Friday, August 8, 2008
Christopher Hitchens and His Book
I just finished reading Christopher Hitchens' book, god is not Great. The book was published sometime last year (Wikipedia: May 1st) and sold real well and is a part of the "New Atheism" movement and catches your eye because the cover is yellow. I read it because no one likes those people that bash on a book/person when they are uninformed (i.e. The Golden Compass - do you really think any of those Christian bloggers out there had actually read the book?). Plus I thought I might pick up some ammo to use against mainstream evangelical Christianity because c'mon, let's be honest, being all emerging church is sexy.
A brief outline of the book can be found here (thanks again Wiki),
but if you're looking for my words, Hitchens basically tries to bash every religion for every evil thing they have ever done including (but not limited to) genocide, limitation of thought, mistreatment of women and children, the banning of medical treatment, and so on and so forth. Then he points to how atheism is the logical, scientifically proven option for humankind where we are evolving out of this mystical madness that made sense for peasants hundreds of years ago but now that we have the internet and front loading washing machines, it's rather absurd that we spend so much time on religions that do nothing but harm mankind.
About half way through the book I thought to myself, "he's trying to take on a whole lot of stuff." Now The New Yorker calls him an "intellectual" on the back cover so yes, it's true he is smart. But even my limited knowledge (well, I guess I go to a Christian school...) found a number of things that I could pretty easily answer to. Then again, he brought up some things that I agreed with him on. But the point being, you cannot "disprove" every religion in a matter of 300 pages.
A lot of the Christian church's past has been pretty screwed up. The Crusades, using scripture to support slavery, the Inquisition, not allowing women to do anything, etc. What I'm not totally sure of is why Hitchens cannot grasp the idea that Christians renounce these things today. He argues that the religion itself changes and therefore, is unreliable. But that's just incorrect. As we better understand the Scriptures, the closer we come to what Jesus describes as the Kingdom of God. Now I'm sure the church is far from being perfect but I think it unfair to discount the presence of a god because of the mistakes and misinterpretations its followers have made (although that only highlights the weight our decisions as a universal Church hold).
(As I was reading god is not Great, I was re-reading Rob Bell's Velvet Elvis. This was a good co-read. The beginning of Velvet Elvis looks at Christianity as constantly being "repainted" by its followers. From the doings of the early Church to the meetings to decide what would be included in the "official" Bible, to the constant interpretations of Scripture, Rob explains our responsibility as Christians is to constantly be understanding what the Bible is saying for us today. This aided in my understanding of past church mistakes.)
In addition to the critique of past offenses, Hitchens says that the church is currently harming its members. He uses the example of Jesus' messages of loving thy neighbor or committing adultery in one's heart. In these messages, Jesus is furthering the commandments to move them from simply physical actions to heart conditions but Hitchens sees it as a micro-management that the church uses to shame their members. I think he's misunderstanding the messages in the same way that some church leaders might. He simply sees them as rules instead of as to an invitation to join something better. I think most the larger majority of Christians today understands this and to be frank, Hitchens misunderstands a lot of the details.
In covering practically every religion, he also seems to group a lot of religions together. One example of this would be his medical chapter where he claims that circumcision of every kind is grotesque and evil of a religion to require. He obviously points out Judaism and how awful this was for the males. Now maybe this has something to do with him being born in the UK but circumcision is fairly common in the States (with the uncircumcised usually being the minority) so I didn't really see his point there but then he seamlessly moves onto female circumcision (which is practiced in some African cultures). Female circumcision on the other hand, is a horrible practice that is not really accepted anywhere except for these remote cultures and it is forced onto girls. This is only one example but when attempting to make points, he seemed to pick and choose from varying religions and then claim it as a defect of all religion (which is really unfair to the innocent parties).
Perhaps the point I don't understand the most is how he pits Religion vs. Science. OK, the church thought the earth was the center of the universe. There's been a number of other bad moments in the church when it comes to denying scientific progress, but there are scientists out there that believe in God. There are those that believe in Intelligent Design in the strictest of sense (which would go against the majority of science believed today) but there's just as many that believe in a Theistic Evolution approach to the earth's beginning. The pursuit of religion and science is easily (and done best) when done together.
Those are my rantings. I sort of sound like a fundamentalist. That's not sexy at all... although I do have one "Evangelical Critic" comment to make. As I read Hitchens' critiques of other religions present today I repeatedly thought to myself that if this were a Christian author just trying to disprove other religions, the Christian mass would eat this stuff up and make it a best seller a la Left Behind. Throw in an atheist and a Christianity critique and the author receives death threats. What little difference between our "enemies."