What's so great about Dinesh D'Souza? An interview
By Bernard Chapin
Dinesh D'Souza is one of the most famous conservatives in America. He is a prolific author of works concerning politics and society. After college, he worked briefly in the public sector and was, in the late eighties, a senior domestic policy analyst in the Reagan Administration. As an author, he has always been a controversial figure due to his arriving at positions well ahead of the conservative consensus. Illiberal Education and The End of Racism made him a hated figure by the left; but it was not until 2007, with the release of The Enemy at Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, that he found himself criticized by some members of the right. His latest book What's So Great About Christianity, should restore his status among conservatives, however. It is a meticulous and exquisite defense of both Christianity and belief in general.
BC: Congratulations to you, sir. I just finished What's So Great About Christianity and was quite impressed.Obviously its subject matter is timeless, but what about our present day makes the work so imperative?
Dinesh D'Souza: I think we're seeing something very new right now. For the first time, atheism is being presented as a serious option for young people. A generation ago atheists were represented by the likes of Marilyn Murray O'Hare who was not a very attractive poster child for the movement. Today atheism comes in a stylish disguise and is defended by witty debaters. They have mounted a strong attack on religion and claim that atheism is more moral than Christianity. Atheist works have dominated the best seller list for the last two years, and so I thought the time was right to mount a serious counter attack.
BC: In light of the recent spate of books attempting to debunk Christianity and God—such as Richard Dawkins The God Delusion, Christopher Hitchens God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything,and Daniel Dennett's Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomenon—how much is Christianity "on the ropes," so to speak, in America? How successful have atheist attacks on religion been with the general public?
Dinesh D'Souza: Well, the Christians have been a little passive here. Many Christians feel that we should practice our faith at home but should abandon the public square. They had no way of knowing that atheists would end up taking their campaign into the public schools. Christians need to respond seriously to this threat because if we don't we'll find that our most intelligent young people will be led astray. The young want to believe in God but when they go to college their professors try to indoctrinate them into thinking otherwise.
Too many Christians try to deflect these arguments by using scripture. That is not going to work. Scripture works when you are arguing with other Christians but it will not be effective with atheists as they do not care about what the Bible says. When you're speaking to someone indifferent to scripture you should use reason, logic, skepticism, and evidence. These are the tools atheists use and are also the ones I use for myself in What's So Great About Christianity.
BC: What would you say is the most potent argument offered by atheists? By this I mean the one most difficult to refute.
Dinesh D'Souza: The goal of my book is to not only fortify the believer of Christianity but also to challenge the atheists while showing the seeker that they are rebelling against a childhood version of Christianity—one that they learned in Sunday school and catechism. Their opinion of it now is rooted in what I call "crayon Christianity." What we must also realize is that when atheists use the word "fundamentalist" it is but a big ploy. When they say fundamentalist and mount attacks against fundamentalism what they really are attempting to do is to go after traditional Christianity.
That being said, I think the atheists make two arguments which must be responded to. First, they posit that Christianity is opposed to reason and science which it is not. My historical chapters show that Christianity had a lot to do with the origins of science. Most of the leading scientists of the last 500 years have been Christian. We should not go on the defensive when the name of science is invoked. Second, atheists claim that Christianity is a major cause of violence and war in the world which is also untrue and I illustrate why this is the case in my book.
BC: For readers unfamiliar with its pages, why do so many people continue to perceive Christianity and evolution as being mutually exclusive? What's wrong with the notion that God created us and we evolved from there?
Dinesh D'Souza: There is nothing wrong with that notion. I have no problem with it. I do think that the intelligent design advocates have raised some interesting questions though. They have found some vulnerable points in the atheist critique. Evolution does not undermine the argument of design, however. You look at nature and in it you can see the handiwork of the Creator. The existence of God is supported by astronomy, physics and modern science in general. In modern biology, it is evident, in a most comprehensive way, through the complexity of the cell. The simple cell has enough information in it to compare it to a supercomputer. The cell already has built in to itself the capacity to replicate. Evolution is true so far as it goes but the problem is that it does not go that far.
