Monday, January 9, 2012

There Are Men - And Women - Like That

The world has lost a critic; Christopher Hitchens is dead.

I don’t know if Hitchens wanted to be loved but I loved him anyway, in a strange sort of way. I heard in his “voice” – or thought I heard at least – a cry for the world to be different than it is. I want that too. Hitchens may have discovered by now, that the God he dismissed as a figment of some men’s minds, does too.

Hitchens believed he knew the source of evil in the world. Its epicenter, he declared, was the heart of the world’s religions. Hypocrisy, deception, intolerance, brutality, repression, were cloaked in a false piety, he argued, while a scattering of “good works” were touted by religionists as evidence that religion was a positive good in the world.

He was not alone in those views; skeptics of lesser stature have pointed to a range of inconsistencies practiced by people of faith, Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Jew. Comedians, philosophers, the literati, even theologians, find, in religion, a convenient target toward which they can aim their darts.

And of course they are right – all manner of evil is perpetrated by men and women professing faith, sanctioned and abetted by institutions of religion. It is enough to make a committed sinner blush. But sadly, those religious sinners don’t blush; they arrogantly pursue their repulsive ways.

But the fact that religious people sin – sin grievously – does not negate the truth of the religion they profess to revere. Truth of the sort that religions claim to have found will stand or fall before a judge greater than any earthly judge, atheistic, agnostic, or believing.

The sinfulness of religious folk – and non-religious too – in fact validates the truths most religions teach: the Christian religion holds, after all, that “There are none righteous; no, not one.” Indeed, all have sinned and come short of the glory God intended for mankind. The goal of all but the most perverse religions is to lead people out of sinfulness and into right(eous) living.

I don’t know the sins peculiar to a Hindu, a Muslim, a Buddhist, a Jew – or an atheist for that matter. I have to believe they look a lot like those to which Christians fall prey – sins attributable to willfulness.

Hitchens did not believe in the existence of God but he strongly believed in the existence of evil, and if his protestations were sincere, he wished it to be eradicated by the removal of its imagined source, hypocritical religion. His prescription was not that religions would reform their behavior but that they would simply “go out of business.” But that would not remove evil from the world; it would only remove one “front organization” of evil, leaving it to express itself openly and freely or to seek another “cover”, perhaps atheistic humanism, under which it could, and most certainly would, perpetrate crimes no less horrific than those he decried and blamed on religion.

Ironically, those who detest the hypocrisy of Christianity – or Islam, or Jainism, or any other religion – who argue that if there were a God, he would not allow the world to go on as it does – would not choose to live in the kind of world required to have no evil, a world in which God stepped in to stop every evil deed; a world in which their sins were nipped in the bud; a world without free will.

We all know hypocrites and find them hard to tolerate. I’ve know cynical, unbelieving pastors, grasping – even licentious – deacons, charlatan evangelists, opportunistic and bullying church leaders. I’ve know their counterparts – their near-exact replicas – in the non-religious sectors of the world as well.

There are men – and women – like that.

But there are men and women – both religious and not – who, most of the time, are sincere, honest, generous, and fair. And this is what the Christopher Hitchenses of the world cannot understand; those people, as much as – indeed, more than – the hypocrites, are representative of the religion or philosophy they hold; they are the ones by which its “truths” should be judged. They are the “salt of the earth”, the “lights of the world.” They are bastions of righteousness that allow our otherwise twisted world to function at some level of sanity and civility.

Hitchens wished to abolish Christianity – and all other religions. His critique of the effect of religion on the world was accurate, but incomplete. The evil of which he died – throat cancer –  could not be blamed on religion. But he died in another way, long before throat cancer took him away, when he chose to blame religion for the incivility of man to man, failing to see in his own behavior that non-religion could be just as intolerant, uncivil, and destructive as religion. The evil in mankind comes from a source deeper and more universal than any religion or philosophy. It is embedded in man’s nature and only a rebirth – the acquiring of a new nature – can cure what is wrong with him.

Hitchens was a great preacher – a prophet, one could say – crying out against the sins of religionists just as truthfully as any Old Testament prophet. I found myself often saying, “Amen!” as he “preached.” But his aim was too narrow, focused only on religious sinners. He should have included his own sin; his anger, his resentments, his intolerance, his antagonisms, his combativeness, within the scope of his critique.

We all have sinned and fail to achieve the glory God has in mind for us. There are men – and women – like that. God be merciful to us sinners, one and all.

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