15 September 2014

God Is Not Great

In writing, I have come to learn, a catching title is half the job done for a written piece. Seeing as my audience for this blog is predominantly Evangelical Christian and know me a such, I believe my work in writing what I hope will be a good and not-so-long piece is half complete.

God IS great. My post title is borrowed. It is taken from the main title of a New York Times Best Seller List book written by Christopher Hitchens who my post is really about. The full title of his book is "God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything". Hitchens was - yes, he died of cancer in 2011 - a British acclaimed atheist and journalist. I need to state before I go any further that I am neither an expert on Hitchens' book or work nor on his views but have a pretty good idea from what I have seen of him on YouTube, particularly his interviews and debates.

Hitchens was ferocious, feisty and fearless in his debates often putting the religious he debated to shame. He went after everyone, Catholics, Evangelicals, Muslims, Jews e.t.c. That's what made me take interest in him. Not only his high level of intelligence and thought provoking queries into religion but also how that he seemed to take his detest for both God and religion quite personally. Why would I find that 'attractive'? Because his attack on God and the religious was not so much malicious. It seems he sincerely believed that religion was poisonous and threw his time and energy into making people see it. So resolved was he that when his book came out he told his publishers that he did not want to promote his book in the big cities and arenas but he opted to tour the small cities and spread the 'truth' about God and religion there.

Most of us Christians consider such men our enemies and avoid them at all costs, paying them no mind but I'm pretty sure that even among the most aggressive enemies of God and our faith, God has chosen some. Apart from that, I think men like Hitchens help us be thorough in our understanding of our faith and help us be better prepared to give an answer when what we believe is questioned. Furthermore, contending with men like Hitchens helps us see what in scripture and in our beliefs is absurd (humanly speaking) that might not be as apparent to us because we have become accustomed after all, a fish does not know that it is wet.

I'd paraphrase Hitchens oft used punch lines as follows (you'll notice that he didn't have all the pieces quite right):
"God doesn't exit. He certainly does not care about you. He neither knows what you ate last night or who you slept with. Scientists generally assert that humanity has been around for 100,000 years. If they are accurate then for the first 198,000 of those years, God watched human kind suffer through life without knowledge of technological development or self preservation, dying of all sorts of diseases and living such a poor quality of life due to ignorance. God watched all this sitting back with arms folded and finally arbitrarily decided to intervene 2,000 years ago by sending his son in human flesh to a corner of the earth so obscure and at a time so backward that it has taken his message of redemption so long to make its way around the earth that millions still remain ignorant of it today. Doesn't sound like a caring God to me let alone one intelligent enough to create the earth we live in."
Here's another one:
"You expect me to believe that I am born a sinner damned and headed for eternal punishment and there's nothing I could ever have done to prevent it? That I now live my life under the wrath of God who sent his son to die for my sins - divine child abuse - without ever consulting me and the only way out of my dilemma is to submit to this terrestrial dictator, a sort of big brother, who monitors my every deed, word and thought? I was never asked whether or not I wanted this, never consulted but was born under these conditions with no real choice in the matter? And now I should respond in thanks and praise for this 'great' salvation? Give me a break!"
And finally:
God gives a set of rules, ten to be exact, deliberately leaving out slavery, child abuse and genocide because in the chapters following he provides room for his followers to do all three; that all slaves who cannot buy their freedom will get a chance at release every 49 years and that all disobedient children are to be stoned to death and that his chosen nation is to embark on military expeditions taking lands which have been in the hands of other nations for generations and killing every living and breathing thing including mothers, children and babies. Is this morality? Is this benevolence? Then count me out.
When I listen to Christopher Hitchens I often remember the question, "does a fish know it's wet?" There is so much merit (humanly speaking) or perhaps more appropriately, reasonableness, in his queries. In other words you can kind of understand why he would think what he thought. If you think about it, we as Christians don't see these issues because we have become so familiar with these things that their absurdity doesn't jump out at us. It's always good to see things through 'neutral' eyes and even eyes with an opposite bias because it opens our eyes to those things which are unusual about our beliefs and our faith and our God and forces us to wrestle with them, ask hard questions and search for answers. God does not call us to a blind faith. Sure at some point we must switch from the logic gear and get into the faith gear but until that point, God does invite us to explore these things and think through them.

So then, how do you deal with such an individual? I'll try and answer this question in part two!

To be continued...