Saturday, December 17, 2011

Letters to Hitchens & Friends

I liked Christopher Hitchens. As something of a logophile, I enjoyed his use of language. He could turn phrases like few others. He was passionate, widely read and politically interesting.

I was first introduced to Hitchens a number of years back when I caught a dialogue between Hitchens, Dr. Mark D. Roberts, and Hugh Hewitt on the radio*. I started paying attention a bit more when he released his book, "God is not Great." He asked questions and made statements that made me think more about my faith. This, to me, is a good thing. A faith unexamined is a faith easy to have ripped from one's grasp.

Yet fundamentally I have some very serious disagreements with what Hitchens believed and argued when it comes to many (most?) aspects of religion and faith. He was a devout atheist, even "evangelistic" in his zeal to convert the, um, converted. Hitchens' debates and lectures on YouTube are popular, as are his books. His eloquence being what it was, I understand why.

Hitchens was persuasive too. In this, I think, he was most dangerous. Frankly I wish he had marshalled his talents in favor of the faith rather than against it. When he resorted to polemics, he diminished. When he argued, he changed minds. Because of this, I took care when reading his work, or listening to his voice. In many cases, his eloquence covered up some significant flaws in his arguments - but the eloquence alone was sufficient to influence those who didn't pay close attention to the arguments.

As much as I respected Hitchens, I always wished I could have talked with him. Going back through some of his writings of late, I would like to start a new feature here, inspired in part by some of the challenges he gave me in my thinking. It's not the same as debating him live, but he asks some questions which deserve answers - and makes some arguments which deserve refutation.

I'll call this 'Letters to Hitchens & Friends' and address, primarily, arguments of his that seem to be cropping up most frequently amongst those of a non-theistic bent. I think, though, that he would also say others argue against faith, so while titled for Hitchens, it will really be aimed at skeptics in general. It won't be a series in the sense that I'm going to rip out a string of these posts and be done; they will be here and there as I feel most compelled to address a given argument and as I have time to do so.

Will I change minds? Possibly, but just as possibly not. Hitchens himself would not even know who I am. In humility I would absolutely say I may not be correct myself. Yet when more theists are becoming atheists, I would like to outline why it is that I am not following in their stead.

For my non-theist friends: if there is a question you'd like to have answered, you can always post it to the comments. Just realize I will address one question at a time, and while I will try to get to every question, my schedule (as you'd see from looking at my archives) and my own sense of priorities may not permit fast replies.

For my theist friends: if you are struggling with your own answers, you can ask questions too. I do not claim to know all the answers; what I'll be posting are my thoughts & reasons for holding a particular belief, and why I find a specific argument unpersuasive. It is almost certain that others can answer better than I. Just take it as my own thinking out loud in response to questions that challenge my beliefs.

I hope you find this idea interesting. I certainly do, and since it's my blog I'll give it a shot; please join the conversation and add your voice.

God bless -

*Confession: I generally dislike political talk radio, finding it increasingly unsatisfying in terms of completeness, fairness and kindness. Hewitt is one of the few exceptions, and I listened to his show more for the guests he seemed to attract - like Hitchens, Mark Steyn and James Lileks, all master communicators who bring wit, intelligence and passion through words. Even when I disagreed with them, they were (nay, are) interesting. I highly recommend finding the archives of Hewitt's interviews with Hitchens, such as this one between Hitchens & David Allen White. I am neither atheist nor Catholic, yet found the interchange fascinating.

Values of the Church 4: Selflessness

Selflessness is hard. Everything in our society screams at us to take care of #1, to procure what we "deserve." Take care of yourself first, it is said, buy this product to make yourself happy. Spout off your opinions, and if others disagree label them intolerant and attack them rather than contend with ideas (the Interwebs may have something to do with this).

Our environment pushes us to selfishness. That's the easy path.

That's not what we're called to in the church. As we get to the evaluation phase of this series, we need to also remember that selflessness is a necessary value of the church.

Paul would describe selflessness of the type required as "submission." (Note: there could be an entire series - taking 8 years if I write it, hardee-har-har - talking about submission vis a vis the role of women in marriage. My concern with the term is more limited - yet general - in scope for the purposes of this series.) It is placing the needs & desires above your own.

Ephesians 5 talks about this. In verse 21:

Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.

Or as he states it in Philippians:

Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves 

Submission is a dirty word (in large part, but not solely, because of the aforementioned debate related to the role of women) in our culture. Yet if we are to call ourselves Christians, "little Christs" we ought to strive to be like Him most of all. He was selfless, not just giving His life (not that I'm diminishing that!) but also in his daily life on Earth.
There are more episodes of submitting to others - in healing, in acknowledging the place of leaders, in dining with the outcasts.

We ought to be like this. It is hard, but in church especially we should be looking to benefit & bless others, even before ourselves.

Next up: scripture, then the evaluation.

God bless,