Book notes on What’s So Great About Christianity


(system) #1

Impetuous me, I wrote a comment on the book review: “New book out: Christianity and Homosexuality: Some Seventh-day Adventist Perspectives.” I got clobbered, pilloried, my humanity, and my Christian values were questioned. As a sensitive old man, sleep escaped me. I turned to late night television and clicked away until I reached C-Span 2.

What a late night find. I was tuned into a debate between Dinesh D’Souza and Christopher Hitchens held at King’s College New York. As a reader of Atlantic Monthly I would frequently encounter Hitchens: a fountain of words, a challenger of convention, a growling cynical atheist.

His opponent was Dinesh D’Souza, a native of India, the author of What’s So Great About Christianity, What’s So Great about America, and How an Ordinary Man Became an Extraordinary Leader: (a biography of Ronald Reagen). D’Souza is a former White House domestic policy analyst and is currently Rishwain Research Scholar at the Hoover Institution at Stanford University. (His resume left me a little cold, but I soon warmed to his carefully worded arguments.)

D’Souza is a wisp of a man and Hitchens is a brooding hulk with a vocabulary and Churchillian style of speech. No one in their right mind would consent to an open debate with this “enlightened erudite Neanderthal”. Ah, I said to myself, here comes healing for a wounded soul.

Both men carried baggage. D’Souza as a darling of the Bush White House and the “Moral Majority” and Hitchens as the M. L. Mencken of the 21st century.

For his part, Hitchens was his at his growling best, giving a litany of the cruelty and savagery of “Christian Crusades” et al. Cruelty, hypocrisy, and naiveté were his charges against Christianity and creationism.

D’Souza's counter-point to each charge was calm, poised, well-referenced, and telling. The audience loved it. I was impressed.

At the end, each debater received questions from the audience, for the most part, the questions were for 15 seconds of fame for the questioner. The final question was directed to D’Souza. His answer included a swipe at Hitchens’ book, The Missionary Position -- a cynical analysis of Sister Teresa’s work among the poor in India. Hitchens gave a snort, which was the only rebuttal offered him, as time had run out.

Following a closing statement, D’Souza walked across the stage to shake hands with Hitchens. Hitchens stood rooted to his podium. He did turn at the last moment to taken the hand of D’Souza. The day went to D’Souza.

At first light, I ordered What’s So Great About Christianity through Amazon.

The back cover of the jacket carries this endorsement from Francis Collins, director of the Human Genome Institute: “ Responding to the current epidemic of atheist manifestos, Dinesh D’Souza applies just the right balm to the troubled soul. Assembling arguments from history, philosophy, theology, and science—yes science!—he builds a modern and compelling case for faith in a loving God. If you’re seeking the truth about God, the universe, and the meaning of life, this is a great place to look.”

Stanley Fish adds this note: “Infinitely more sophisticated than the rants produced by Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens, What’s So Great About Christianity leaves those atheist books in the dust.”

D’Souza make no bones about it. He takes direct aim at Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens. He lays down seven propositional truths:

1. Christianity is the main foundation of Western civilization, the root of our most cherished values. 2. The latest discoveries of modern science support the Christian claim that there is a divine being who created the universe. 3. Darwin’s theory of evolution, far from undermining the evidence for supernatural design, actually strengthens it. 4. There is nothing in science that makes miracles impossible. 5. It is reasonable to have faith. 6. Atheism, not religion, is responsible for the mass murders of history. 7. Atheism is motivated not by reason but by a kind of cowardly moral escapism.

In Chapter 23 D’Souza's closing paragraph concludes:

“My conclusion is that contrary to popular belief, atheism is not primarily an intellectual revolt, it is a moral revolt. Atheists don’t find God invisible so much as objectionable. They aren’t adjusting their desires to the truth, but rather the truth to their desires.... Like a supervisory parent, God gets in our way. This is the perennial appeal of atheism: it gets rid of the stern fellow with the long beard and liberates us for the pleasures of sin and depravity. The atheist seeks to get rid of moral judgment by getting rid of the judge.

I strongly suggest one read What’s So Great About Christianity to see if D’Souza makes his case. I was reassured.

Tom Zwemer


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/221