Hiroshima and C S Lewis

Wars will always raise ethical questions, both in terms of when it is justified, and for actions taken during a conflict, justified or not. One of the most prolifically questioned actions during war was the dropping of atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki. These two events have raised numerous arguments and defenses over the years, and the questions are not as easily answered as they might appear at first. For example, Japan was actively training its civilian populace to attack American troops upon an invasion of the home islands,[1] and it is often noted that more Japanese lives[2] would have been lost without the dropping of Atomic weapons (and certainly there would have been more American casualties in such a scenario), but does this justify the action? How does a nation weigh decision between protecting one’s own troops and avoiding harm to civilians? Is there a distinction between the bombing of Hiroshima (the site of a major Japanese army base) and Nagasaki (a purely industrial city)? Does the possibility that this was about revenge for the numerous war crimes committed by the Japanese against allied servicemen and Chinese civilians change the moral and ethical dimensions of the discussion? While these are important questions, I think there is a more interesting one: would we be having the same discussion if Japan won the war by dropping a weapon of mass destruction on San Francisco?

This is not an arbitrary question; Japan did have an active atomic weapons program that was somewhat hampered by problems in needed materials; the Japanese military was actively seeking Uranium for its nuclear program, including requests to its ally Germany.[3] While it’s atomic program was not successful, the Japanese biological warfare program was quite effective. During the war, Japanese units (particularly the notorious unit 731) infected human beings with various pathogens, and then performed autopsy’s without anesthetic on the infected to understand the mechanisms of the diseases. Japan also used biological weapons against China, and did in fact have a plan to drop rats with infected fleas onto San Francisco in hopes that it would kill tens of thousands of American civilians later in 1945 (a plan known as “Operation Cherry Blossoms at Night”), a plan that was at the least foiled by the end of the war (and Japan might not have had the resources to carry out the attack by this point anyway).

While we cannot know precisely what might have been, or what ethical questions might have been raised given such a scenario, we do have a good idea about the matter. Japan, as a matter of policy, still denies or refuses to apologize for war crimes committed during the second world war,[4] much to the irritation of her Asian neighbors. These include not only the possibly hundreds of thousands of Chinese killed by biological weapons, but also comfort women, the rape of Nanking, abuse of POWs, etc. There have even been controversies involving Japanese governments suppressing facts about atrocities in Japanese history textbooks. Whatever else might be true, the Shinto/Buddhist worldview does not seem to produce openly the same questions about war conduct that the West, under the influence of Christianity’s discussions of a just war and just conduct in war find themselves compelled to ask. Or rather, the Shinto/Buddhist tradition means those questions get resisted – after all, Japan continues to find it necessary to deny the allegations not only to those abroad, but to its own people, which sounds a bit like guilt, albeit misplaced guilt.[5]

C S Lewis, in discussing the objectivity of morality in Mere Christianity, notes that subjectivist moral systems may work in theory, but we cannot help treat morality as objective, at least when we are on the receiving end. The Japanese government demonstrates this when they note their own victimization of the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, but will not admit to victimizing Chinese laborers, soldiers, women and children. This is not unique, the nations of the world and people in general are always ready to proclaim their victimhood or the victimhood of their ancestors, but rarely do they take responsibilities for their own aggressors, the natural response is to justify actions out of personal protection or tribal loyalty. This is in fact an unusual moral contribution of Christianity, Christians question not only the behavior of others for perceived gain or restitution, but that of ourselves, as well.

 

[1]This raises to my own mind a question I don’t see asked, does this mean that the civilian populace were still civilians, or were they transformed into a militia?

[2]One additional difficulty, of course, is that it is unknowable whether it is true or not; while the battle of Okinawa suggests this might have been the case, as does the philosophy of Japanese militarists, it is hard to say precisely what would have happened.

[3]There is a famous incident involving the surrender of a German Sub, U-234 which was carrying Uranium Oxide along with other weapons between a nearly defeated Germany and her ally in Japan.

[4]To be clear, this is neither an indictment of the Japanese government nor an attempt to dismiss ethical questions about the atomic bombs, questions I am uncertain how to answer from a Biblical ethic; questions of how to wage war appear far more complex during the conflict then afterwards when historians can evaluate matters with more facts at hand. Moderns, for example, have a grasp on the horrors of radiation poisoning that the generals and politicians in 1945 were unaware of at the time. Nor, in point of fact is the US innocent in the cover-up of Japanese biological weapons, the US government appears to have protected war criminals involved in the Japanese biological warfare in exchange for knowledge of that program, just as various narratives limiting guilt of Imperial Japan to key military officials were useful fictions for the rebuilding of the nation.

[5]To be clear, this guilt is misplaced; there may be shame in an ancestors sin, or the dismay that always disappoints us when those we love profoundly disappoint us, but this is not guilt, as the Old Testament defines so clearly, we are not to punish the children for the guilt of the fathers.

