Sunday, December 30, 2012

Talking with Christopher Hitchens, or an issue with Christianity

To terrify children with the image of hell, to consider women an inferior creation—is that good for the world?”
Beyond this being a pretty strong rhetorical power play, I do think it gets to the heart of two big issues within Christendom and how we are seen by others.

I was talking to a friend of mine at work, and as is usual with my life, the topic quickly turned to religion. My friend is a lapsed catholic, but he mentioned the two topics that seem to be the biggest turn off to Christianity.

Hell and the mistreatment of women.

Bertrand Russell said in his Sceptical Essays, "the infliction of cruelty with a good conscience is a delight to moralists. That is why they invented Hell."

I'm not in favor of getting rid of 'noxious' doctrines just for the sake of pleasing the living and the dead, but I frankly agree with the sentiment of Hitchen's quote. When I was a kid, the notion of an eternal conscious fire that awaited me (and anyone else who didn't go to my church) terrified me. Only recently, I've changed my mind on the role of women in the church and it has been a major paradigm shift to see how this changes most everything.

So in many ways, this quote struck home for me. When my friend pointed out that Christians (I suppose specifically Protestants) seem to have a low view of women, I wasn't sure about what I should say. I mentioned that they view the issue as complicated, but I think he found that unhelpful when he laughed and rolled his eyes. I guess I agree with him in that the answer I would've given to both questions is strikingly unsatisfying.

Which doesn't mean one who would defend a traditionalist view of hell or women's rights is incorrect. But I and my friend didn't find the arguments compelling and went on to talk about what people believe about them and why.

Interestingly, my friend was surprised to discover that I don't believe in the very things Hitchen's and others decry about Christianity. I've found that the opinions I respond with are always met with a "really?" The conversation then turns immediately positive and, frankly, far more personal. So there is that.

Challenges like these force me to rediscover the Christian faith and take seriously why people object to much of Christianity. And Hitchens just makes me happy.

--Nick

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