Hitchens’ Challenge: Name one moral act that a religious person can do that an atheist cannot
by Jason Wisdom
The great atheist writer and speaker Christopher Hitchens issued a famous challenge: “I challenge you to find one good or noble thing which cannot be accomplished without religion.” He insisted that he had never encountered anyone who was able to do so. Now, before I move forward, I want to say really quickly that I liked Christopher Hitchens a lot. He was equal parts charming and shrewd. I am sure the English accent didn’t hurt. Though I disagree with him on many things, I still enjoy listening to his debates and reading his articles/books. Unfortunately,
his famous challenge, while rhetorically powerful (and still championed by many atheists today), turns out to be rigged and ultimately of little consequence in the debate about God and religion. It completely misses the mark.
First of all, Hitchens’ challenge is rigged. You must play by his rules. That means you can only answer with good or noble things that are possible in an atheistic framework. That essentially guarantees the outcome of the challenge in the atheist’s favor. Respond with something that a religious person can do which appeals to the existence of God or the supernatural, and you will be laughed out of the room. For instance, an atheist cannot “love the Lord your God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength.” Jesus said that this was the most important commandment. So, on the Judeo/Christian view, an atheist is incapable of doing the greatest good and most noble thing. Alas, that sort of answer is not allowed. You have to come up with something that is possible for an atheist. See the catch?
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