I love Christopher Hitchens. I know that it might seem very strange for a pastor to be expressing positive emotions towards the world’s most ardent and frank atheist. But I can explain.  My draw towards him doesn’t come from being persuaded by his arguments or liking in any way the cause he is championing.  And it doesn’t merely rest on Jesus’ command to love your enemies; however, that is an inescapable challenge by Jesus and at the very least is a cover against those who would be offended by my first sentence in this blog.  Certainly, in regards to his purposes, I find them quite sad and destructive.  But I am intrigued by his complete and total authenticity. He attacks theories and thoughts full on, and he abruptly challenges the stodgy, complacent place that religion has settled into and the emanations from that it sends out. He shrinks away from no argument, and he boldly challenges the hypocrisy rampant in organized religion.  Ironically, in that regard, he could end up being the wittiest, unwitting champion of a Christian revival.  By that I mean, some of his critiques of organized religion are correct and could act as a healing balm or an intervention. Religion is full of hypocrisy, and it does often wear the clothes of mere socio-cultural inherited behavior.  So as I listened to Mr. Hitchens last week at a debate with William Dembski in Dallas, I listened closely and thought of ways to answer him in forms of agreement.  I imagine creating common ground with his critiques and laying out the true Gospel through that.  Defenders of faith, or apologists, often paint themselves into a corner, appearing defensive and on the run.  Yet, there are points of logical agreement that can yield to the unsurpassing truth that God is good and Christ is Lord.  I am no chiseled apologist, but here are some positive affirmations of faith that could be applied to Mr. Hitchens’ arguments.

First, Mr. Hitchens claims that religion poisons everything. He states that religion is a human construction based upon socio-cultural behavior. These behaviors come from our fears and our need to control and be controlled. In a sense, I agree. Religion does certainly manifest itself as a human construction. Often, religion can be void of any spiritual yearnings or desire for truth. It can fall into the hands of the greedy, selfish, ignorant, perverted, and angry.  But all of this is a human problem not a God problem. Humans can poison anything, be it marriage, business, politics, or the environment.  My response to Mr. Hitchens would be that any system is at the hands of the people, and that he and I agree there is a problem with religion, but I would assert that people are that problem.  Therefore, Jesus was hardest on the Pharisees and religious zealots in Judea during the time of the New Testament.  He recognized the destructive tendencies of those who use religion for power, and Jesus’ purposes were to bring the outsiders in to covenant and offer hope to the lost.  These are characteristics of truth and beauty, while mere religion carries with it the pockmarks of its sick people, who need transformation as much as anyone else. Far too often, we design God in our image.  And his purposes are grander than religious structure.  Thus, the church is expressed in the New Testament as the bride of Christ, not to merely exist as a religious organization but to progress as a community seeking and living out God’s communion.  However, people in their essence are broken, and the brokenness will manifest itself in whatever they get their hands on.  But this in no way devalues God or His goodness. Mr. Hitchens does not believe in God, so his critique of God is merely an indictment on humanity, yet he offers no solution. My position as a person who believes in God is one of indictment on humanity yet with hope in the ultimate sovereignty of God.  So my point is, yes, the brokenness rampant in humanity is the problem, and that has always been the case. The only sure hope I have is the Creator is personally and actively redeeming and renewing.  That is the story of Scripture.

Secondly, Mr. Hitchens struggles with Scripture. He finds it to be at times offensive, strange, and contradictory.  I certainly testify to Scripture’s divine inspiration and its true testimony to God, but I too at times struggle with Scripture, as should anyone who has read it closely and passionately.  It is the story of the Creator God’s work amongst humanity!  How can we not wrestle with it?  Mr. Hitchens’ opponent William Dembski won his best and most persuasive points when he said, “The Bible is not a book of systematic theology.  It is messy.”  I love this.  The Holy Scriptures have been overly sanitized and held with kid-gloves.  The beauty of the Scripture is that we have to wrestle with it. It is challenging and difficult because it is the narrative of God working through broken people.  There has always been war and sin and destruction, and God chooses to reveal himself within that fractured frame.  We are reading a brutally honest account of God working in a fallen world, through fallen people and systems.  In Scripture, at times God works through war and at times God works through disaster.  These things are not pleasing, but they are a result of creation’s fallen nature, which God still decides to accomplish His grand purpose of redemption through.  Also, the people found in Scripture error and fall short.  Yet the account of God’s creative activity, His covenants, His plan for redemption, and His promise for fulfillment are evident throughout.  Scripture is true and trustworthy because we recognize the reality and truthfulness of what it deals with.  Our world can be very ugly, and the redemption of it marches on through history.  Thus, Scripture faithfully tells the story of that, and at times it is messy.  In Genesis, Jacob wrestles the presence of God.[1] Scholars argue about whether that is an angel or God’s personal presence himself, but the point is much larger.  God demands our honest and utmost attention.  And sometimes, we must wrestle with Him and His purposes to truly be in communion with Him.  Faithfulness is sometimes found in authenticity as opposed to mere piety, and in the Scriptures we find a testimony that shakes us up and stretches us from our comfort zones.  Struggling and wrestling with Scripture is not a problem.  The problem arises when religious people ignore Scripture and refuse to authentically encounter God through it. 

I could continue on, but it might be best to wrap it up here and maybe pick it up some more at a later time.  Ultimately, those who believe need to be more honest about faith and religion.  In many ways, the church (broad sense of the word, meaning believers through history) has let the world down by functioning on the superficial road of religiosity.  The call of a Christ follower is to be pure in thought and deed, non-judgmental, authentic, passionate, selfless, and defined by love and justice.  All of those things only come about through courage and honesty. From this debate, I gather that sometimes the harshest critics are the best motivators.  May the truth of God be reflected by imperfect, yet holy people, people passionately pursuing ultimate truth and the welfare of creation in the name of the one who promises to redeem it Himself.             

[1] Genesis 32:22-32

Guiding real people to embrace a life-giving relationship with Jesus Christ