Hitchens tests the divine source for human morality

manicstreetpreacher asks the religious what they would do if they do if they could no longer believe.

Below is a clip from Christopher Hitchens’ opening speech during his debate against Christian apologist Dinesh D’Souza at the Thomas Center, University of Colorado at Boulder on 26 January 2009.  Dire microphone aside, this is a classic Hitchens moment where he outlines the plot of a bestselling book from the early 20th century and challenges the abjectness of the religious mindset if it really did come to pass.

The thread to Hitchens and D’Souza’s debate at RichardDawkins.net where as always the comments are worth a read is here, while the video to the full debate is below.

When It Was Dark: The Story of a Great Conspiracy by Guy Thorne (a pen name for prolific novelist and journalist Ranger-Gull), involves a plot by Jews, anarchists and secularists to destroy Christianity.  A story is put about that a tomb has been discovered in the Greater Jerusalem Area containing the body of a Nazarene who was executed by crucifixion wearing the remains of what appears to be a crown of thorns.  Accompanying his body is a tablet inscribed with a confession by a man calling himself Joseph of Arimathea admitting that he moved the body of this eccentric preacher who had been executed by the Romans at the behest of the Jewish mob and in doing so fooled the man’s followers into believing that he had risen from the dead.

The news reaches Western Europe where of course it provokes chaos.  People stop caring for each other, children go unclothed and unfed and men and women copulate in the middle of public highways.  Fortunately, the whole farrago is revealed as the sinister godless plot that it is and people can return to believing in the resurrection because there is no direct evidence to contradict the Gospels’ account.

Do we really have such a dim view of human nature as to think that this is what would happen if religious doctrine was disproved tomorrow?  I have a variation on this challenge which I deliver to anyone who asks me by what standard I as an atheist can judge my actions and how I know what is “good” and “evil”.

Imagine that you know there is no God.  The vital piece of evidence or lack of evidence comes to your attention.  The next time you open the Bible, you think that it just isn’t very good.  You ponder the concept of a soul that is separate from your body and will float off your physical form at the moment of death of to receive eternal judgment from the creator of the universe and either be reunited with loved ones in a theme park in the sky, or punished forevermore in Lucifer’s cookhouse, and you think that it’s all a bit too farfetched.  Or indeed, the bones of Christ are discovered tomorrow.

Now imagine if you walk out of your front door that very day and you see a child who is a perfect stranger to your eyes about to be hit by a bus.  Knowing that your actions will no eternal cosmic significance, would you still try to come to that child’s aid or would view that child’s plight as no different from an imamate object like a cardboard box?

So far, only one person has admitted that they would let the child be run over in a depressing example of the theological mind at work that reflects very badly indeed on their personality.

With the exception of that one reprobate, even if it were all disproved to everyone’s satisfaction, nothing whatsoever would change about the way we live our lives and how we ought to treat each other.  We would still have to care for our children, we would still have to deal with manmade climate change and natural disasters, with criminals and despots.  However, by adhering to religious faith, humanity is wasting valuable time and resources attempting to preserve belief in sad fairytales when it could be breaking new boundaries of moral and scientific discovery.

The religious often point out that Christianity and Islam have made important contributions to science.  That may well be true, but does it prove that religion is useful or even benign?  Perhaps if a great kingdom of reason which was free from the shackles religious dogma had emerged at the same time as monotheism, we could have had broadband Internet and keyhole surgery by the 16th century.

And perhaps if evolutionary biologists did not have to turn their backs on their positive scientific research to defend themselves from creationists and ID theorists, we could have discovered a cure for cancer long before now.

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4 Responses to “Hitchens tests the divine source for human morality”

  1. Sidney Carton Says:

    Who knows. What would you do if you woke up tomorrow and found out you had been magically transformed into a Red-headed Burlesque dancer named Bertha? Such a radical change in situation would certainly force one to re-evaluate one’s worldview, and whether or not it still applied in the face of a changed universe.

    However, I doubt that most people would immediately become amoral egotists. Behavior is dictated in large part by habits, so the morality of one’s behavior following a loss of faith, would probably depend in large part on one’s previous ingrained behaviors.

  2. Trey Says:

    Christians do not claim that atheists are immoral because they can be very moral. Atheists cannot make sense of universal moral standards. Same old rant against Christianity without much evidence.

    • manicstreetpreacher Says:

      If atheists can be moral without recourse to mythical fables with as much basis in historical fact as Jason’s quest for the Golden Fleece, how come believers do not think they can do the same?

  3. Christopher Hitchens Debate Reviews: The Great | manicstreetpreacher Says:

    […] 26 January 2009 (Video). Another convincing performance against D’Souza memorable for Hitch’s exposition of a trashy early 20th century novel called When It Was Dark by Guy Thorne about the chaos that […]

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