I must confess — I like Christopher Hitchens. I think he is funny, witty, intelligent and is a fabulous writer. Obviously I would disagree with Hitchens on a number of philosophical and historical issues.
Recently Hitchens was interviewed by the Unitarian minister Marilyn Sewell. In their encounter Hitchens makes quite a few stunning observations.
Amid the nonsensical questions (Hitchens categorizes one of Sewell’s ambiguous spiritual utterances as a “statement that [has] no meaning — at all), Sewell stumbles on Hitchens view of the non-material portion of a person (i.e., a soul). Hitchens, though not subscribing to an immortal soul or something of that nature, acknowledges that there is a portion of each human that is not “entirely materialistic.” His evidence? Innocence in children, existences of love, and other “unquantifiable” attributes. This sounds vaguely reminiscent of the classic Christian triad of “truth, goodness, and beauty.”
I am not one to normally criticize “liberal Christianity” (whatever that means), but Sewell so clearly believes she is a part of the Christian tradition. She self identifies with Christianity though she believes virtually nothing of the Orthodox Christian faith according to the Scriptures. I was pleased to see Hitchens candidly point out the inconsistency in Sewell’s belief systems. Here are portions of there exchange:
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 any 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.
Sewell: Times change and, you know, people’s beliefs change. I don’t believe that you have to be fundamentalist and literalist to be a Christian. You do: You’re something of a fundamentalist, actually.
Hitchens: Well, I’m sorry, fundamentalist simply means those who think that the Bible is a serious book and should be taken seriously.
The rest of the exchange is quite fascinating. If anything, Sewell reveals that she is more akin to Hitchens (an atheist) than a Biblical Christian.