Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Who is the true Christian?

Richard Dawkins thinks Pat Robertson has been unfairly attacked by Christians who don't understand the implications of the faith we profess. Christopher Hitchens has no quarrel with religious believers who really don't believe in much.

Ross Douthat writing today about "Fundamentalists and the Atheists Who Love Them":
...Dawkins’ “defense” of Robertson, against the “milquetoast” Christians who rushed to disavow the televangelist’s suggestion that the Haitian earthquake victims were being singled out for divine punishment, offers an interesting illustration of militant atheism’s symbiotic relationship with religious fundamentalism. Here’s the new atheist:
Loathsome as Robertson’s views undoubtedly are, he is the Christian who stands squarely in the Christian tradition. The agonized theodiceans who see suffering as an intractable “mystery”, or who “see God” in the help, money and goodwill that is now flooding into Haiti, or (most nauseating of all) who claim to see God “suffering on the cross” in the ruins of Port-au-Prince, those faux-anguished hypocrites are denying the centrepiece of their own theology. It is the obnoxious Pat Robertson who is the true Christian here. [....]
The piece continues in this vein for some time. Dawkins is quite right, of course, that Christianity lays a heavy emphasis on sin, atonement, and (yes) the possibility of damnation. But whether this means that Christians are obliged to interpret the disasters that befall human beings in this life as God’s punishment for specific sins is another question entirely. Let’s consult one of Christianity’s leading authorities on the matter (the emphases are mine):
I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them that despitefully use you and persecute you, that ye may be the children of your Father who is in Heaven. For He maketh His sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust. (Matthew 5:44-45)
Or again:
There were present at that season some who told Him of the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices.

And Jesus answering said unto them, “Suppose ye that these Galileans were sinners above all the other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, nay; but unless ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.

Or those eighteen upon whom the tower of Siloam fell and slew them, think ye that they were sinners above all other men that dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, nay; but unless ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:1-5) [....]
There’s a heavy stress on sin and the possibility of ultimate punishment here, obviously. (Plenty for Richard Dawkins to find obnoxious, in other words.) But Jesus also lays a heavy emphasis on the idea that we shouldn’t interpret the vicissitudes of this life as God’s way of picking winners and losers, or of punishing particularly egregious sinners. Until the harvest, the wheat and tares all grow together, the rain falls on the just and unjust alike, and those who survive natural disasters are as liable to judgment as those who perish in them. .... [more]
Kathryn Jean Lopez at NRO linked to this interview with Christopher Hitchens, another of the "new atheists." The interviewer was a Unitarian minister who doesn't appear to know the difference between orthodoxy and fundamentalism:
The religion you cite in your book is generally the fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make any distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?

I would say that if you don’t believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ and Messiah, and that he rose again from the dead and by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven, you’re really not in any meaningful sense a Christian.

Let me go someplace else. When I was in seminary I was particularly drawn to the work of theologian Paul Tillich. He shocked people by describing the traditional God—as you might as a matter of fact—as, “an invincible tyrant.” For Tillich, God is “the ground of being.” It’s his response to, say, Freud’s belief that religion is mere wish fulfillment and comes from the humans’ fear of death. What do you think of Tillich’s concept of God?”

I would classify that under the heading of “statements that have no meaning—at all.” Christianity, remember, is really founded by St. Paul, not by Jesus. Paul says, very clearly, that if it is not true that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then we the Christians are of all people the most unhappy. If none of that’s true, and you seem to say it isn’t, I have no quarrel with you. .... [more]
Fundamentalists and the Atheists Who Love Them - Ross Douthat Blog - NYTimes.com, Portland Monthly Magazine / Arts & Entertainment / Books & Talks / Detail