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Saturday, February 06, 2010

My favorite atheist

   Perhaps it is unusual for me to say it, but I like Christopher Hitchens. A lot. Hitchens, you may know, is the darling of the "New Atheists," and author of the popular book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. While it seems true of Hitchens that much of his contempt for religion seems to come from bad experiences in younger days, (and which, to me, seems as irrational as forgoing Chinese food because it once made you sick) he nevertheless surprises me. While he cannot offer respect for people of faith, he at least offers them the freedom to be people of faith, no matter how deluded. And it seems he finds more problems with those who are "squishy" about their beliefs. (I have mentioned previous comments here.)
   In a recent interview with a Unitarian Minister, Marilyn Sewell, Hitchens makes some amazing, and true, comments about Christianity:
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.

SEWELL: Let me go someplace else. When I was in seminary I was particularly drawn to the work of theologian Paul Tillich. He shocked people by describing the traditional God—as you might as a matter of fact—as, “an invincible tyrant.” For Tillich, God is “the ground of being.” It’s his response to, say, Freud’s belief that religion is mere wish fulfillment and comes from the humans’ fear of death. What do you think of Tillich’s concept of God?”

HITCHENS: I would classify that under the heading of “statements that have no meaning—at all.” Christianity, remember, is really founded by St. Paul, not by Jesus. Paul says, very clearly, that if it is not true that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then we the Christians are of all people the most unhappy. If none of that’s true, and you seem to say it isn’t, I have no quarrel with you. You’re not going to come to my door trying convince me either. Nor are you trying to get a tax break from the government. Nor are you trying to have it taught to my children in school. If all Christians were like you I wouldn’t have to write the book.
I certainly enjoyed that. Didn't you? Of course, if a Christian said "you're really not in any meaningful sense a Christian," they would be accused of self-righteousness and being judgmental. But when one who has no affinity says it, perhaps it carries more weight.

Read the entire interview here.

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