The Challenge of the New Atheism

Hitchens goes to absurd lengths to try to show that people of great faith who are widely admired for their achievements were not really people of faith. Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), for example, who was hanged in the last few weeks of the war for heroically resisting Adolph Hitler is described by Hitchens as having exhibited “a nebulous humanism.” Let’s look at that assertion a little more closely. Here is what the camp doctor at Flossenberg prison, who witnessed the execution of Bonhoeffer by hanging, said of after watching the courageous German Lutheran hours before his death, “I saw Pastor Bonhoeffer, before taking off his prison garb, kneeling on the floor praying fervently to his God. . . . In the almost fifty years I worked as a doctor, I have hardly ever seen a man die so entirely submissive to the will of God.” Hitchens’ blind refusal to acknowledge that people of religious faith might, just occasionally, be motivated by their faith to perform charitable, even sacrificial acts gets him into real trouble with an American here, Martin Luther King, Jr. Hitchens seems to think that if Christians perform meritorious acts to implement social reform, it is because the advocates of what he calls “Christian reformism” had the ability to contrast the Old Testament from the New. Because King failed to preach hell and damnation, he is relegated by Hitchens to the ranks of the infidels. Hitchens asserts of King, “In no real as opposed to nominal sense, then, was he a Christian.” This would certainly be news to every single African-American who knew King or worked with him, or for that matter to the Nobel Committee that awarded him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1964 and made the observation, “Martin Luther King’s belief is rooted first and foremost in the teachings of Christ.” None other than Al Sharpton took Hitchens briskly to task in a May 2007 debate about Hitchens’ book at the New York Public Library. “In terms of the civil rights movement,” Sharpton said in rebuke of Hitchens, “it was absolutely fueled by a belief in God and a belief in right and wrong. Had there not been this belief that there was a right and a wrong, the civil rights movement…would not have existed…There is no question that he [King[ himself saw that the basis of the movement was God-based.”

From David Aikman’s critique of the new atheism.

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