Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Book Review: What's So Great About Christianity



Genre: Religion & Spirituality
Author: Dinesh D'Souza
Rating:           5 out of 5 Star


Last year I waded through the books of the 'Big Three Big Guns' of what have been termed the new atheists. Those who read my reviews of Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris will note that I was dismissive of Hitchens' God Is Not Great. Hitchens is merely a shrill for whatever comes along that will gain him a moments notoriety. There is nothing Hitchens likes quite so much as to tout what he thinks of as his own superior intellect but that alleged intellect was notably missing in this book where his lack of understanding of Christianity was laughable. The tone of Hitchens books was as fundamental and as harsh as those he was attempting to tar with his own brush of hatred. 
 

Overall, I gave Sam Harris a good review but his polemic was also strident and harsh and his call for the nuclear annihilation of Muslims was as mind boggling as his attempt to portray Christianity and Buddhism as being in the same category as Jihadists.

Dawkins' The God Delusion was the best of the three. Dawkin's humour and sarcasm are funny and cutting. His defence of evolution is unassailable. His understanding of the Christianity he wishes to condemn to the ash heap of history is, however, under graduate and his dismissal of the arguments by Thomas Aquinas for the existence of God were sophomoric and showed a clear misunderstanding of what Aquinas was arguing. Nor did I believe
Dawkins made his primary case for the proof of the non-existence of God. His argument ran that since God was irreducibly complex, God could not exist. To this I must say, if God does exist we are all in a world of shit if he is not irreducibly complex.

In spite of what each of these books lack in sophistication and argument and no matter how shrill or fundamental their arguments have become (Dawkins holds that parents who teach their children religion are child abusers), they have held their position in books sales and in their prominence. That may have been more the result of any coherent opposition, however, than the worth of their case.

Recently we have seen a spate of books attacking or critiquing Harris, Dawkins, and Hitchens as well as Dennett. One of these was Chris Hedges' intellectual tour de force I Don't Believe in Atheists.

Now we have Dinesh D'Souza's brilliantly conceived and executed What's So Great About Christianity. D'Souza is eminently qualified to take on all of the 'big three' at once.

D'Souza's is a historical, scientific, anthropological and philosophical defence of Christianity that does not rely on Bible for it's qualification. D'Souza meets Dawkins head on and on Dawkins own turf and soundly thrashes him before ejecting him bruised and bleeding from the field and since the publication of this book has met Sam Harris and Dan Dennett head on in debate and bested them (Hitchings and Dawkins, having seem the lumps taken by Harris and Dennett, perhaps wisely refuse to debate him).

In this book D'Souza sets out to prove seven propositions:

1) Christianity is the root of our 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 is 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.


Does D'Souza make his case? In my opinion he has more than adequately made the case for six of his seven propositions. Some are stronger than others but in all cases except one he has met the burden of proof, the preponderance of evidence. I do not believe he made the case for proposition number 2, "The latest discoveries of modern science support the Christian claim that there is a divine being who created the universe." That is a toss up, I believe and even if his case were stronger he would not have convinced me. Nor has argument three that Darwin's theory strengthens the case for supernatural design lead me to the conclusion for the existence of God or, to be be exact, to the 'truth' of Christianity. The problem still rests with Adam. One may spiritualize or allegoricalize a lot of scripture but without a literal Adam all of Christian theology collapses and D'Souza does not address this.

In meeting the arguments of Harris, Hitchings, Dennett and Dawkins individually and collectively he leaves them bloodied and lying in a heap on the floor. He has reduced them to pleading special causes in the same way as the person of faith does and in the end perhaps that is exactly what atheism comes down to. It is every bit as much a matter of faith as Christianity or any other religion is and if it is a matter of faith than Dawkins dogmatism is even more hypocritical.

None the less, this is an excellent book. It is an intellectual tour de force running through the disciplines of science and theology and philosophy. Whether one is a believer, an atheist or an agnostic, whether one is a fundamental Christian, a Muslim, a Hindu or a fundamental atheist this book deserves a read.

As for myself? Did it change my mind? Did it cause me to question my own atheism?

I thought a lot about what D'Souza has to say but in the end my belief is unchanged. In spite of D'Souza's excellent arguments I still think that evolution was the death knell of religion, the funeral for the God hypothesis.

Even if I could accept that evolution was God's means of creation that still does not eliminate the very real 'Adam' problem.

Regardless of whether or not anyone finds acceptance or rejection of God in general or Christianity in particular through reading this book this is an extremely important, even vital book. D'Souza's contention that Western civilization was built on Christianity is well founded. We live in a post modern world and we are watching with horror the decline of the Western world. Terrified many wonder where we are headed and how this happened. The reason is unmistakable. Our civilization is foundering due to the collapse of our reliance on Christianity. We have kicked it to the curb and not replaced it with anything we can hang on to. While God may not exist and Christianity is a fable it would seem that in order to rise above our propensities to slide back into the primordial ooze, we, as a species, need belief in a God we have clearly rejected as impossible. We live in dangerous times.

Michael Shermer, certainly no friend of foolishness and stupidity, or Christianity for that matter, says of this book, ""As an unbeliever I passionately disagree with Dinesh D'Souza on some of his positions. But he is a first-rate scholar whom I feel absolutely compelled to read. His thorough research and elegant prose have elevated him into the top ranks of those who champion liberty and individual responsibility. Now he adds Christianity to his formula for the good society, and although non-Christians and non-theists may disagree with some of his arguments, we ignore him at our peril. D'Souza's book takes the debate to a new level. Read it."

