25 Oct Collision Highlights the Great Antithesis: A DVD Worth Having
The about-to-be released DVD, Collision, is an important work that I heartily commend. The immensely talented and passionate Darren Doane has directed a gripping piece highlighting the debate over God’s existence between Pastor Doug Wilson of Moscow, Idaho and the well-known secular writer, Christopher Hitchens. The video is gripping, the participants are most-compelling, the editing is fantastic, and most importantly, the great divide in the debate over God’s existence is spendidly exposed.
Nearly twenty-five years ago my late father, Dr. Greg Bahnsen, debated the highly acclaimed atheist scholar, Dr. Gordon Stein, at the University of California in Irvine. The debate caused shockwaves then, and continues to stir interest today, probably selling more MP3’s, CD’s, and tapes over the years than all of my father’s work put together. And for good reason: it is a simply stunning apologetic for the Christian faith from an immensely qualified philosophical intellect. And at the risk of sounding like a biased son, I am rather certain it is the best defense of the faith I have ever heard.
Now, over a decade after my father’s passing at the age of 47, “popular atheism” staged a comeback, or maybe a fresh rally altogether. Hitchens’ own book God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, became a New York Times bestseller, and other atheist scholars such as Sam Harris and Richard Dawkins enjoyed a few minutes of fame themselves, touring the world protesting the idea of a divine creator, writing a few books, and building a bit of a following around college campuses where their secular atheism became a sort of biological and philosophical defense for the rank hedonism already being played out seven nights a week in the campus dormitories. Of the three or four players in this resurgence of atheism, Hitchens is by far the most capable, particularly if one defines capable in terms of rhetorical skills. He is a profoundly talented writer, and he is just smug enough in his oral presentations that he comes off persuasively and impressively. Hitchens has been on a torrid tour schedule over the last few years, usually finding some unsuspecting stooge that he is all too happy to carve up in front of a perplexed audience wherein the worldview of Christianity is hardly presented at all, and whatever version of Christianity’s defense that is presented is capably handled by Hitchens either via his superior intellect, or at least his superior rhetorical wit. Some foes have been more capable than others (Dinesh D’Souza comes to mind), but Hitchens has not been forced to deal with the epistemological assumptions of his worldview. Wilson takes him to task in this series of discussions and debates that Collision captures, choosing to focus on Hitchens’ basis (or lack thereof) for a belief in morality. Bahnsen chose the Christian worldview’s explanation and basis in logic when he debated Stein, but the underlying point (whether it be science, logic, or morality) is this: the atheist is forced to borrow from the Christian worldview when they deny the Christian worldview. The atheist lacks the foundation necessary to make truth claims, whereas the tenets of the Christian worldview account for the laws of logic, and account for standards in ethics.
I can not put into words how pleased I am to see Doug Wilson having taken on this task with Christopher Hitchens. The DVD documentary gives Wilson ample opportunity to concede the whole thesis of Christianity, as so many self-proclaimed apologists often do. “You have your reason; I have my reason; and I think my enlightened reason outperforms your enlightened reason, therefore I am a Christian.” Wilson avoids this perverse attempt at apologetics at all costs, and provides a splendid defense of the faith within us without ever abandoning the operative word: faith. He upholds a cogent defense of the Christian worldview, and poses questions to Hitchens that are never addressed satisfactorily. The emperor has no clothes, and as Wilson says, John Lennon’s dream laid out in the song Imagine has horrfiying implications (both metaphysically and ethically). Hitchens never takes the full bait of Wilson’s reductio ad absurdum, attempting to the very end to justify a basis for morality founded in personal whims and fancies (though the scene at the Washington D.C. pub seems to capture Hitchens admitting to an audience member during Q&A that there is no basis for cosmic justice).
I find Hitchens to be a deeply troubled man, and I have been reading his political writings as long as I can remember. I can not think of a single person on the planet that I agree with as passionately as I do when he is right, and disagree with as passionately as I do when he is wrong. But the story of Christopher Hitchens is a tragedy, no matter how you look at it. He is a haunted soul, who wears his disdain for God on his sleeve. Telling the stories of his fundamentalist past on tape is powerful stuff, and suffice it to say, it serves as a sort of window to where his “anti-theism” comes from. I have rarely taken popular atheism very seriously. The analogy I use is one of anti-Santa Clausism (though the tooth fairy works as well). I do not believe there is a real life Santa Claus (I hope my kids are not reading this), but I spend very little time trying to talk people out of it who do believe in such. The reality is that if one really believed that theism was merely a fantasy life concocted up by primitive pre-modern people who lacked the enlightenment tools of science and reason to know better, it hardly seems like a very rewarding use of one’s time to focus on it day and night. Atheists have never had a belief problem, because if they did, they would never talk about it. They have a faith problem. They have an obedience problem. And Hitchens makes this unbelievably clear throughout Collision. In fact, his disdain for the doctrine of redemption expressed in the King’s College debate is the furthest thing from an epistemological objection; it is purely theological, and it is not at all uncommon. Hitchens does not want to address the demons that haunt him, and he is rather remarkably gifted at masking those things through some stunningly effective conventions. He is an engaging individual, and is quite superficially respectful to those whom he encounters that he disagrees with (particularly if he deems them to be intellectually capable people).
But what Hitchens will not stand for, and what most vigilant atheists will not stand for, is someone- anyone -telling them that they need a redeemer. The message of the cross is a scandalous message, and when Christians attempt to kick the ladder down once they have gotten to the top of the building, it is disheartening to see. Doug Wilson engages this dialogue with Christopher Hitchens with the reliance on faith, juxtaposed with reason and conviction, sorely lacking in Christian apologetics today. I do not believe anyone watching the DVD will have their mind changed in the great subject of God’s existence, and I do not believe anyone has had their mind changed in the last 25 years from listening to the Bahnsen/Stein debate either. But what I do believe is this: to proclaim a defense of theism without a proclamation of the gospel is a tragedy, and when I watch Christopher Hitchens, I have seen enough tragedies for one night, thank you very much. Wilson should be commended for not doubling up on the tragedy, and in fact, faithfully working to extinguish it.
Christopher Hitchens is a talented and special individual. Christendom could use him. But Doug Wilson has accomplished a Bahnsenian feat in not compromising the essence of our faith in his attempts to persuade Hitchens of its value. I could not possibly mean that as a bigger compliment than I do.
Find Collisionand see it. Give it out to other people. Discuss it with your friends. And when you are done, remember that Christianity is a religion of trust and obedience. Atheism is a religion of fear and escape. May Christopher Hitchens find the God who provides a peace that surpasses all understanding. And may Doug Wilson continue on with the task of defending the Christian worldview. As Van Til taught us, “In thy light, shall we see light” (and even he borrowed it straight from King David).