Friday, December 16, 2011

Christopher Hitchens

I will greatly miss him. He was a brilliant, bon vivant, public intellectual and a "generalist"; but he was no historian.

I'd never want to debate him in a face-2-face circumstance. But he made some serious historical errors in the Christian nation debate.

I agree that the Constitution and Declaration of Independence prove America was not founded to be a "Christian Nation" and that according to orthodox standards Franklin, Jefferson and Washington (all of whom Hitchens invokes below) were not "Christians."

However, they also weren't "deists" (as Hitchens defines and understands the term). They were "theists" (something Hitchens denies in the clip). And Franklin was certainly not an "atheist" (something Hitchens claims below).


Brad Hart said...

Yes indeed. The world lost an incredible writer and debater today. Even if his history was lacking, and even though I disagree with his overall premise, I cannot deny his brilliance.

Phil Johnson said...

Hitchens had a peculiar personality trait that turned a lot of people off. Who knows how he came to be that way.
But, speaking of the Founders as being Deists or Theists, what is the difference? If I understand the idea of Theism, any religion that had a god in its toolbox is Theist; whereas a Deist seems to have a watchmaker god out there someplace.
I think many of the Founders could be classified as holding a Natural Religion. Does that make them Theists rather than Deists? I haven't heard of Theist as a specific religious belief systerm. The God of Nature sure seems to fit into what Immanuel Kant had in mind with his definitions of Natural Religion.

bpabbott said...

My impression is that Deists are all Theists in the absence of scripture (I'm speaking of the Deism of 200 to 300 yrs ago, and not the absent watchmaker most of us associate with Deism today).

By implication does that make those who adhere to natural religion Deists?

David Hume attacked this point, but its not clear what effect he had on the opinions of 18th century society. Had the genuine religions opinons of the primary founders been understood would society of that day described them as Diests?

I don't know enough about Hitchens study of that period to have any opinion as to the merits of his assertion. But, I do think there is merit to assert many founders were Deists. Even many who I would qualify as, and who qualified themselves as, Christian.

Phil Johnson said...

I think it is true that some of the more Natural Religion type Founders believed that appeals to the God of Nature could bear results; whereas, the idea of the watchmaker god was its unavailability or disinterest in any human condition. But, it sure seems to me that the main religion of the intellectuals of the Founding Era leaned heavily toward a Deist way.