I make a distinction in my book between evolution and Darwinism. I see evolution as being a scientific proposition but Darwinism I see as being an ideological proposition. We have all these scientific laws but no one calls themselves Keplerians or Newtonians so why do so many insist on calling themselves Darwinists? Their doing so puts an atheistic spin on evolution, and this spin is what the Christian community finds itself reacting too.
BC: It has been suggested by Richard Dawkins that atheists now term themselves "brights" in keeping with their supernatural-free worldviews. That is a loaded term to say the least. In your estimation, how closely is atheism tied to elitism? Could it be that a certain segment of humanity is offended by the notion that anyone or any entity stands above them?
Dinesh D'Souza: Well, this whole business about the brights goes back a couple of years. Atheists sat around and said to themselves "we sound too negative" because to be an atheist means being against something. How could they rephrase their identity in a positive manner? Well, "brights" is what they came up with. They must have thought, "We all agree that we're extremely smart," so that's where the term comes from. Dennett and Dawkins wrote articles about this. The term conveys a comical pomposity but when you look at their work it is understandable. Atheists stand on a metaphysical platform grounded in faith but they are the only ones who don't recognize this fact. They assume that our five senses give us complete knowledge of reality. Why is that automatically the case? All evolution says is that our only imperative is to survive and replicate. There is no evolutionary mandate to seek truth or do any of the other things so many of us find ourselves doing. There is no reason to assume that the thoughts in our heads precisely match the mandates of nature.
BC: I was very pleased by Chapter 19 in which you responded to the absurd idea that the atrocities committed by Hitler and Stalin had something to do with the faith into which they were born (but later renounced). In the hopes of disseminating your arguments to the larger population, why is it no accident that the world's greatest mass murderers—Mao, Hitler, Stalin, and Pol Pot—maintained anti-religious regimes?
Dinesh D'Souza: I think it is no accident that the worst bloodbaths have come from anti-religious regimes because religion provides a framework of accountability. This framework was not present in the twentieth century totalitarian states. You have had bad guys in the past but they were somewhat restrained by the fact that they had to be externally accountable for what they did. That is why the totalitarian states behave in the wanton manner they do. There is nothing to restrain them from committing egregious acts. It harkens back to what Dostoevsky's said in The Brothers Karamazov: "Without God and the future life? How will man be after that? It means everything is permitted now." Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris do summersaults to prove that atheist crimes cannot be blamed on atheism which is incorrect.
BC: In your chapter, "The World Beyond Our Senses: Kant and the Limits of Reason," you take issue with the idea that human reason is the finest, and only, way to comprehend reality. What other means are there? Why should we be deferential to what we cannot understand?
Dinesh D'Souza: Well, within the domain of human experience, reason is supreme. The problem is that the atheists try to use the same empirical techniques to prove what is outside the realm of human experience. Here's the point: none of us know what comes after death. The believer says I don't know but I believe in God, the atheist says I don't know therefore I don't believe in anything. In reality, both positions are derived from faith. Both groups make a leap of faith but the believer is humble enough to recognize this fact. The atheist can't or won't.
BC: One phrase really stuck out with me from your debate with Christian Hitchens. It was the revulsion he felt over Christianity due to it forcing us to maintain a "posture of permanent gratitude" towards life and the Lord. How revealing of the atheist mindset are these words?
Dinesh D'Souza: The thing is even Heidegger recognized that we are thrown into this world without our asking to be. We find ourselves alive but have done nothing to deserve such an opportunity. This is how one could say there is no merit attached to existence… yet life remains precious to all of us—even to the sick who cling to life. Those close to death still cherish life, so if you don't want to thank God then I say at least thank your parents.
I don't know why atheists don't want to view existence in a gratuitous way. Dawkins put the [Hitchens vs. D'Souza] debate on his website and AOL had viewers vote to determine who, in their opinion, won. When they took the final tally, I was the winner. Now what is important to remember here is that most Christians are not the ones generally surfing the web, yet, amid all those viewers, I was deemed the victor. I came determined to stop him in his tracks and I think it came out pretty well. Ironically, the debate was held in an atheist auditorium that looks rather like a church. If you watch it again you'll find that in the beginning the audience seemed to be favoring Hitchens, but, as the debate moved on, the applause moved heavily in my direction. I have issued a debate challenge to Dawkins as well. We'll see what comes from it.
BC: Thanks so much for your time, Mr. D'Souza.