Christopher Hitchens is arguably the most recognizable name among the New Atheists (Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and Sam Harris being among the others). One of his classic arguments against theism is to suggest that the Old Testament advocates (commands) genital mutilation of children (circumcision), along with citing out-of-context examples of God’s people committing atrocities in war in an effort to gain God’s favor.
He pulled this on me on my radio program. I responded by suggesting that God’s command to wipe out the Amalekites was not for mere sport, as his framing of the argument suggests. After asking him if he viewed child sacrifice as a reprehensible act (when he agreed he would), I took him to the context of his alleged Old Testament war crimes.
I pointed out that God’s command to “wipe out” the Amalekites was preceded by a period when God had exercised great patience with them, warning them to repent or else they would receive the full impact of God’s wrath. They didn’t repent. God sent in the Israelites to wipe out the evildoers. The Amalekites were on the receiving end of God’s just retribution for the evil of child sacrifice.
To frame the debate in a way I thought would be relative to Mr. Hitchens, I likened what God commanded the Israelites to do to the Amalekites with what the United States military had done to Saddam Hussein in Iraq. Just as Saddam was a sadistic dictator, gassing his own people, in the same way the Amalekites were guilty of atrocities against their own children. The United States had been patient with Sadaam, working with the UN Security Council in an attempt to get Saddam to repent. When Saddam persisted in his evil, the United States was justified in using military force to remove Saddam, just as the nation of Israel was justified in using military force to destroy their enemies.
His initial response was to suggest that the historical record relative to the Amalekites and child sacrifice could not be trusted because it was in the Bible. Interesting that Hitchens trusts the Bible relative to what it says about what Israel did to the Amalekites, but the same Bible can’t be trusted on what it says relative to what it says the Amalekites had done to their own children. (Here is an excellent exposition of the question of whether or not the actions of Israel against the Amalekites constituted war crimes.)
It’s at this point that Hitchens totally mischaracterized my point, accusing me of saying that the US military committed atrocities against the Iraqi people, when of course I said nothing of the kind. It was all downhill from there, as he turned quite angry, lost his footing in his superior intellect, and became verbally hostile toward me. If you can’t win the argument with facts, attack your opponent.
My objective was not to win a debate with Hitchens. It really wasn’t even to debate him at all. This disappointed him.
I had hoped to have an opportunity to present the gospel, and that opportunity indeed came when he characterized me as a slave because of my belief in God. I readily admitted to being a slave to God, and to His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, who Himself also was a slave according to Philippians 2, “who made himself of no reputation and took upon him the form of a servant and was made in the likeness of man.”
This pushed Hitchens over the edge. He accused me of attempting to push my beliefs on him, his children and the rest of the world and while I was certainly entitled to them, to please keep them to myself. So much for Hitchens’ premise that we should be open minded free thinkers. He told me I was his enemy, to which I responded that he was not my enemy. This made him even angrier. He suddenly decided he had other things to do and when I thanked him for taking the time to talk with me, he hung up on me.
You can hear the interview yourself here.