This is one of several instalments in conversation with some of the New Atheists. The four objections below come from Christopher Hitchens, in a live debate with Dinesh D'Souza.
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Question: To teach that one can suspend the laws of nature through prayers and sacrifices is a lie.
Answer: What one hopes for in prayer and in sacrifice is that one's own will becomes ready to accept the will of God, inscrutable as it is, and ready to turn evil to good by creativity and invention and fidelity. God does nothing except for our instruction. We ask to be teachable.
Besides, the laws of nature work by probabilities and odd contingencies. Many a battle has been lost by the stronger army in the field, when its commanding general uncharacteristically erred in judgment or became that day severely indisposed. It has not been always the stronger who won, or the weaker who lost. In the field where human liberty is at play, nature's logic is as full of holes as a Swiss cheese, and riddled with surprises. Most great generals have known this. Many, perhaps most, have prayed for God's blessing on their undertakings.
Question: There is no basis for hell in the Old Testament. The whole wicked idea is preached by vicious old men and women, who ruin little children's peace of mind.
Answer: It has been a long, long time since many of us have heard a sermon on hell. And yet, when we try to imagine the state of soul of those who have closed themselves off from their Creator and Friend, we think that their eternal isolation from the Source of all love and beauty must be terrible to them there, where they can do nothing about it. Such pain would be enough, well-nigh unendurable, and yet in perfect fulfillment of their own deliberate choice.
Many of us think this choice is made, in the end, by very few people, possibly even none at all. In their own eyes, nonbelievers are protecting some other moral good, rather than with finality rejecting God. Such things are for a loving God to pass judgment on. He might admire the spunk of some of them, and well understand the twisted idea they have of Him. But, of course, if they insist on eternal separation, they do no more than use the freedom He gave them when He gave them life.
Question: If you think that morality comes from the supernatural, answer me this. Name me a moral action by a believer that could not be committed by an unbeliever.
Answer: What on earth atheists might mean by "the supernatural" is difficult to figure out. Jews and Christians have always held that most morality comes from the "laws of nature," the natural laws of human flourishing. All these are within the reach of the unbeliever. Even knowledge of the existence of God, and some of His characteristics, is within the reach of natural reason. That knowledge appears to be the default position of the human race. Many "pagans" have come to it since the beginning of recorded history.
Beyond what we learn from natural reason, however, lies the knowledge of God given to us by God through Moses and the prophets and Jesus Christ. This the unbeliever rejects — or, at least, what little he knows of it.
Question: Homo Sapiens have been on earth for 100,000 years, and Heaven watched them suffer 98,000 years of disease, famine, natural disasters, and death before deciding to intervene. And the best way of doing that was to have a filthy human sacrifice in a remote part of Palestine.
Answer: The biblical God regularly seems to show a preference for what to human eyes is inconsiderable and weak. "Can anything good come out of Nazareth?" "Blessed are the meek….Blessed are the poor in spirit." Roman generals hated to be sent to Palestine, so remote and insignificant was it. Yet it was not to glorious Rome but to humble Palestine that God twice communicated His testament.
God did not "watch for 98,000 years," for God is outside of time. What to us seems like past and future and present, He sees in one simultaneous vision. All humans from the ancient beginnings of the race who were men and women of good will, a deliberate and persevering resolve, were in His eyes blessed by the great event that divides human time — the crucifixion and resurrection of His Son — just as were those who came after that event. All one with God.
And, yes, it was a "filthy" sacrifice. To this day it seems a blasphemy to learned Muslims to hold that Allah could demean Himself, and limit Himself, by becoming embodied as a man in history and then, far worse, being put to ignominious death in a disgusting way, and as a common criminal.
Michael Novak. "Conversations with the New Atheists III." The Catholic Thing (July 2, 2008).
Reprinted with permission from The Catholic Thing. All rights reserved. For reprint rights, write to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Michael Novak, retired George Frederick Jewett Scholar in Religion, Philosophy, and Public Policy from the American Enterprise Institute who now resides in Ave Maria, Florida as a trustee and visiting professor at Ave Maria University. His selection as recipient of the 1994 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion capped a career of leadership in theological and philosophical discourse. He has written or edited forty-five books including: Writing From Left to Right, Living the Call: An Introduction to the Lay Vocation, No One Sees God: The Dark Night of Atheists and Believers, Washington's God, as well as The Universal Hunger for Liberty: Why the Clash of Civilizations Is Not Inevitable, The Catholic Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism, Tell Me Why: A Father Answers His Daughter's Questions About God (with his daughter Jana Novak), and On Two Wings: Humble Faith and Common Sense at the American Founding.Copyright © 2008 The Catholic Thing
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