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Fundamentalism, Hubris, and the Religion Problem

May 18, 2007

Recent weeks have been huge for religion in the news, what with the publication of Christopher Hitchens‘ book God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything and the death of Jerry Falwell. The blogosphere is alive and buzzing about both, and while I realize my post is not timely I wanted to consider my words carefully before posting them for anyone to see.

Hitchens is clearly a marketing genius. He is quite savvy at making outrageous claims and statements while playing both sides of the ideological fence in order to keep his face in the news and on the talk shows. He has been a staunch supporter of the war in Iraq and the Bush administration’s war doctrine, but since an awful lot of Americans have soured on that subject he hardly addresses that topic anymore (surprise, surprise!) Now he has moved on to religion, specifically the atheist anti-religion bandwagon. With the talkies abuzz with Hitchens’ outrageous book and his way with words, he has naturally been asked to comment on Falwell’s death. And not surprisingly, Hitchens begins with ad-hominem attacks on both Falwell and naturally religious figures in general. In this clip, he refers to Falwell as a “little toad,” and a “horrible little person,” an “evil old man,” a “Chaucerian fraud,” and a “pickpocket.” (Anyone else enjoying the irony here: a guy selling a book calling another a huckster and a charlatan?)

Now, I’m certainly not one to defend Falwell. As a Christian and a pastor, I am often infuriated by the fact that I am represented publicly by the arrogant, strident positions of Falwell and Dobson. I have significant theological disagreements the most public faces of the Christian faith. I find that many of them have arrogant postures, quick to condemn anyone who dares disagree with them.

And that’s what makes Falwell and Hitchens ideological twins. They both carry incredible hubris, absolute arrogance. “I am absolutely right, and anyone who disagrees with me is clearly wrong.” Both begin their claims with uncritically accepted presuppositions (Falwell with his definition of who God is; Hitchens with the non-existence of any sort of god) and seek out evidence to prove that claim, each with no respect for conflicting claims or arguments. When the only position you take seriously is your own, you have excluded yourself from discussion or dialogue and have begun preaching the gospel according to the self.

Here’s where it gets interesting. I have long claimed that atheism is itself a religion with its own doctrines and disciplines. And folks like Hitchens, along with George Carlin and Bill Maher are what I would call atheist fundamentalists. They are married to their own doctrine of the falsehood of God that they see everything through that lens and scapegoat religion for everything. They are as married to their narrow religious ideology as any other religious fundamentalist.

And the fun part. In A Generous Orthodoxy Brian McLaren describes two Gods: God A and God B. He describes God A as “a single, solitary, dominant Power, Mind or Will (pages 84-85) and God A’s universe as “a universe of dominance, control, limitation, submission, uniformity, coercion.” (page 85). God B, on the other hand, he describes as, “a unified, eternal, mysterious, relational community/family/society/entity of saving love,” and God B’s universe as “a universe of interdependence, relationship, possibility, responsibility, becoming, novelty, mutuality, freedom.” (Also page 85). Ever notice that atheists always dispute God A, the caricatured old bearded man in the sky waiting to zap you for breaking the rules? Most of the Christians I know also reject that notion of God. I’m a God B Christian, and so are my friends. While McLaren’s descriptions are oversimplified, his argument is succinct and concise enough for the purposes of my meager blog post.

So go ahead, Christopher. Deny the existence of that cartoon God. I don’t believe in that God either. But I do believe in a God who calls us to respond; to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, to visit the prisoners, to care for the sick. I believe in the God who blesses the needy and the poor, who proclaims release to the captives. I believe in the God who seeks to comfort the afflicted and to afflict the comfortable. I believe in the God who makes the impossible possible; who took a self-centered, arrogant (hey, it takes one to know one) puke like me and called me donate food and clothing to the poor, to buy mosquito nets for African families, and to organize efforts for others to do likewise. Call that change whatever you like; I’ll call it God.

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