank Turek. Don't let the length fool you, this is an excellent introductory work for anyone who is either and atheist or a Christian. Dawkins even has a rebuttal on his site – so poor it is almost laughable.

Geisler is an excellent author and basically touches on the most important points. His text on Christian apologetics is used in most conservative seminaries. It is much deeper and geared toward a more knowledgeable and able crowd. I don't give the book on apologetics to anyone other than academics, it's simply too weighty for them to handle. However, the other book, I Don't Have Enough Faith..., is a great book for most people and is a sufficient starting point.

If you don't enjoy watching a repeat of the Hitchens/Wilson debate, I suggest you avoid any debate with William Lane Craig, PH.D., D.TH. At one of his debates with an academic chosen by the national spokesman for American Atheists, Inc. 47 people that entered atheists that night became Christians. Hitchens and Dawkins intelligently avoid this man.

DallasDeckard said...

(since I'm limited to the number of "characters" I can offer in one comment, here is the remainder of my tome - as if either will ever feature here).

Lastly, let me say this. When I was a young man I picked up a copy of Gordon Stein's book, "An Anthology of Atheism and Rationalism". I believe it has been (regrettably) updated to the "Second Anthology of..." It has 2 1/2 stars at Amazon, which I think it quite generous. Here is the problem with the book, which mirrors the deficiencies of Dawkins and Hitchens, they all bemoan - like a broken record - three points, which are *easily*, fully and adroitly answered by any Christian with a scintilla of intelligence:

1. The problem of evil.
2. The (supposed) deadly track record of Christianity around the globe.

and to a lesser point:

3. Proof (of which there is so much, Christians call it "an embarrassment of riches".

Now, if you are an individual that finds oneself resting upon these three, I suggest you get the Geisler book and give yourself (at the very least) a more robust platform from which to contend. Lastly, stay away from Hitchens debates, he never fares well against intelligent Christians and attempting to explain away his deficiencies only serves to weaken your position.

Bertrand Russell said - nearing the end of his days - that atheism had "added nothing to his life". This was no capitulation (he still subscribed to atheism) but wise words that demand serious pondering. When the foundation of your intellectual and spiritual life offers "nothing", I think it's a good time to reassess that foundation.

DallasDeckard said...

To zooplah:

Why exactly would you offer "sympathy" to someone that reads the Bible looking to become a better person? I'd love to hear this explanation.