Some friends of mine and I are getting together tomorrow evening to discuss Christopher Hitchens’ book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything. I must admit, it’s been a very difficult read. Many times I’ve wanted to throw the book away, but I’ve persevered through it. Far from shaking my faith, it’s helped me to see Christianity through the eyes of a devout atheist and examine again why it is that I believe what I believe. It’s not because the evidence is so overwhelming from an earthly perspective. Both Christian apologists and secular humanists look at the same evidence from the world around us and come up with very different conclusions about the existence or non-existence of God. Brilliant men on both sides have thundered against one another for centuries. Ultimately it’s not a matter of having the right, incontrovertible evidence. The only reason I believe what the Bible says is that the Spirit of God has confirmed that the Word of God is true. Without that, I would be as lost as the next guy.
Hitchens lumps all belief systems into the same category. For him, there really is no difference between Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, Buddhism or any other -ism. All are man-made, and all are primitive attempts to either manipulate the masses or explain the world around us. Some of what he says is absolutely true of organized religion. It is poisonous. Even Christianity at times has slipped from its biblical moorings. But the people of God from the very beginning have been called to a different way of life. Hitchens accuses religion for setting up impossible standards, but then punishing folks for their inability to uphold those standards. Christianity is no different. Jesus calls us to an impossible life…but it’s His life. The strength to walk in that life is not natural, but super-natural. It is only by the Spirit’s power. But that’s what sets Christianity apart – it’s not a matter of keeping rules, but of following a Person and being empowered by a Person to do that. Hitchens doesn’t understand that.
Hitchens also attacks the creation account (“myth” as he calls it), missing Moses’ purpose in including it in the book of Genesis. One of Hitchens’ favorite names for us humans is “mammal”. For him it’s a reminder of our place in the cosmos. We are one of many species that happen to inhabit this rock called Earth that formed over billions of years. There really is no purpose or meaning in life. We live and die just like the rest of creation. And it’s to a group of people who would have heard a very similar condemnation that Moses writes. The creation account in Genesis 1 highlights the unique and exalted place that man (and woman) have over His creation. We are created in His image and likeness. The imago dei is still present, although marred through the fall. But we await the day when our bodies will be resurrected and made new, and all of creation will be redeemed.
Hitchens book is a tough read and not for the faint of heart. Lots of areas to interact with (I’ve just scratched the surface). But it is a good reminder that the wisdom of God is foolishness to man, and that following Jesus puts us at odds with the world around us. Welcome to the minority. Welcome to the community of the misunderstood.
Until next time…stay salty.