Thursday, July 3, 2008

god is not great (Christopher Hitchens)

I recently finished reading the book god is not Great by Christopher Hitchens. He is a journalist and an atheist and this book deals with some of his thoughts on religion, faith, adherents of faith, and why all of it is useless, meaningless, naive, and mere fantasy. I appreciate reading books such as this one because there are observations, critiques, and insights that atheists have into the heart of religious belief and faith that strike at the foundations and need to be addressed honestly and candidly by adherents of those faiths. Being a Christian I am also quite concerned with how my faith is portrayed to non-adherents, not just by myself but by all of those who claim Christian faith. It is of importance to note that much of what Hitchens chose to highlight in this book was the mistakes, failures, and atrocities made by Christians over the past two thousand years. This recourse has almost become an argument in and of itself against the existence of God. It was this observation by Hitchens and by other authors that has caused me much frustration in my personal devotion. I can often find myself disheartened when I hear these examples used by atheists and critics of religious faith as a reason why they do not believe. While a hospital chaplain in a psychiatric clinic I had a conversation with a person who considered himself an atheist. This person said that they wanted to believe, they wanted to pray, they wanted to claim Christian faith, but they couldn't help but be dissuaded by the actions of Christians they have known or met.
It seems there is a tension that we as believers have to struggle with. We are faulted, flawed, mistake making individuals and communities, and at the same time we are called to exemplify Christ-likeness (Christian means "little Christ"). We are called to live a life of devotion, understanding that we depend on grace. I hope and pray that we can learn lessons from our sordid past that we can look at the mistakes our Christian forbears have made and strive to not make those mistakes, discerning our place in history, and praying for the grace to live as God would have us live in testament to God's love.
Hitchens also seems to thrust a false distinction upon religious faith. He says that religion and faith has strived to keep people in a state of naivete. He cites science as a specific example of a area of human inquiry and study where religion is losing its power to explain because it is no longer in a position of controlling power such as to force its position upon the naive masses. While I fully acknowledge the many mistakes the Church has made in dealing with scientific inquiry and discovery I do not believe science and faith are mutually exclusive categories any more. Why should I be forced to choose between science and faith? They need not necessarily be dichotomized.
I appreciate Hitchens' honest reflections and forthright critique of religious faith; however, I am not persuaded that Hitchens has read enough of Christian thinkers between the 3rd century and the 15th century. There are quite a few (men and women) who grappled with the questions of God's existence and honestly dealt with critique of the Church and the behavior of its leaders and adherents.
Hitchens makes it clear that he sees faith as naive. Faith is not naive, just as long as it doesn't settle for easy answers and remains "faith seeking understanding."

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