This is a brilliant book. Don't miss it.

Albert Mohler ( http://www.albertmohler.com/blog_read.php?id=1037 ) says: "Today's Christians know that they do not, as their ancestors did, live in a society where God's presence was unavoidable. No longer does Christianity form the moral basis of society. Many of us now reside in secular communities, where arguments drawn from the Bible or Christian revelation carry no weight, and where we hear a different language from that spoken in church." That is the opening salvo from author Dinesh D'Souza in his new book, What's So Great About Christianity.

D'Souza's book is written, at least in part, as a response to the frontal attacks on Christianity launched by figures such as Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens, and Sam Harris. He writes with a clear and uncluttered style and his arguments should attract considerable attention.

D'Souza chides believers for taking "the easy way out," sheltering themselves in Christian intellectual enclaves rather than engaging the issues. They live separate secular and sacred lives without recognizing that this is incompatible with the Gospel.

Here is how he sees the challenge:

This is not a time for Christians to turn the other cheek. Rather, it is a time to drive the moneychangers out of the temple. The atheists no longer want to be tolerated. They want to monopolize the public square and to expel Christians from it. They want political questions like abortion to be divorced from religious and moral claims. They want to control school curricula so they can promote a secular ideology and undermine Christianity. They want to discredit the factual claims of religion, and they want to convince the rest of society that Christianity is not only mistaken but also evil. They blame religion for the crimes of history and for the ongoing conflicts in the world today. In short, they want to make religion – and especially the Christian religion – disappear from the face of the earth.

In fact, the new atheists are frustrated that belief in God has not passed away. They had great confidence that the theory of secularization would promise a new secular age, with belief in God relegated to humanity's past.

Nevertheless, this isn't happening. Europe may be overwhelmingly secular, but Americans are still a deeply religious people -- even if this does not represent an embrace of authentic Christianity.

Meanwhile, traditional religion is growing all over the world. The world is not becoming more secular, but more religious in a myriad of forms.

D'Souza sees this in his own personal story:

I have found this to be true in my own life. I am a native of India, and my ancestors were converted to Christianity by Portuguese missionaries. As this as the era of the Portuguese Inquisition, some force and bludgeoning may
also have been involved. When I came to America as a student in 1978, my Christianity was largely a matter of birth and habit. But even as I plunged myself into modern life in the United States, my faith slowly deepened. G.K Chesterton calls this the "revolt into orthodoxy." Like Chesterton, I find myself rebelling against extreme secularism and finding in Christianity some remarkable answers to both intellectual and practical concerns. So I am grateful to those stern inquisitors for bringing me into the orbit of Christianity, even though I am sure my ancestors would not have shared my enthusiasm. Mine is a Christianity that is countercultural in the sense that it opposes powerful trends in modern Western culture. Yet it is thoroughly modern in that it addresses questions and needs raised by life in that culture. I don't know how I could live well without it.

The continent of Europe is now the great exception -- the secular continent. D'Souza explains:

Then there is Europe. The most secular continent on the globe is decadent in the quite literal sense that its population is rapidly shrinking. Birth rates are abysmally low in France, Italy, Spain, the Czech Republic, and Sweden.

The nations of Western Europe today show some of the lowest birth rates ever recorded, and Eastern European birth rates are comparably low. Historians have noted that Europe is suffering the most sustained reduction in its

population since the Black Death in the fourteenth century, when one in three Europeans succumbed to the plague. Lacking the strong religious identity that once characterized Christendom, atheist Europe seems to be a

civilization on its way out. Nietzsche predicted that European decadence would produce a miserable "last man" devoid of any purpose beyond making life comfortable and making provision for regular fornication. Well,

Nietzsche's "last man" is finally here, and his name is Sven.

D'Souza's strongest analysis comes when he considers the true character of the new atheism. It is, he suggests, a "pelvic revolt against God." In other words, it is a revolt against Christian morality -- especially sexual

morality. This is not a new observation or argument, but D'Souza makes it exceptionally well:

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 fit their desires. This is something we can all identify with. It is a temptation even for believers. We want to be saved as long as we are not saved from our sins. We are quite willing to be saved from a

whole host of social evils, from poverty to disease to war. But we want to leave untouched the personal evils, such as selfishness and lechery and pride. We need spiritual healing, but we do not want it. 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.

D'Souza's argument here is very insightful. These atheists are not so much struggling with intellectual doubts but feel limited by moral constraints. They are repulsed by the very idea of divine judgment, so they get rid of the

Judge.

Christians will find Dinesh D'Souza's latest book to be both interesting and helpful. His apologetic model is G. K. Chesterton, and he writes with a similar style and verve. I found his argument that Christians should embrace evolution while rejecting Darwinism to be unconvincing and unhelpful. The dominant model of evolutionary theory is just as atheistic and incompatible with Christianity as classical Darwinism.

Nevertheless, the book is filled with interesting and helpful arguments offered by a Christian intellectual who is heavily engaged in the great battle of ideas. What's So Great About Christianity is a helpful addition to our public debate.


Former White House Press Secretary Tony Snow also has a very good review of this book at:

http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2008/march/25.79.html

The Huffington Post also has a review here:

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dinesh-dsouza/whats-so-great-about-chr_b_69614.html

Another helpful review is here:

http://www.nappaland.com/03-Features/Feature_Articles/DineshDSouzaInterview.htm

Get this book!
(Originally posted to Multiply January 13, 2009)

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