It is amusing, in a sad sort of way, how committed atheists will trot out every chestnut in the long list of immoral acts done in the name of religion. But, like making a hobo’s stew, everything, and I mean everything, gets thrown in the pot without regard to relevance to the task at hand.
Now, Hitchens’ laundry list of sins allegedly based on faith:
Those of us who disbelieve in the heavenly dictatorship also reject many of its immoral teachings, which have at different times included the slaughter of other “tribes,” the enslavement of the survivors, the mutilation of the genitalia of children, the burning of witches, the condemnation of sexual “deviants” and the eating of certain foods, the opposition to innovations in science and medicine, the mad doctrine of predestination, the deranged accusation against all Jews of the crime of “deicide,” the absurdity of “Limbo,” the horror of suicide-bombing and jihad, and the ethically dubious notion of vicarious redemption by human sacrifice.
Isn’t that cute? “Heavenly dictatorship.” Ah, it’s so hard to obey those pesky and arbitrary rules. First, the softballs. Islam and it’s strictures are, to be blunt, not based on anything God had anything to do with. Totally man-made, and therefore, sinful. Different wording? Allah is not God; he is a twisted murdering phantasm conjured up by a marauding band in the desert.
If, by “mutilation of the genitalia of children” Hitchens means circumcision, well, let’s just say that this has been proven to have health benefits. God might have been on to something on this one.
The “mad doctrine of predestination” is an interesting accusation, but just look about and see all the evil in this world. Yes, in theory we may, each of us, no matter how sinful, may be saved by the unearned, free grace of God. But the evidence of predestination, of the apparent fact that God has chosen those few who will be saved, is both predicted and supported by Jesus (Matthew 7:13-14):
Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
God, being all powerful, certainly could cause all of us to pass through that small gate on the narrow road to salvation. Therefore, I’ve concluded that predestination, whereby God has selected who shall be saved, makes perfect sense. Your results may vary, as the commercials say, but for us Calvinist-leaning folks, this works.
As for “limbo” and “deicide” he’s spot on. The church qua church is imperfect, and has spun a web of dogmas and doctrines and rules that have little benefit. The church has many sins to atone for, not least of these being pride.
The suppression of scientific inquiry? This is, at the least, a mixed bag. Who does Hitchens think was tending the fires of science and technology for 1500 years? Finally, Hitchens mentions that great “stumbling block:” the “human sacrifice,” by which one assumes he means Jesus dying on the cross in expiation of our sins.
This is difficult, but Jesus was God’s only son; His incarnation on earth, sent for precisely that purpose. Human sacrifice is not part of Christianity. Never has been, never will be. Firstly, Jesus was fully God, and the sacrifice was God suffering on our behalf on the cross. It was not a “human” sacrifice, and it wasn’t done to be a normative part of Christianity.
As for the other things, including dietary, sexual orientation, and the usual list of complaints by libertines that religion is just too confining: this is all in service of obedience to God. I can’t explain kashrut in exhaustive detail, but I do know its actual basis: obedience. A lot of libertines have problems with obeying any external authority. The state, their parents, or…God.
Finally, as for “the slaughter of other ‘tribes,’ the enslavement of the survivors,” let’s just say that this was merely part of God’s historical plan to establish Israel as His kingdom on earth. Once again, such actions have zero relevance to Christianity. We are told, in absolute terms, to love our enemies. Something which those who claim to be Christian violate all the time, of course…
It does come down to what one believes. If one is a believer, then Hitchens thesis is so much gas. If one is not, then it makes perfect sense. In conclusion, I’d like to knock one out of the metaphorical park. Hitchens’ “challenge:”
Here is my challenge. Let Gerson name one ethical statement made, or one ethical action performed, by a believer that could not have been uttered or done by a nonbeliever.
Standing in for Gerson, here goes, from Matthew 5:
38″You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ 39But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. 40And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. 41And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. 42Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.
This is sufficient for me, though I make no claim as to living as Jesus instructs me to do. But that’s not the fault of my religion; that’s on me, and me alone.