Saturday, December 17, 2011

Hitchens and Jesus

Christopher Hitchens is dead. There will be people who think that as a famous atheist Hitchens was an enemy of not just religion in general but of his own cultural tradition of Christianity. In fact they will think that with his passing a threat to religion and faith has passed away no doubt to receive his "reward" of eternal damnation and the biggest surprise of his life, now extended for eternity by a God who doesn't like disbelievers and has a long memory.

Meanwhile another actor in the debate between religion and atheism - also dead - is on a fast track to canonization by the Roman Catholic Church for sainthood. Pope John Paul II is the "good Christian" that in the mind of millions of believers stood as a bulwark against the tide of official Soviet atheism at one time and also stood against another threat: the growing irrelevance of all fundamentalist religious beliefs in the age of science.

In simplest terms in the minds of the pious it would be that Hitchens was "bad" and Pope John Paul was "good." The idea might apply not just to personal morality but to the notion that Hitchens and his ilk (the other so-called New Atheists) have somehow damaged faith in general and faith in Christianity in particular while the pope and other Christian leaders, say the evangelist Billy Graham etc., have done their best to strengthen the faith of millions while guarding the reputation of Christianity and thereby defending Jesus himself.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. All the raging of today's atheist apologists combined are but a flea bite compared to the fatal blow that Christianity has been dealt by its own leadership in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries.

John Paul II presided over the era in which the Roman Catholic Church became known mostly for being the largest and best protected pedophile ring in the world while - simultaneously -- attacking gays, women who demanded reproductive rights and scientists doing stem cell research etc., etc., as "immoral." And Billy Graham presided over an era of American evangelical expansion at the very time when the word "Christianity" in America became synonymous with far right social causes and above all the capitalist pro-corporatism that smacked more of Ayn Rand than Jesus.

Put it this way: Hitchens and company attacked the idea of the supernatural as bogus. (Disclosure: I "answered" Hitchens rather harshly in one of my books on religion and before that we'd "talked" a bit via email and one or two phone calls.) Their attacks were frontal and honest. Religious people - and I am one and will be in church this Sunday - had nothing to fear from the atheists' honest critique. Conversely the leadership of Christianity has utterly corrupted the Christian witness from within.

The death of the Christian witness (especially here in America) has been brought about by two fatal wounds: First, the conflation the teachings of Ayn Rand with the teachings of Christ. Call this the American version of Jesus-wants-us-to-be-anti-government-regulation-of-business and to be anti-health-care-for-all Tea Party-type "Christianity."

Second: John Paul II's real place in history is that of a pope that protected his institution rather than his flock. (I describe this in some detail in my book Sex, Mom and God.)While boys and girls were being abused by bishops and priests around the globe he looked the other way, covered up for them and did all he could to "contain" the scandal, a scandal that is still unfolding.

Billy Graham and his many evangelical clones that are now running mega churches and other Religious-Industrial Complex money making empires, have done their best to turn salvation into a process of voting for Republicans and thus corporatist leaders intent on protecting the "rights" of billionaires rather than the people. Billy Graham's son Franklin, now running the Billy Graham organisation is a corporate shill and supporter of far right "pro-business" causes.

So the sins of the evangelical and Roman Catholic "Christian" leadership are the same: The Roman Catholics have sacrificed their own children to the sexual greed of pedophiles out to protect their institution and the Evangelicals have sacrificed the poor to the greed of their corporate masters to protect American businesses.

And both profound and filthy betrayals have been done to protect institutions instead of people. Both betrayals have also been accompanied by levels of hypocrisy - the "family values" "pro-life" talk by people who condone pedophiles and no health care for actual families - that would make any decent atheist blush.

Result for the "Christian" witness?

On the one hand thousands of pedophile priests and bishops have been and are now free to abuse.

On the other hand Wall Street has been and is free to abuse.

So rest in peace Christopher Hitchens. At least you tried to tell the truth as you understood it and didn't live a lie. You didn't bugger little children and you didn't look the other way while the 1 percent stole the 99 percent's money. And unlike the recent popes and the evangelical leadership if there is a judgment day you'll be fine. You only disbelieved. You did not betray the "least of these."

