Wednesday, June 6, 2007

A Christian Explains the Theological Usefulness of Hitchens Attack on Faith

Rory Shiner, on the staff team at St Matthew's Anglican Church in Shenton Park, Western Australia and also an associate staff worker with the UWA Christian Union, has a very provocative piece on the theological usefulness of Christopher Hitchens recent attacks on faith:

In the current conversation about atheism, it can be tempting to pillory the likes of Hitchens and Dawkins as aggressive polemicists. However, there are many ways in which (especially) Hitchens can help us.

In particular, Hitchens has repeatedly pointed out the sad phenomenon of religions banding together to defend “faith” in general and oppose opposition to “religion” in general. Take for example the appalling way in which a number of Christian leaders a few years ago defended, not Salman Rushdie’s right to write The Satanic Verses without the threat of death, but rather spoke out against his apparent offensiveness and blasphemy when the man was under a death sentence (Fatwa) from religious leaders in the name of God.

Or take the sentimentality with which much American evangelicalism dealt with the recent revelations about Ted Haggard—he may have been sleeping with a male prostitute and buying Crack on the streets, but he’s still one of us, and his restoration is no doubt imminent.

Or take the general way in which, in the assault headed by Dawkins and Hitchens, Christian apologists have so often responded with a general defense of something called “faith” that is apparently shared by all religious people. Take the very notion that all people of faith should make common cause against atheists, presumably on the assumption that, whatever differences we might have, compared to dreaded atheists, we’re all pretty close.

It is worth remembered that our early Christian forebears went to their deaths in the Roman Empire on the accusation of being Atheists—a misunderstanding because (a) they had no cult and (b) there were just so many gods they simply did not believe in! (There is a lot of atheism in Christianity—just count how many gods we don’t believe in! Atheists only beat us by 1!) Are we now standing with the modern equivalents of the ancient pagan religions and the emperor cult against the apparent threat of atheism?

I think rather we should recover our nerve and stand with Hitchens when he rightly denounces the ways in which religion so often plays on the credulity of people, the way it so often corrupts, and its leaders so often exploit. We ought to have stood with Salman Rushdie and the Danish Cartoonists—at least to the point of denouncing the religious forces that amassed against them. We should have nothing to do with the sentimentality surrounding the Ted Haggard scandal and instead clearly state that, when you are one of the key voices against homosexuality and for family values, you don’t get at the same time to also be sleeping with prostitutes and expect the Christian family to respond in sympathy. As a Christian leader, you just don’t get to do that. Sure, the gospel declares that a Ted Haggard may one day stand before God forgiven and restored—of course it does!—but that fact doesn’t mean we should be declaring cheap grace to a Charlatan and an abuser of the good faith of God’s people. Surely we should join with Hitchens in denouncing the way Iraq is currently being ripped to shreds by the “parties of God.”

And in our apologetics, surely we must recover our nerve and remember that we are critics of idolatry, not defenders. That we do not worship “God” in general, but the God of Israel, the God who is Trinity, the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in particular. That we do not defend prophets (or profits!) in general, by Jesus in particular. That we do not extol “faith” no matter its object, but the faithfulness of Christ in particular, who alone rightly illicit our faith.

So, two cheers for Hitchens for having the nerve to denounce religious evil.


Read it all. It is odd, is it not, that we have allowed the debate to become "faith" versus "reason" or "science" as opposed to a more specific defense of the Christian faith.

Hat tip to Ben Myers at Faith and Theology Blog. There is a great discussion at Rory's website. Join the conversation.

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