Christopher Hitchens is a Liar: Christianity and Slavery

One of the things I noted in my recent read through of Christopher Hitchen’s book god is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything [sic] was the serious problem of a large number of factual errors.[1] While reading through the book, I noted his section on the New Testament and the Old Testament, and numerous errors of fact. There are additional issues of disagreement (for example, the use of the term religion) but in general, these problems mar the entire book.

In general, I tend to avoid ad hominem argumentation; I’d rather assume these mistakes are purely accidental oversights; New Testament studies is a massive and controversial field of studies, and I would not expect him to have greater expertise in that field. Yet, Hitchens’s discussion of slavery makes this preference to assume the best difficult. Hitchens implies that it was free thinkers that ended slavery, with a few Christian hangers on, but here, his work with the evidence is so shoddy, that it is inconceivable that this mistake is accidental.

Significantly, Hitchens seems to only discuss the United States, but as a former British citizen this mistake is nearly inconceivable (at least if it were accidental). American slavery is neither unique nor unusual. The US’s story is not unusual for the era, sadly slavery of Africans and Indians was common in the French, English, Spanish and Dutch colonies in the Americas. In point of fact, slavery has been nearly ubiquitously practiced throughout most of world history, at least until slavery was largely outlawed in the west, largely at Christian instigation.[2] What is unique is not that some Christians still defended the ancient barbarism in the 1860’s, what is unique is that Christianity historically provided the impetus to end slavery. During the abolitionist period it was largely Christians in Europe who pushed for the eradication of slavery in European colonies.[3] For example, in Hitchens own native England, the opposition to slavery was distinctly an enterprise of Evangelicals within the Anglican tradition and various dissenting churches, including the most notably figure, William Wilberforce (as Hitchen’s surely learned as both a child and at while at Oxford, or for that matter the film Amazing Grace a short two years before his book was published).[4] Of course, discussing this period doesn’t bode well for Hitchens’s case; selective choice of sources became necessary.

                  Nor is Hitchens correct in his discussion of the United States. For example, he admits that “a few Menonites and Quakers in America began to call for abolition.”[5] While this sounds like a reasonable concession, it is actually a radical understatement, and groups, such as Puritans in New England are completely ignored. It was, in fact, largely religious groups that led to the abolition of slavery in the Northern States and organized most of the anti-slavery societies of the period. Hitchens focuses on a few select individuals, late in the period, particular John Brown and Abraham Lincoln (who was not an abolitionist until after the election of 1860[6]); of course there are some problems with this approach. First, the subjects (as he himself admits) are muddy and not necessarily the types of free thinkers needed to make his case. Brown, if he were a free thinker, is useful only when there are no credible abolitionists to discuss. Brown likely provided emotional fears leading to southern secession, by building up already existing fears southerners had about a repeat of the Haitian Massacre of 1804 in the American South. Secondarily Hitchens, like many modern authors, fails to understand that free thinkers were often influenced by Christian thought and morality in a way that modern atheist consider inconceivable. (For example, Thomas Jefferson, who was probably a deist, thought the Bible to be a book that was admirable for instructions of morality, Benjamin Franklin, who almost certainly was a deist was a great admirer John Whitfield and sought to emulate Jesus in many respects). A third issue of course, is in studying Lincoln and Brown so intently he shows a better than average knowledge of the subject, so like his ignorance of Wilberforce, his errors appear to be intentional; his arguments then are not merely bad, but fraudulent.

APPENDIX – BASIC SOURCES

Hitchen’s main arguments are found on pages 177-79 of when it comes to abolition.

There are two invaluable books that discuss the Christian roots of the abolitionist movement, links are to the Amazon listing.

Philip Sampson – 6 Myths about Christianity and Western Civilization.

Rodney Stark – For the Glory of God: How Monotheism Led to Reformations, Science, Witch-Hunts, and the End of Slavery

There is also a history on South Carolina that I have found useful in understanding the development of slavery in this country, though it does not discuss some of the more crucial moments that happened outside of that state, but Edgar does a good job of presenting the issue in terms that seeks to understand (even as he does not condon) the very human causes that led to this institution, it is also perhaps a reminder that our fears and baser natures can lead us to inhumanity we would not consider in other areas of our lives. I heard it read by the Author on NPR, if you can find the recording, it’s well worth listening too, my love of books on CD and Tape extends largely from that programming.

Walter Edgars South Carolina: A History.

                  [1] These include 1. Outright mistakes, for example he argued that Jesus was born no earlier than 4 AD (most scholars date Jesus birth to 6-4 AD), and that the Talmud is the oldest book of monotheistic religions. Some might dismiss this as typos or minutia, but what it raises the question of competency – we would not afterall, trust an “expert” on US history, who noted the importance of Benjamin Franklin’s presidency. At this time I would not borrow from Hitchen’s arguments on either Eastern religions or Islam; if he has made such serious mistakes in discussing the Old Testament and the New, then I consider his work in areas I cannot verify to be suspect. 2 He often confuses theories as facts, for example, he implies the gospels were written decades after the events they record and that it was not written by eyewitnesses, but this is a theory, it is not a proven fact, and the external evidence (ie quotations and discussions by the fathers) conflicts with this theory. 3. There are additionally problems with the fact that many of the arguments he makes do not follow from the facts he deduces, for example, he spends time discussing textual criticism of the Pericope de Adultura, but this does not invalidate the New Testament. A good rule of thumb would be, if Christian theologians have known a fact for centuries, and have not understood that fact to be a problem for the Christian faith, it likely is not a problem for the Christian faith.

