Tag: Christopher Hitchens

Holy posthumous hagiography Batman: Reflections on the “Christian” response to the death of Christopher Hitchens

Seriously internet. Get a grip.

Christopher Hitchens died today. He was a brilliant and acerbic polemicist who played pretty free and easy with exactly what historically orthodox, Bible based Christianity looks like in his most popular work God Is Not Good, but he was by all accounts a charming, debonair, raconteur type who meant what he said, and said what he thought, in a manner that belied his significant gifts. By all accounts, including his own, his battle with cancer was difficult, but he conducted himself with the poise, gravitas, and wit that endeared him to readers around the world.

But he was committed to remaining an atheist to the end. Committed to maintaining his rage against God (incidentally the title of the book his brother Peter wrote when explaining why he returned to faith). Now, Hitchens had plenty of Christian influence in his life – his brother, his travelling debate compadre Douglas Wilson, and Francis Collins, the head of the human genome project, and founder of Biologos, who took a personal interest in his treatment for the nasty cancer which ended his life too soon. Hitchens also clearly understood the gospel he was rejecting – his pointed criticisms of Christian liberalism make it clear that he knew what the Christian faith entailed. And that he rejected it deliberately, defiantly, and with some style and wit.

Here’s his definition of Christianity:

“I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.”

He was in enough debates with enough Christians that he had a fair idea of what it was he was arguing against (even if he chose to misrepresent it for the sake of some polemical point scoring).

So why. Pray tell. Are we Christians so committed to articulating a hope that Hitchens magically renounced his skepticism at the very last? Certainly it is our hope. But should we not take the man at his word. His last words, incidentally, took the form of a requiem for the atheist dream, throwing down the gauntlet to challenge Nietzsche, one of the grandfathers of the modern atheist movement, and particularly his somewhat facile maxim that whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. Hitchens was wrong to dismiss that saying – because the cancer killed him in the end. And the only thing that doesn’t kill a human, at least in the Biblical account of humanity, is faith in Christ, by which we have a much more hopeful outlook than either Hitchens or Nietzshe…

“Before I was diagnosed with esophageal cancer a year and a half ago, I rather jauntily told the readers of my memoirs that when faced with extinction I wanted to be fully conscious and awake, in order to “do” death in the active and not the passive sense. And I do, still, try to nurture that little flame of curiosity and defiance: willing to play out the string to the end and wishing to be spared nothing that properly belongs to a life span. However, one thing that grave illness does is to make you examine familiar principles and seemingly reliable sayings. And there’s one that I find I am not saying with quite the same conviction as I once used to: In particular, I have slightly stopped issuing the announcement that “Whatever doesn’t kill me makes me stronger.”

The Christian attempt to respond to the death of an interlocutor by extending grace to them, and naming them as potentially one of the saints, is nobly intended, but was odd when Steve Jobs died. And is downright insane when it comes to Hitchens. I’m not saying God couldn’t have come knocking on Hitchens’ door, but there is simply no indication that he changed his mind at the last (and he precluded such with a particularly pointed statement just months ago). Despite what Doug Wilson’s much lauded eulogy on Christianity Today might suggest. So while I hope Hitchens found the peace that faith in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus brings – I’m not going to chuck him a halo and a white robe just in case. But I’m not sure why the Christian blogosphere embraces the hagiographic eulogy in these times. The most gracious way to let an atheist go out is to let them go out acknowledging that they were defiant to the end (Matt Stone says something similar but with more brevity), that they, unlike many others – considered the questions of eternity, and their own mortality, and in the words of Hitchens, looked death in the face bravely (but stupidly), these were his last published words.

“So far, I have decided to take whatever my disease can throw at me, and to stay combative even while taking the measure of my inevitable decline. I repeat, this is no more than what a healthy person has to do in slower motion. It is our common fate. In either case, though, one can dispense with facile maxims that don’t live up to their apparent billing.”

Atheists who love the Bible

Both Christopher Hitchens, and Richard Dawkins have written recently about their love of the KJV. The new-atheist glitterati are doing their bit to pry the Bible out of the hands of “the religious” and into the hands of English teachers.

