Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Beware of the Angry White Guys!

If you have spent anytime around Barnes & Noble you are most probably aware of the deluge of anti-God books that have come out over the past year. The biggest one of all of them has been Richard Dawkins "The God Delusion." But one of the other books caught my attention. Christopher Hitchens is a regular on news programs who is never afraid to offer up his opinions. Most recently he has come under attack for trashing Mother Teresa in a Newsweek article railing against her 'lack of faith' as if this proves her coming to reason that God does not really exist but then choosing to ignore reason and reality as defined by him. Well, a man who seems to have no shame in thinking he can interpret the mind of Mother Teresa as a weak and delusional old lady kind of intrigued me. So I decided to check out his book that has been included in the "New Atheist" category.
Well, I just recently finished Christopher Hitchens "God Is Not Great". And I must say it was a difficult read. Why, you might ask? For several reasons:

1. Hitchens does a fine job of drudging up the-worst-of-the-worst in religious history painting a very, very dark picture of all religions. Now I am a Christian and I will be the first to admit that the history of the "Christian" church is by no means perfect. In fact, it always seems that when the Bible is mixed with a little taste of power and a smattering of politics it inevitably turns ugly very quickly. But within the stream of Christian history, it is evident that there are many examples of those who use the Christian religion for their own purposes which pervert and distort the true message of Christ. This is NOT true Christianity nor is it the real message of Jesus Christ. But to be fair, the church all throughout history has always been filled with imperfect people. God forbid that anyone would lift me up on a pedestal as a shining example of a happy, shiny Christian. It is only by the grace of God that anything good comes out of my life or out of the stream that we call Christian history.

2. Hitchens is HORRIBLE when it comes to interpreting the meaning of Scripture. For being recognized as one of the most important intellectuals that USA has to offer, he most certainly did not wrestle with the great intellectual minds of the Christian faith but instead took easy shots at the most controversial figures who represent the fringe of Christianity, such as Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell. Before you spew your misguided and thoughtless interpretations of Scripture why not at least wrestle with the intellectual minds within the Christian faith and not just the ones who have been dead, gone and buried for decades or the ones today who are hardly any challenge at all. I would love to see a man like Hitchens dialogue with John Stott, Scot McKnight or Ravi Zacharias. I would dare even to say that you would not even last a round with Rick Warren without being touched by the love of God that radiates from him.

3. It is very difficult to read someone who is so full of himself. Intellectualism is Hitchens god and he is drinking deeply from that well. And as a person like this becomes consumed with himself it is easy for him to look very condescendingly down upon the those whom he considers "ignorant". That is one of the major roadblocks that I continually bumped into in reading this book. As much as I wanted to try and understand his line of reasoning, I found it very difficult to get beyond his egoism and condescension.

4. Where is all the anger coming from?!?! Hitchens seems almost violently angry at God, at the Christian faith and at all faiths for that matter. So much so, that even his subtitle declares that "religion poisons everything". Why the temper tantrum? Where is all this repressed rage coming from? There are moments within the book that his anger seems so toxic that, if he had his way, the endorsement of widespread persecution of all those of any faith would tickle his fancy! He almost borders on becoming the very things he hates within his dark portraits of religious history - intolerant, destructive, and oppressive.

5. It seems to me that as we continue to emerge into this post-modern era, the constructs of modernity are crumbling. With this is the enlightenment idea that the field of science is the end-all of true intelligence and intellectualism. But as other 'gods' within society emerge, the common people lose their trust in the modern structure of intelligence and embrace the new gods of a post-modern culture. This alone would cause those who believe strongly in enlightenment thinking to react violently as their ship is sinking fast. With this in mind, it is important to note that all truth is God's truth if we truly believe that He is the creator of all things. So all theological truth AS WELL AS scientific truth and psychological truth ultimately come from the mind of God. It is we who discover what God Himself has already set in motion.

So what it all comes down to is that this book is not great. It is the tirade of an angry man who is full of himself. He looked at the dark underbelly of religion but I would dare him to explore all of the good that is happening as genuine people of faith live out their beliefs. I would dare him to actually dialogue with respected people within faith communities who hold to an opposite view of Hitchens. I would dare him to spend some time in Africa with Compassion International. I would dare him to see the good that is coming out of churches that tend to be the major influences within American Christianity - Saddleback Community Church, Willow Creek Community Church and Mars Hill Bible Church. DO NOT watch "television Christianity" and label us according to the stereotype they feed into. I love the fact that at the beginning of Hitchen's book, he admits to having Christian friends who tell him he is a "seeker"! That lets me know that Hitchens does have people around him who are being an example of Christ's love and having just a little bit of fun goading him on in his scrooge-like attitude towards the religious! If Jesus can turn someone like Paul inside-out then surely it is only a matter of time when Hitchens will become one of the most dynamic and outstanding defenders of the Christian faith!


Fitz said...

We are doing a series at La Croix called 'The Problem with God' to answer these neo-atheists. It's pretty interesting and stirring some discussions. We have set up a blog, too, on which I am a contributor: And don't put this guy in a debate with Ravi. It would be a bloodbath...which might be cool, too.

art said...

I also reviewed Hitchens' book.

I understand your anger that comes through in your review in that Hitchens does misrepresent the whole of Christianity by painting it with the same brush as televangelists and Pat Robertson. But he does have a point.

I'm not sure this type of ranting is what is going to help in the situation. Getting into a screaming match with Hitchens or calling him arrogant might not be the best approach. It puts those who agree with him at a defensive posture where they are going to be more prone to try to refute everything you say rather than listen to a carefully crafted argument based on God's self-revelation.

Just my .02