The Christopher Hitchens Challenge

My wife had pointed out an article on Vanity Fair titled, “God Bless Me, It’s a Best Seller!” The article is written by Christopher Hitchens, an atheist and author of the best selling book “God is Not Great”. The article is a summary of his travels around the country and his encounters with religious people. He had placed the following challenge out for the faithful to respond.

“My challenge: name an ethical statement or action, made or performed by a person of faith, that could not have been made or performed by a nonbeliever. I have since asked this question at every stop and haven’t had a reply yet.” Christopher Hitchens

This is actually a very easy one. The Ten Commandments holds several that the non believing person cannot fulfill.

““You shall have no other gods before me.” (Exodus 20:3, ESV)

The non-believing atheist has no God at all! And even if the nonreligious person believes that a God exists, it is likely they have not put God first and foremost in their lives. If they did, they would not be ranked among the nonreligious.

““You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me,” (Exodus 20:4-5, ESV)

God is not only to be first and foremost, but there is not to be any replacement of him in our lives. All too often, you see the nonbeliever, putting created things in the place God. In more substantial ways, the nonbeliever puts material objects in the place of God, like cars, wealth, fortune. In less substantial ways, the nonbeliever puts intellect, ethics, knowledge and self-pride in the place of God.

““You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain, for the Lord will not hold him guiltless who takes his name in vain.” (Exodus 20:7, ESV)

On every turn, the nonbeliever fails on this one. Their entire disposition of their life is without the respect due to the name of God. This commandment doesn’t mean to refrain from certain profanities. It means that you should not do anything that dishonors God, and do everything that honors God. The nonbeliever does not honor God in their mind and although their actions might mimic and appear equal to the religious person, they are only facades. The heart disposition of the nonbeliever is not towards honoring God. Thus there actions might receive high honor among men, but with respect to honor for God, their actions are like lies, or words spoken insincerely and without truth.

““Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.” (Exodus 20:8, ESV)

Obviously, the nonbeliever cannot keep a day holy for the reason I just stated. The disposition of their heart as unbelievers has already made every day unholy. It is impossible for them to make a single day holy.

He puts the question out almost like a litmus test to give religion it’s worth. The conclusion he tries to draw is that religion is no more morally better than secularism if it cannot distinguish itself by a superior ethical statement or action that is not possible by a non-religious person. Perhaps he might judge the above ethical statements as low in value, but that’s not the view that God puts on these ethical statements. They are first and foremost on God’s list. Christopher Hitchens would no doubt put at the top of his list of ethical statements things that provide immediate benefit to humans. Of course, that’s not surprising since the nonreligious person has taken God out of his rightful place as the most important thing in the universe and in this case placed humans there. This is the mistake that causes the whole system of ethics to crumble into a pile of rubble. The nonbeliever should consider this challenge question. Suppose there is an an omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent, eternal God who created everything in the universe. Why would he need you to make any good ethical statement or action? After all, God is capable of doing every good thing himself. The answer is only found and understood when God is placed in His rightful place as first and foremost in our mind. And sure, you can find something compelling in one of the world religions other than Christianity, but the superior and complete answer to this question is only found in Christianity. And coincidentally and providentially, Christianity is the only religion where God really did do it all for us in the saving work of Jesus Christ. I challenge the nonreligious person to learn how to put God in his rightful place and learn the reason that ethics and humans are not supposed to be in God’s place. The Bible is the best place to start, especially the Gospels, but there are also a number of excellent teachers in Christendom to learn from. Click here to see my list of favorite teachers.

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