Friday, July 17, 2015

Did you see the debate with Hitchens?

Dear Rev Know-it-all,
I saw a wonderful presentation. I am not sure if it was a debate or an interview. In it the world renowned atheist with the cool British accent Christopher Hitchens debated a rather large fellow who was a Roman Catholic. At first I thought the rather hefty Catholic might be you, but he was a whole lot more liberal than you. I would love to know your opinion of the presentation.
Horst Raes
Dear Horst,
For your sake, I endured the entire hour and a half video. I think Hitchens was mistaken about three premises. His portly Papist friend just nodded and agreed with Hitchens’ egregious non-facts.  First, Hitchens asserts that religion in general and Catholicism in particular is evil and no different than fascism or Marxism which, though atheist, are also religions and are the fault of Christianity wherein Hitler and Stalin learned all their nasty oppressive habits. This is clear as we see the collaboration of the anti-Semite Pius XII with the Nazis and the fact that Stalin was a Russian Orthodox seminary student for less than a year. This is nonsense. Hitchens was wrong about Pius XII, who was credited by the state of Israel with saving 600,000 Jews when no one else was saving any. He hid Jews in every nook and cranny of the Vatican. Read “A Special Mission: Hitler's Secret Plot to Seize the Vatican and Kidnap Pope Pius XII” by Dan Kurzman, or Rabbi David Dahlen’s “Myth of Hitler’s Pope.”   Hitchens didn’t do his homework, or was indulging in wishful thinking. As for Stalin, I suspect his mother made him join the seminary.
The second assumption is that the Jews rejected Jesus. Hitchens makes the point that both Mohammed and Jesus first spoke to Jews and were rejected by them. He claims that the first people to whom Jesus and Mohammed spoke must not have been very impressed by either prophet of the new religions because they didn’t join the new religions. Though this may be true for Mohammad, it was certainly not true of Jesus. The sociologist Dr. Rodney Stark, made a careful study of tombstones and name lists in the first three centuries after Christ. The documentary evidence indicates that many, perhaps most Jews in the Roman Empire accepted the messianic claims of Jesus. At the time of Christ there were at least 5 million Jews in the Roman Empire. A few centuries later there were less than a million.  This means that either 3 to 4 million Jews became Christian or just disappeared. Stark believes the available evidence indicates that Greek speaking Jews accepted the messianic claims of Jesus and blended into the Greek speaking population of the empire, and this at a time when Jews had a favored status among the Romans while Christians were persecuted. There was no coercion to become a Christian, quite the opposite. There was good reason to remain Jewish. Jews had a protected status in the empire even after the destruction of the temple. Christianity was an illegal often persecuted sect. There was no reason other than faith for a Jew to become a Christian.
Christians did not advertise. They hid. Non-Christians were not even allowed to attend certain Christian services. Christians by the year 200 were famous throughout the empire for the respect in which they held marriage and for their power to heal the sick for which they asked no money. People, including Jews, sought out Christians, not the other way around. Mr. Hitchens seems never to have encountered this kind of evangelism.
Mr. Hitchens asks the listener to assume that his opinions are indisputable and these two assertions are quite disputable.  This leads to a third assumption. Mr. Hitchens assumes that if I am a good Christian, I cannot rest until I know that he is going to heaven. He assumes that evangelism is an intellectual exercise to convince the heathen that the Christian is right, and that the heathen is wrong and if he does not finally agree with me and joins my religious club, he will go to hell. That seems to be what Mr. Hitchens thinks is evangelism. It’s certainly not the way I define evangelism. I suspect Mr. Hitchens understands this as evangelism because it’s the only evangelism he has ever encountered. He has also never encountered a church that was not a political church. The god he rejects is an Anglican god, a god invented by the Tudors.
Herein I suspect we find the source of his unhappiness. The first three centuries of the faith, when it overcame the Roman Empire, were free of political involvement. The Roman state practiced Mr. Hitchens’ brand of evangelism. Worship the emperor or you are not one of us and must die. Christians hadn’t the power to coerce conversion and it was in those first years that the faith grew exponentially. I suspect that if one must believe, one cannot believe. If I have no option but to be a church member, my membership cannot be based on faith. It is based on fear of governmental reprisal. When a religion becomes the tool of the state, as it did in Anglican England, the coercion that repelled Mr. Hitchens takes the place of faith.  I join Mr. Hitchens in his dislike of politicians who wear vestments. Unfortunately it seems that is the only kind of Christianity that Mr. Hitchens has ever known.
Mr. Hitchens aims his big guns at Mother Teresa of Calcutta, a woman whom he admits even non-religious people like except of course for Mr. Hitchens. He blasts her for going to Ireland, a country about which she knows nothing and there telling the Irish not to accept divorce and abortion. She should, he implies, mind her own business and not try to force her religion on the Irish. Mother Teresa, I suspect believes that abortion and divorce are bad for children. They are not her religion. They are her perception of the common good. Had she gone to Nazi Germany and told Hitler to stop killing Jews, would Hitchens say that she should mind her own business. Those who disrupt family life and commit abortion are hurting children at least that seems to be the opinion of Mother Teresa.
In his condemnation of Mother Teresa, Hitchens must certainly think that children in the womb are somehow subhuman and that children have no rights to a stable home situation. I also assume that therefore he would not claim the right to have criticized Hitler who devoutly believed in his Nazi religion, as Hitchens understands religion, that taught Jews were subhuman and, along with gypsies, had no right to any kind of safety or stability.  Certainly Mr. Hitchens would not have forced his religion down the throats of Nazis, and that is most certainly what Mr. Hitchens’ atheism is: a religion. He is an aggressive anti-evangelist who would argue me into accepting his religion and would save me from delusions about a Supreme Being.
Mr. Hitchens was an evangelist or perhaps better a de-evangelist cut from the same cloth he despises.
(To be continued)

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