There’s a great article on The Punch by the Bible Society’s Roy Williams responding to this trend of atheists damning the Bible with faint praise. It’s well worth a read. The comments aren’t. They’ve become a playground for the type of person who thinks writing lengthy rant comments to reinforce one’s own views is a good use of one’s time. While I love comments here. And discussions (online and in person) there’s something about the complete lack of respect that anti-theists show to any “woo believers” on the internet that just makes me angry and pushes me from my position of centre hugging moderate towards religious extremist. If I read many more of these threads I’ll be voting Family First and donating to the Australian Christian Lobby in the hope of making atheism illegal.

From the article:

“Dawkins is quite candid on this score. He admits that he cannot abide translations of the Bible other than the KJV, whether they are closer to the meaning of the original ancient texts or not. He wants the KJV taught in schools “not as history, not as science and not (oh please not) as morality. But as literature.”

There are serious problems with this argument.

For a start, the 47 men who “wrote” the KJV would have scoffed at any suggestion that their primary task was to produce fine literature. Appointed and supervised by the Bishop of London (later Archbishop of Canterbury), Richard Bancroft, they were chosen on the basis of two criteria.

First, their pre-eminence as biblical scholars – in particular, their detailed knowledge of at least one of the three ancient languages in which the books of the Bible were originally written (Hebrew and Aramaic in the case of the Old Testament; Greek in the case of the New Testament).”

Tyndale v More: Men, seasons and the KJV

Sir Thomas More was an interesting chap – lauded for his philosophical writing (like Utopia) and his ability to speak truth to power (see A Man For All Seasons).

But, on the whole, he wasn’t a nice chap. Especially so far as bible translator William Tyndale was concerned.

This piece by atheist polemicist Christopher Hitchens on the literary merit of the King James Version is fascinating (on a number of levels). Here’s a snippet:

“Until the early middle years of the 16th century, when King Henry VIII began to quarrel with Rome about the dialectics of divorce and decapitation, a short and swift route to torture and death was the attempt to print the Bible in English. It’s a long and stirring story, and its crux is the head-to-head battle between Sir Thomas More and William Tyndale (whose name in early life, I am proud to say, was William Hychyns).

Their combat fully merits the term “fundamental.” Infuriating More, Tyndale whenever possible was loyal to the Protestant spirit by correctly translating the word ecclesia to mean “the congregation” as an autonomous body, rather than “the church” as a sacrosanct institution above human law. In English churches, state-selected priests would merely incant the liturgy. Upon hearing the words “Hoc” and “corpus” (in the “For this is my body” passage), newly literate and impatient artisans in the pews would mockingly whisper, “Hocus-pocus,” finding a tough slang term for the religious obfuscation at which they were beginning to chafe.

The cold and righteous More, backed by his “Big Brother” the Pope and leading an inner party of spies and inquisitors, watched the Channel ports for smugglers risking everything to import sheets produced by Tyndale, who was forced to do his translating and printing from exile. The rack and the rope were not stinted with dissenters, and eventually Tyndale himself was tracked down, strangled, and publicly burned.”

Tyndale’s work was a precursor to the KJV. Hitchens waxes lyrical about the literary benefits of the KJV in this article, which you should read, and be ready to quote, the next time somebody tells you that religion poisons everything.

“Though I am sometimes reluctant to admit it, there really is something “timeless” in the Tyndale/King James synthesis. For generations, it provided a common stock of references and allusions, rivaled only by Shakespeare in this respect. It resounded in the minds and memories of literate people, as well as of those who acquired it only by listening. From the stricken beach of Dunkirk in 1940, faced with a devil’s choice between annihilation and surrender, a British officer sent a cable back home. It contained the three words “but if not … ” All of those who received it were at once aware of what it signified. In the Book of Daniel, the Babylonian tyrant Nebuchadnezzar tells the three Jewish heretics Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego that if they refuse to bow to his sacred idol they will be flung into a “burning fiery furnace.” They made him an answer: “If it be so, our god whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of thy hand, o King. / But if not, be it known unto thee, o king, that we will not serve thy gods, nor worship the golden image which thou hast set up.”