Frank Schaeffer is a writer. His latest book is Sex, Mom, and God: How the Bible's Strange Take on Sex Led to Crazy Politics--and How I Learned to Love Women (and Jesus) Anyway


Frank Schaeffer said...

Hi Frank here testing posting comment since there has been a problem with this feature.

herewegokids said...

Hi Frank. [:)] You've brought up some really good things to consider; even though I'm Catholic, and hold the last 2 popes in fairly high regard (I'm not sure how much personal responsibility there is there for the priestly scandal fallout, and how much is unfortunately part of the squeaky wheels of bureaucracy) I still agree that there will be accountability, and we have way too much of our own mess as Christians to be pronouncing judgments on atheists and agnostics who were/are people of integrity and honesty. I haven't read Sex Mom & God yet, so I will. Thank you for giving it to us straight! Sarah from Kansas.

Frank Schaeffer said...

Thanks Herewe... for the note. You got the point of what I'm saying here, don't throw stones if we live in glass houses, which we religious people all do! Best, F

Joel Edmund Anderson said...

Hello Frank,
Although I agree with some of what you've said, I think there is a bit of oversimplification here. First, I wouldn't characterize Hitchens as an "honest" atheist. He attacked straw men and never took the time to do any real research into the Bible or Church history. If one is going to criticize the Bible or Christianity, put the effort into actually finding out what it actually says. I think he "honestly" thought Tim LaHaye's "Left Behind" series was accepted Church doctrine for the past 2,000 years. But that just shows he was more interested in lashing out than actually taking the time to understand what he was criticizing.

Secondly, if American Evangelicals are guilty of mistaking small-government conservative politics for the Gospel, aren't you in danger of a similar thing by equating the Gospel to big-government liberal politics? My point is this: honest Christians simply have different views on politics sometimes. I wouldn't question Franklin Graham's faith simply because he thinks the federal government should be smaller and the state governments should be able to decide on their own health care systems. I probably don't even agree with a number of his theological views, but I do acknowledge that "Samaritan's Purse" is a noble charity organization that helps countless people. The issue of how big or how small the federal government should be is not a "Christian/non-Christian" issue. It is a political issue, and it is a matter of what people think works best.

Finally, as bad and horrific as the pedophile scandal in the Catholic Church is, I think those priests guilty of those acts and those bishops who knowingly covered it up hold the most blame and condemnation. Like "Herewe" said, I'm not so sure how much blame we can put at the Pope's door on this one.

But ultimately, you're right about Hitchens and the New Atheists--Christians have nothing really to fear from them. When I read the books by Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris, I was struck more by their ignorance about the biblical world and Church history than anything else. Well-informed Christians should be able to take their simplistic arguments apart. The fact that so many Christians can't, unfortunately, points to a failure of churches from all branches and denominations to truly educate the Christians. If an adult sermon on Sunday is saying the same thing as the 3rd grade Sunday School, something is dreadfully wrong.


BluesLover said...

This is so dead-on. I've read you in a few times, and have become a huge fan. Like you, I come from a deeply religious background, and fairly recently had my eyes opened and began to live my life more rationally. Someone turned me on to the location of your blog this morning. So happy to have found you!

Rusty Horn (yes that's my name, my parents did that to me)

Frank Schaeffer said...

Hi Rusty: thanks for the very kind note and the encouragement. I'm pleased to meet you here. Best, Frank

clothedandinmyrightmind said...

I think of the charges laid at the feet of Hitchens by lessor men and yet for some reason, Fundamentalists do not so much as blush at the Hyles-Anderson grads that have buggered children, ran off with another's wife, coveted and stolen money that's not theirs. This also doesn't address the boys and girls "camps" run by Lester Roloff proteges that were little more than concentration camps for teens. Yes, Hitchens was honest and true to himself.

C Woods said...

It has been mentioned (in a comment here) that atheists like Hitchens haven't studied the Bible, yet a Pew study showed that, on average, atheists and agnostics know more about religion than most Christians. In my experience, that is true.

Many of my non-believing friends have read and studied the Bible and/or other "holy" books on their own because they had been told the stories therein were true or inerrant and when they started doubting that, they read the Bible and studied it and other religious writings so that they could make an informed decision about religion.

Bible reading was imposed on me by my highly-religious family, but I continued to study religion even after I began to doubt much of what I read in the Bible. As a senior citizen who does not believe in the "god of the Bible" I still read about religion almost daily.

