Whatever you think of essayist
Christopher Hitchens, you have to admire his willingness to have a debate about
God with just about anybody. Since he wrote God
is Not Great: Religion Poisons Everything,
he's taken on theologians,
rabbis and Fox News pundits. Last month in Toronto, in the midst of his current
treatment for cancer, Hitchens debated
Tony Blair
. Hitchens has even publicly debated
his own brother
, an Anglican priest believer.

The documentary Collision
follows Hitchens on the road as he holds a series of debates with evangelical theologian
Douglas Wilson. Hitchens comes off as a genial fellow (so does Wilson) carrying
on the great British tradition of debate: you fiercely try to demolish your opponent
and then go out for drinks together afterwards.

Nothing, however, seems
to dislodge from Hitchens's mind the notion that God is a despot in the sky and
that religion offers empty or dangerous fairy-tale explanations. Debaters'
efforts to expand Hitchens's view of who God might be or what religion does
gain no traction.

What makes Hitchens
untouchable in debate is finally that he's tone deaf to religious questions--he
is always beating a straw man. In the film, for example, Wilson keeps trying to
push Hitchens to consider the sources of the morality that Hitchens asserts.
(Hitchens himself is a forceful defender of human rights.) Wilson wonders what
our sense of right and wrong is grounded in, if it is not grounded in some
transcendent reality. Is morality just a matter of cultural taste or individual
assertion? That's a question that philosophers from Kant to Nietzsche have asked,
but Hitchens has no patience for it.

Wittgenstein once said, "Not how the world is, but that it is, is the
mystery." In other words, religion has to do with why there is something
and not nothing. Where did all this come from? Where does our sense of beauty
and goodness come from? What basis do we have for an unshakeable sense of right
and wrong?

Hitchens has no interest in such
questions. But if such questions don't stir you--and arouse some awe, wonder
and humility--then you're just not interested in religion.

David Heim

David Heim is interim pastor at Messiah Lutheran Church in Park Ridge, Illinois.

All articles »