A culture that does not possess this common store of image and allegory will be a perilously thin one. To seek restlessly to update it or make it “relevant” is to miss the point, like yearning for a hip-hop Shakespeare. “Man is born unto trouble as the sparks fly upward,” says the Book of Job. Want to try to improve that for Twitter? And so bleak and spare and fatalistic—almost non-religious—are the closing verses of Ecclesiastes that they were read at the Church of England funeral service the unbeliever George Orwell had requested in his will: “Also when they shall be afraid of that which is high, and fears shall be in the way, and the almond tree shall flourish, and the grasshopper shall be a burden, and desire shall fail: because man goeth to his long home. … Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. / Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was.”

Hitchens teaches a liberal minister the true meaning of the word Christian

I’ve said before that Christopher Hitchens’ treatment of Christianity is a little shoddy. He is guilty of creating a straw man Christianity out of the very worst of “Christian” behaviour and setting it on fire in beautifully vitriolic prose. He is, I think, the most dangerous of the nu-atheists because he is so articulate and personable. He’s more appealing than Dawkins, I think, because he demonstrates a sense of humour.

Here, in this article, he is interviewed by a Unitarian minister, Marilyn Sewell, who wants to know if he doesn’t like Liberal Christians as much as he doesn’t like fundamentalists…

Sewell: The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make and distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

Hitchens: I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian…

Read my full take on this, and some more interesting bits from the interview, over at Venntheology.

Hitchens on Prayer

Christopher Hitchens, one of the four horsemen of the atheist apocalypse, has cancer. A pretty nasty case of it. Al has posted a couple of excerpts from a piece he wrote.

This interview is quite phenomenal. He talks about the issue of Christians praying for him – some praying that he’ll cark it, most praying that he’ll get better and/or find God. This starts about 4 minutes in. Apparently the 20th of September is “Pray for Christopher Hitchens” day. I recommend participating.

Hitchens v Hitchens (again)

Peter Hitchens and Christopher Hitchens both have books hitting the shelves at the same time. I’ve posted on their famous disagreement before… Peter is a Christian journalist, his older brother Christopher is an atheist journalist. It’s almost providential really. That the perfect foil for one of new atheism’s most vocal advocates comes from the same genetic pool and has the same predisposition for communication.

Anyway, Hitchens’ (the younger) new book is reviewed in a piece from the Centre of Public Christianity, published in the Sydney Morning Herald. Here’s what Peter Hitchens has to say about the dangers of the rise of atheism.

“His experiences living and reporting from Russia and eastern Europe profoundly shaped his view of the world. Having lived in Moscow at the close of the Soviet era, and having witnessed other atheistic regimes in full flight, he refuses to accept his brother’s evasion of what he sees as an organic link between atheism and the most notorious modernist experiments of the 20th century.

It is this experience that appears to shape his concerns for society. He believes Christianity is under attack today because it remains the most coherent and potent obstacle to frightening and ruthless idealism: “The concepts of sin, of conscience, of eternal life, and of divine justice under an unalterable law are the ultimate defence against the utopian’s belief that ends justify means and that morality is relative. These concepts are safeguards against the worship of human power.”

Christopher Hitchens is not great

I’m writing an essay on violence in the Old Testament tonight. I’m interacting a little with the way violence has been interpreted by the “new atheists” – this review of Hitchen’s God is Not Great is fantastic fodder for anybody confronted with one of his raving disciples… it addresses his erroneous treatment of the Bible from Genesis to Jesus – and I reckon it’s just as good as Eagleton’s famous review of Dawkins.

Eagleton is famously a Marxist Catholic (and possibly agnostic), while William Hamblin, who wrote this review, is a Mormon professor of Ancient History. But you know, the enemy of me enemy and all that…

Here are some good bits… it’s quite a long article.