[2]When slavery ended in Western Europe will depend on how to interpret serfdom. Serfs are often compared to slaves, but serfs at least had recognized rights and their lords understood duties to their serfs. The same cannot be said for slaves in earlier pagan Rome, or for that matter to slavery in the Americas. Before the colonization of America, much of Christian Europe had officially outlawed slavery. A loophole, however was used and later expanded; these earlier codes applied only to national boundaries, not to colonies. Of course, throughout Europe, the theory and practice of a serf’s rights might differ incredibly, but it was at the least a start to recognize that both poor and great were made in the image of God.

[3]Hitchens regularly makes a link between Christianity and Imperialism, but fails to note that in many cases, colonial governments were generally unfriendly to missionary endeavors, because missionaries were concerned with people, not profits, and tended to therefore cause problems for those who were interested in profits, and not people. This is true both with Catholics in Brazil, and Anglicans in India.

[4] In 1807, the slave trade was outlawed (and the royal navy began hunting slave ships), and in 1833 slavery was completely abolished in the English colonies, although, unfortunately, colonialism itself was not.

                  [5]Hitchens 177.

[6]Abolitionists favored laws ending slavery immediately, Lincoln campaigned on preventing the spread of slavery further west, believing slavery, if not given the ability to spread, would die of its own accord in time. Lincoln also appears to have believed that preserving the Union was more important than eliminating slavery.

Hitchens is not Profound: How Atheism Has Fallen

I apologize for being away for a while, but between family, school, work, and a paper I was working on for the regional ETS meeting, I’ve been a bit busy, and unfortunately, Truth in the Trenches is the shoe that tends to fall.

 

For a class in Apologetic ethics, I’m currently reading Christopher Hitchens god [sic] is not Great: How religion poisons everything, although I am increasingly convinced the book should have been titled Hitchens is not Profound: How Atheism has Fallen. Perhaps I am merely in a cranky mood, but from the descriptions I had anticipated a atheist giant, such as has not been seen since Antony Flew became a Deist, but rather than a giant, I find a lilliputian. Instead of a carefully crafted case, I find constant errors in fact,[1] Non-sequitars,[2] strawmen,[3] and moral outrage presented as if it were an argument, despite his inability to ground the basis for that outrage. It is the sheer number of bad arguments he makes that give countering him any difficulty whatsoever, it takes longer to counter 10 bad arguments than one good one, and Americans generally don’t have much of an attention span. Hitchens is a skilled writer, there is no doubt about that, but then, the fact that skilled writers write fiction demonstrates this is no grounds for proof.

But the thing about Hitchens, is he demonstrates the need for Christians in general to understand their faith better, he throws down a gauntlet that most Christians should be able to pick up ably, but unfortunately aren’t because they don’t know their own faith as well as they should. As I’ve noted before, when I began studying NTI, and found the evidence to be stronger than I realized, and I often question why I did not learn important facts in High School, and I was the precocious one. This, of course, would have benefits beyond apologetics, but it saddens me when people do not know how to read the Bible for themselves; particularly since Jesus said we should love the Lord our God with all our minds.

Hitchens is considered formidable because his obvious polish meets no resistance – even a gray plastic sword can appear in the movies to be sharp when it is waved around and cuts nothing but air, it is only when it is smashed into a wall that it’s weakness becomes obvious. Scripture tells us we have no need to fear, and from Hitchens we can see this in action, if we at least seek to know His Word.

            [1]I never knew, for example, that the Talmud, which was composed after the New Testament was completed, was the oldest monotheistic text, nor did I know that the gnostic gospels were as old as the canonical ones, and this makes me wonder why the earlier gnostics, such as Marcion, ignored them so entirely. The only Biblical scholar I have seen quoted is Bart Ehrman, and similarly, Hitches seems enormously impressed with textual criticism, but arguing that Christianity is false because of textual criticism is like arguing that fried eggs disproves the existence of a chicken—just because the egg has gone through a process of time before reaching your table, this does not mean a chicken never laid it.
            [2]For example, on the basis of the fact that divisions in the Balkans include religious ones, he argues this is a religious war. It is true that the Serbs and Croats differ in sect (the Serbs are Orthadox, and the Croats Roman Catholic); I can just imagine some Croat fighter shouting, “for the Filioque. . . “ actually I can’t imagine that at all. It does not follow that simply because disputants in a war have different religions that this is the cause, nor can the identification with a religious group be a cause. After all, even in Ireland, religion is not the only difference between the Republic of Ireland or Ulster.

[3]He never comes close to adequately dealing with the fall, which means his discussion of design and the human condition with temptation is basically a false Christianity.