Tuesday, June 26, 2007

If Hitchens Is Right, Then I Must Not Be Religious

Bertrand Russell famously wrote Why I am Not a Christian. If memory serves me correctly, it was G. K. Chesterton who responded, "If a Christian is what Bertrand Russell says it is, I am not a Christian either." In any case, that came to mind while I was cheat reading Christopher Hitchens' God is Not Great in Barnes & Noble the other day. What he condemns in religion is not what I espouse.

I checked the index and found not one reference to any 20th century theologian or philosopher of religion I ever read and who instructed me on what it is to be a modern Christian. I did find a few brief references to a couple of Roman Catholic Popes and to the Protestant fundamentalists Jerry Falwell, Charles Stanley and Pat Robertson!

Critics of religion typically ignore the cultural context in which religion occurs, seeming to have some ahistorical notion of something they call "religion," and it is always bad. This ignores the fact that religious belief is always particular and occurs in some cultural context, so that what is bad may be in fact as much, if not primarily, a cultural thing and not necessarily a religious phenomenon. Also, they give not much attention to the good that may come out of religion, e. g., opposition to slavery and works of charity and mercy like feeding the hungry and healing the sick. Somehow these things are not part of this abstracted essence of "religion."

They seem to believe that if religion were universally abandoned, the world would be better off.

I suggest that such is not the case. Apparently tthe critics assume that all these non-religious souls would be scientifically enlightened people with high morals, i. e., like the authors of these anti-religious tirades. It would be equally fallacious to assume that all would be well if everybody were the kind of Christian I am.

Efforts to attribute the world's ills to some one cause, private property, e. g. (Marxism), the rectification of which would lead to certain progress, have never been successful.

So, go ahead, Mr. Hitchens, condemn what you call "religion," but, pardon me, if I am equally insistent that whatever you are talking about, it doesn't include me.


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