On the Bible

Remarkably, Hitchens is overtly disdainful of the careful reading of ancient texts in their original languages. He bemoans the supposed fact that “all religions have staunchly resisted any attempt to translate their sacred texts into languages ‘understood of the people’ ” (p. 125, emphasis added). This is a stunningly erroneous claim, betraying almost no understanding of the history of religion. In reality, the translation of religious texts has been a major cultural phenomenon in ancient and medieval times and has steadily increased through the present. The Bible, of course, is the most translated book in the history of the world. According to the United Bible Societies, it has been translated into 2,167 languages, with another 320 in process. And this is by no means merely a modern phenomenon. The Bible was also the most widely translated book in the ancient world. It was translated into Greek (the Septuagint, second century BC), Aramaic (Targum, by the first century BC), Old Latin (second century AD), Syriac (Peshitta, third century AD), Coptic (Egyptian, fourth century AD), Gothic (Old German, fourth century AD), Latin (Jerome’s Latin Vulgate, late fourth century AD), Armenian (early fifth century AD), Ethiopic (fifth century AD), Georgian (fifth century AD), Old Nubian (by the eighth century AD), Old Slavonic (ninth century AD), and Arabic (Saadia Gaon’s version, early tenth century AD). Thus, far from “staunchly resist[ing] any attempt to translate their sacred texts” (p. 125), Christians have consistently made tremendous efforts to translate their sacred books.

On the law

It is not just the early Iron Age science of the Bible that Hitchens finds offensive. The morality of the Bible, which many feel is foundational to Western civilization, is to Hitchens pure barbarism. But when we read Hitchens’s claim concerning “the pitiless teachings of the god of Moses, who never mentions human solidarity and compassion at all” (p. 100), we are left to wonder if Hitchens has read the Bible he despises with any degree of earnestness whatsoever. The Hebrew Bible speaks frequently of God’s compassion and his enduring “loving-kindness” or “steadfast love.” When Christ taught, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matthew 22:39), he was, in fact, quoting the Hebrew Bible (Leviticus 19:18; see Zechariah 7:8). Furthermore, the law insists that Israelites must have compassion for foreigners as well for their own kinsmen (Exodus 22:21; Leviticus 19:34; Deuteronomy 10:19). The prophet Hosea likewise taught that God preferred “steadfast love” over “sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6). The teaching of Hosea 6:6 is commonplace throughout the Hebrew Bible, representing a standard component of Jewish temple theology.

On oxen

For Hitchens the principles found in the law of Moses tend to be either transparently obvious (pp. 99–100) or barbarically “demented pronouncements” (p. 106). He objects to all sorts of things in the law, such as the “insanely detailed regulations governing oxes [sic]” (p. 100), which go on for an astonishing five verses (Exodus 21:28–32)! Actually, by ancient standards—for instance, when compared to the fourteen oxen regulations in Hammurabi’s Code—this is notably succinct. Considering that oxen were a major form of transportation in early agrarian Near Eastern societies, it is reasonable to expect some regulations about them; but, even if superfluous, there is nothing “insanely detailed” about it, especially when compared to our modern laws concerning vehicular manslaughter—probably the closest modern analogy. Hitchens really has no substantive point here beyond mere rhetorical bombast.

On weekends

Hitchens’s view of the Sabbath commandment as “a sharp reminder to keep working and only to relax when the absolutist says so” (p. 99) again fails to contextualize the text. In its ancient setting it should be seen as a progressive and humanitarian regulation ensuring that rulers and masters gave their slaves and laborers a day of rest (Exodus 20:10)—a practice that is apparently original to the Israelites—rather than forcing them to work unremittingly. Though it goes unacknowledged, Hitchens owes his weekends and also the concept of a “right” to leisure to the God of Israel—no thanks required. Only by rhetorical sleight of hand can Hitchens try to turn this blessing into an act of supposed tyranny.

On Jesus

Hitchens’s overall disdain for the life of Jesus is reflected in the fact that he can’t be bothered to even get basic biblical chronology straight. “Even the stoutest defenders of the Bible story,” he assures us, “now admit that if Jesus was ever born it wasn’t until at least AD 4” (pp. 59–60). They do? He has obviously been reading different “stout defenders” of the Bible story than I have. The Gospel narratives agree that Jesus was born during the lifetime of Herod the Great (Matthew 2:1; Luke 1:5), who died in 4 BC.

