Even atheists would have to admit that in America today, they would be very grateful to learn that those 10 men had just been studying Genesis or Isaiah. One does not hear of many Bible classes with students mugging passersby.
I therefore pose this question to make the rather obvious point that nearly all of us instinctively assume some positive things about normative Judaism and Christianity in America.
This question evidently annoys many of those who argue that there is no relationship between personal decency and Judeo-Christian religiosity. So they offer a number of responses to a question that most of us find rhetorical.
The most common is that any of us would also be relieved if we learned that the 10 men walking toward us in a dark alley had just come from a secular humanism seminar or one on photosynthesis. I fully acknowledge that I would be relieved in such cases as well. The problem with this response, however, is that in the real world, in bad parts of our cities, 10 men are rather more likely to be studying the Bible than photosynthesis or secular humanism or any other subject that would bring us relief in that dark alley.
Every response I have seen to this question is an attempt to evade the only honest response. We would all be relieved because when push comes to shove -- when we have to make real-life decisions and not theoretical ones -- we know that at least in America, the dominant Judeo-Christian values and the religions that adhere to them have generally made better people. This does not mean that all religious Jews and Christians in America have been, or are today, good people, and it certainly does not mean that all irreligious people are bad. It means simply that if our lives were hanging in the balance, we would be inexpressively happy to know that 10 men we did not know, walking toward us in a bad neighborhood, had just come out of a Bible class.
But that is no small thing. And nothing has ever replaced that book and the American religious expressions based on it to make good people in the same numbers that it has.
So although I admire Christopher Hitchens for his understanding -- unlike so many of his allies in the atheism vs. God and religion debate -- that America is fighting genuinely evil people in Iraq, I was disappointed that he could not acknowledge the obvious when I concluded my radio dialogue/debate with him:
Prager: "I do want to return for a moment, Christopher, to the question that you cite me asking you in your book. If you were in an American city that you were not familiar with, alone, late at night, and you couldn't find your car, in a bad neighborhood, and you saw 10 men walking toward you, would you or would you not be relieved to know that they had just attended a Bible class?"
Hitchens: "Not relieved."