What I cannot understand is why Christians think they are being oppressed. Christians make up about 75% of the US population. Most non-believers don't want to take religious rights from anyone. We want to uphold church/state separation and be accepted as full-fledged citizens whose goals, dreams, and values are similar to those of the religious.

Most of those who are more vocal (such as Hitchens) are attempting to express an opposing point of view, but few have any hopes of changing the minds of those who have strong and long-held religious beliefs and few would take religion from those who find comfort in it.

Any citizen can pray silently anywhere, even in school, or place one or even 100 religious symbols on/in any private home or place of business as long as they don't interfere with local ordinances, such as those limiting the size or volume of such displays. Any religious institution can do the same on it's own property. Non-believers don't care to take that right from anyone, but there is absolutely no need to pray openly or place religious symbols on public property as well, except to flaunt one's religious beliefs and/or show disrespect to those members of the public who believe otherwise.

I would assume you, Frank, have received some flack for your philosophical turnaround, perhaps even hate mail and threats. I would bet almost none of it came from Jews, Muslims, or atheists, but rather from "good Christians" who feel threatened by your change of heart.

In my opinion, the religious and non-religious, and people of various religions and even different sects of the same religion need to learn to get along, need to learn more about each other, respect each person's right to believe or disbelieve in any religion and to openly express such beliefs without trying to impose them on others through legislation.

Most of my friends are Christians. They have remained my friends because they don't judge me, tell me I'm going to hell, or try to convert me. I don't tell them they are stupid (something atheists are often accused of doing) and I don't judge them or try to convince them to become atheists. Discussing religion isn't a large part of our social activities, but we can do it with cool heads and remain friends. If only our leaders could do the same.

Profamilia Siempre said...

It would take a whole anti-left-wing-extremism sermon to expound upon all the hate, bile and naked anti-Christianity in this article. I am NOT a fundie, I am a theological and political moderate who happens to be anti-abortion and pro-traditional family. You have made it quite clear you hate and want to destroy people like me, all because of your complex past experiences and what a few over-the-top wingnuts and sex offenders hiding behind faith have done. Do not presume to preach against hate, because your writing is saturated with it. I will only take on the garbage in your last paragraph.

The truth AS YOU UNDERSTOOD IT? I didn't know Foucauldian my-truth your-truth shit was ANY part of Christianity. I do know that Christian does NOT need scare quotes when referring to Roman Catholics; I'm against the IFB-X and Neopente fundies on that. People not paying large amounts of tax because the Government that THEY ELECTED decided to promote a more libertarian approach, in line with the will of the voters, is THEFT from 99% of the population? Keep at it and English words will have no relation to fact whatsoever one of these days. After all, isn't that what you ultra-left postm... sorry, "progressive mainline Christians" want? IF there is a Judgment Day? As far as I am aware, that's not a negotiable issue. Of course, if there is no Divine Justice then the only route open to "Christians" is to try to get their kingdom to be of this world. A certain figure, who may or may not have existed and who may or may not- scratch that, DID exist and WILL judge both you and me one day, my friend, said a little something which directly contradicts that. Oh, and it would go against this thing you dearly love called separation of c...never mind, we all know it's separation of CONSERVATISM and state that you want and nothing less. Hitchens ONLY denied the Lord? If you ONLY spent your whole life arrogantly preaching godlessness to anyone who would listen, reaping financial awards and social and cultural acclaim for your New Anti-Faitheist claptrap which is a repackaging of the same OLD snake oil the fool of David's Psalm and the ancient Epicureans sold, then you can ONLY expect one result at the Judgment. What part of "by grace we are saved through faith" are you having trouble with, sophisticated metropolitan? If you're Biblically-illiterate the rest of that verse reads "Not of works, lest any man may boast." That is a no-exceptions litmus test. God won't allow an exception for the hard cases, the "works" which really get to people of your kind, like working to kill 30-week fetuses because the mother conveniently had a "single episode mental illness" , working to demolish cathedrals and spray-painting some misspelt version of "paedophile" on them, working to preach hate against the majority of Christians while purportedly against hate, or boasting about the fact you like to engage in sodomy OR are promiscuous (cf "gay pride", "slutwalk".) That, Mr.Schaeffer is NOT how you get saved.