Here’s the conclusion:

He consistently misrepresents what the Bible has to say, fails to contextualize biblical narratives in their original historical settings, implies unanimity among biblical scholars on quite controversial positions, and fails to provide any evidence for alternative scholarly positions, or even to acknowledge that such positions exist at all. In reality, biblical studies is a complicated field, with a wide range of subtle nuances and different interpretations; for Hitchens, it is sufficient to dismiss the most extreme, literalistic, and inerrantist interpretations of the Bible to demonstrate not only that the Bible itself is thoroughly flawed, false, and poisonous but that God does not exist.

Hitchens v Hitchens

Christopher Hitchen’s believing brother has come out swinging at his brother’s militant anti-theism (though it seems not for the first time, he reports that childhood family disputes were all too common).

It’s a fascinating insight into a rather heated family dynamic – but Peter Hitchens makes some good points.

But since it is obvious much of what I say arises out of my attempt to debate religion with him, it would be absurd to pretend that much of what I say here is not intended to counter or undermine arguments he presented in his book, God Is Not Great, published in 2007.

I do not loathe atheists, as Christopher claims to loathe believers. I am not angered by their failure to see what appears obvious to me. I understand that they see differently. I do think that they have reasons for their belief, as I have reasons for mine, which are the real foundations of this argument.

It is my belief that passions as strong as his are more likely to be countered by the unexpected force of poetry, which can ambush the human heart at any time.

It is also my view that, as with all atheists, he is his own chief opponent. As long as he can convince himself, nobody else will persuade him. His arguments are to some extent internally coherent and are a sort of explanation – if not the best explanation – of the world and the universe.

He often assumes that moral truths are self-evident, attributing purpose to the universe and swerving dangerously round the problem of conscience – which surely cannot be conscience if he is right since the idea of conscience depends on it being implanted by God. If there is no God then your moral qualms might just as easily be the result of indigestion.

Yet Christopher is astonishingly unable to grasp that these assumptions are problems for his argument. This inability closes his mind to a great part of the debate, and so makes his atheist faith insuperable for as long as he himself chooses to accept it.

He also takes aim at some of his brother’s more ludicrous claims…

I am also baffled and frustrated by the strange insistence of my anti-theist brother that the cruelty of Communist anti-theist regimes does not reflect badly on his case and on his cause. It unquestionably does.

Soviet Communism is organically linked to atheism, materialist rationalism and most of the other causes the new atheists support. It used the same language, treasured the same hopes and appealed to the same constituency as atheism does today.

When its crimes were still unknown, or concealed, it attracted the support of the liberal intelligentsia who were then, and are even more now, opposed to religion.

But happily – the brothers have resolved to no longer debate in public (as they have done on a few occasions). And Peter Hitchens ends with this comment…

I am not hoping for a late conversion because he has won the battle against cigarettes. He has bricked himself up high in his atheist tower, with slits instead of windows from which to shoot arrows at the faithful, and would find it rather hard to climb down out of it.

I have, however, the more modest hope that he might one day arrive at some sort of acceptance that belief in God is not necessarily a character fault, and that religion does not poison everything.

Beyond that, I can only add that those who choose to argue in prose, even if it is very good prose, are unlikely to be receptive to a case which is most effectively couched in poetry.


On Hitchens

Four interesting little articles or events surrounding Christopher Hitchens have piqued my interest in the last few weeks. For the uninitiated, Hitchens one of the more prominent voices of the New Atheist movement.

Hitchens, in a recent column on Slate, described himself essentially as the modern day champion of atheism – in the same sense that medieval kings had champions who would throw down the gauntlet to knights from near and far…

Ever since I invited any champion of faith to debate with me in the spring of 2007, I have been very impressed by the willingness of the other side to take me, and my allies, up on the offer.

Hitchens is making his big screen debut shortly. A series of debates he held with American pastor Douglas Wilson is being turned into a feature film called Collision.

Some of his preconceptions about Christians have been challenged in the process – and they’re the issues I find most offensive about the manner in which atheists conduct themselves in debates.

On one hand they say “don’t generalise us, we’re all different” and on the other they throw all Christians into the same boat as the Westboro Baptists or (medieval) Crusaders.

Hitchens made this comment on his interactions with Christians in debates:

“I have discovered that the so-called Christian right is much less monolithic, and very much more polite and hospitable, than I would once have thought, or than most liberals believe.”

