March 24, 2009
Reflections on the Christian Book Expo
Despite disappointing attendance, the event drew good coverage.
On Saturday I had the opportunity to moderate a panel discussion at the inaugural Christian Book Expo in Dallas involving outspoken atheist pundit Christopher Hitchens and four Christian apologists: William Lane Craig, Douglas Wilson, Lee Strobel, and Jim Denison. The topic: "Does the God of Christianity Exist, and What Difference Does It Make?" drew good coverage in the local media.
Here are some responses from a couple of participants at the panel discussions:
? Mary DeMuth;
I'm guessing that close to half of all the consumers at the Expo, which was poorly attended, were at our session. It was a spirited, substantive discussion. Reporting on the panel, sponsored the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association and Christianity Today, the Dallas Morning News had this to say:
Hitchens challenged Christianity on a number of fronts, including questioning how a loving God could allow so much suffering in the world and be "capricious" enough to delay sending Jesus as savior for thousands of years.
The Rev. Jim Denison, theologian-in-residence for the Baptist General Convention of Texas, said God grieves for the suffering of humans, but gives them free will.
"So you know the mind of God?" Hitchens asked Denison.
"I know what God has revealed of his mind," Denison answered.
Christopher's position on religion in general and Christianity in particular can be summed up in the title of his book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. In the discussion he called God's rule posited by Christians "tyrannical," those who believe it to be wicked idiots, and said there was no amount of evidence that would cause him to jettison his supposedly reason-based evolutionary "anti-theism." Other than that, he was very cordial! (Actually, despite his bias against Christianity, Christopher Hitchens is personable, funny, and highly intelligent, as well as a great writer.)
As the moderator, I wanted to make sure that the discussion - with heady examinations of the anthropic principle, epistemology, and other issues - didn't get too ivory-towerish. I wanted to keep it practical and personal. And I hoped to give Christopher Hitchens something new to think about. So I asked the first question, which went something like this condensed summary:
"Christopher, in my rush to catch my ride to the airport so that I could get to this conference, I fell down at my office. I quickly got up, hoping that no one saw me. Because of my disability, such incidents are part of my life, something I have learned to deal with. I have not fallen since, but there is no guarantee that I will not fall again, even right off this platform.
"Now I love these kinds of discussions about the existence of God, and I've read your book with Doug Wilson, Is Christianity Good for the World?
"Besides all the arguments for God's existence, one reason I like Christianity is because it provides dignity and hope for people like me: dignity, because it teaches that we are all created in God's image and because Jesus took all our suffering on himself; and hope, because he was resurrected and promises that one day we will be resurrected, too, with new bodies in a new heaven and a new earth.
"But your philosophy of anti-theism seems designed only for the young, intelligent, and well-connected. So my question to you is: What basis does your philosophy provide for promoting human dignity and hope for people like me, and frankly, people who are much worse off?"
Hitchens' answer, such as it was, was interesting. After thanking me for the question, he attacked my premise, railing against Christianity as a religion of the powerful. While that has certainly been true at times in history, the fact remains that Jesus was loved by the poor, the weak, the blind, the outcast, the disabled, and the despised - and still is. After Christopher subsided, I pointed out that he had not answered my question about how his philosophy provides for dignity and hope to the forgotten of the world.
I can't recall his exact response, but I have the distinct impression he began mumbling, saying something about how he couldn't lie about people who were "unlucky" in life. (Eventually a video of all the panel discussions will be released, so you can double-check my admittedly imperfect recall of the discussion.)
So there you have it. Hitchens' anti-God philosophy offers no hope or dignity to the disabled and others who are "unlucky" in life. What difference does Christianity make? All the difference in the world. I suspect that this is why atheist pundits will continue to have limited influence in matters of religion, no matter how many debates they attend and how many best-sellers they write.