Who’d have thought that some Christians might actually act like Christ.

Then he ends up committing what I think is the other great error in the discourse – the inability to split the Bible up into literary sub-genres.

Wilson isn’t one of those evasive Christians who mumble apologetically about how some of the Bible stories are really just “metaphors.” He is willing to maintain very staunchly that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and that his sacrifice redeems our state of sin, which in turn is the outcome of our rebellion against God. He doesn’t waffle when asked why God allows so much evil and suffering—of course he “allows” it since it is the inescapable state of rebellious sinners.

Some stories in the Bible are clearly metaphors – like the parables. Others are not. The fact that some Christians can’t tell the difference doesn’t mean that every piece of the Bible needs to be taken at literal face value, and it doesn’t make anyone who sees a place for metaphor or symbolism a liberal.

Hitchens was in Sydney recently speaking at the “Festival of Dangerous Ideas” – his presence earned him a gig on the ABC’s Q&A. You can watch his exchange here. I only hope that Christians presenting their belief in an absolute truth can avoid the smugness the he occasionally exhibits. I know we often don’t.

While he was in Sydney Michael Jensen had an opinion piece published in the SMH that thanked Hitchens for getting people talking about God…

He points to certain passages in Hitchens’ work that fail to grasp any form of nuance in Christian thinking and buy into other people’s subjective hatchet jobs…

“Please repeat your completely erroneous claim that, in the Old Testament, God never shows or speaks of compassion or mercy; or that one about how the gospel writers can’t agree on anything. Or drop once more that clanger about how the Christian doctrine of the resurrection means that Christ never died.

Say again, in front of an audience, your historically laughable tale of how the Maccabees of the 2nd century BC were responsible for both Christianity and Islam. Say that the missing document called “Q” influenced all four gospel writers (p. 112) – when everyone who knows anything about it knows that this is just plain false.

Give full vent to your magnificent spleen. Remind us of the lack of marsupials in the book of Genesis and watch us squirm with embarrassment. Display once more that you read the Bible with no more sophistication than a snake-handler. Dismiss with an elegant wave of your hand the whole exercise of New Testament scholarship, especially the authors you haven’t read.

State again, with the conviction of someone who knows he is right, why it is that you can’t stand people who know they are right (p. 242).”

This was followed by a piece in the SMH this week by a Jewish scholar – who again points out the problems with the way Hitchens handles both the Jewish and Christian Bibles (particularly the OT).

Hitchens cites the Binding of Isaac and “eye for an eye, tooth for a tooth” injunction as brutish and stupid. Yet, scholars have interpreted the binding as ending child sacrifice and the injunction as a caution against excessive vengeance. Hitchens says that the God of Moses never refers to compassion and human friendship, overlooking “love your neighbour as yourself”.

For his part, Dawkins is clearly out of his depth when it comes to Jewish teachings and ethics. He claims, for instance, that “love thy neighbour” meant only “love another Jew”. He apparently is not aware that in the same chapter, Jews are commanded to love the stranger that lives in their land as they would themselves. When Jesus, himself a Jew, was asked “Who is my neighbour” he did not refer to other Jews, but to a Samaritan, considered at that time as heretical and unclean.

Which prompted this response from an atheist physicist also on the SMH website. The reason I post this is that in one paragraph he raises two of the points that Dave wrote about in post two of his “Reasons I’m not an Atheist” series.

The human brain has evolved over millions of years to be well adapted for dealing with and surviving the challenges thrown up by the kinds of environments in which human beings live. It has been suggested that the same adaptations that have contributed to humanity’s success as a species have also, as a side effect, predisposed us towards accepting certain kinds of mystical and religious beliefs. Our brains may well be “hard-wired’ for religion. Add some cultural nurture to our evolved nature and we have the beginnings of an explanation for why so many people follow some form of religion. When it comes to choosing one particular religion over another, it seems to be largely a matter of indoctrination; the best predictor of a person’s religious beliefs is the beliefs held by his or her parents.

Meanwhile, my conversation with the “friendly” atheists on the post I linked to yesterday is still going.