Tuesday, February 9, 2010

“. . . A Knife to a Gunfight”

By Eric Von Salzen

In a comment to a recent post of mine, a commenter (Chris H.) referred to a post on the Anglican Curmudgeon blog about a discussion “between atheist author [Christopher] Hitchens and a progressive priest” as proof that “liberalism [is] as damaging to faith as Creationism”. Point well taken.

The Curmudgeon was kind enough to link to one of my Anglican Centrist posts a couple of months ago, and I’m happy to link to one of his.

In The Kingdom Of The Blind provides excerpts from a discussion between the fervent atheist Christopher Hitchens and a retired Unitarian minister (not, thank goodness, a priest). Although the minister describes herself as a Christian, she believes that the God, Christ, and the scriptures are true only “metaphorically”. It’s the atheist who has the best line:

[I]f 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.

Amen, brother.

This discussion proves – if the point needed proving – how useless it is for professed Christians to try to make their religion acceptable to secularists by diluting all the “God stuff” out of it. The secularists won’t buy it; why should they? And commenter Chris H. (not to be confused, I trust, with Christopher Hitchens) is right that it damages our faith.

The Anglican Curmudgeon is too kind in the title to his post (if he means that the Unitarian minister is the one-eyed person in the kingdom of the blind). I think the title I’ve chosen for this post describes the situation about right.


  1. That quote by the Atheist is relaying an accepted dogma by a number of Christian religions, but by no means all. And, by no means, all in history. In fact, NONE of the early Christian churches had that definition until well after Paul's influence.

    I don't dispute that if that is your creed, and for Episcopalians it surely is, then it is an apt description. But even so, a small study of the history of Christianity will quickly disabuse you of that notion being a universal one.

    There ARE over 2000 Christian sects currently.

  2. Thanks for pursuing this, Godfather. I have no problem agreeing with you on this. And, unlike Unitarians, my guess is a vanishingly small percentage of Episcopalians would sign a statement saying "I don't believe that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ or that he rose again from the dead or that by his sacrifice our sins are forgiven." We say we believe in these things every week (sorry if I sound like a broken record on this). Do you know a lot of Christians who would cop to "diluting all the God stuff out of it?"

    But the problem is one person's God stuff is someone else's accretion covering up the real God stuff. I've seen the way this debate goes on the Internet -- pretty soon someone will say someone else doesn't *really* believe in, say, Jesus' sacrifice (because they don't believe in full blown substitutionary atonement and the whole cosmic metaphysical worldview that goes with that), or someone else doesn't *really* believe in the Resurrection.

    I have no desire to make a window into men's souls (or women's either) -- if they want to worship with me and can in good conscience say the words on the page, then welcome to the Episcopal Church.

    (And I know I'm broadening this beyond your original point -- maybe I've been following the CofE General Synod's debate about ACNA too closely!)

  3. Faith, as the scriptures teach, is a GIFT, and not one given out in equal measure.

    And so the commenters implicitly create a scale of Purity of Faith, that others "dilute".

    I'm sure, that if such a scale exists, then the person who is 100% sure of the literal truth, the person who fears no death, who rejoices in the joining of their loved ones in heaven rather than cry over the loss, THEY trump even YOU, in this "scale".

    As Christians, you should come together, not seek to create SUB-groups to denigrate.

    Besides, You should relish Your GIFT of FAITH, and not let it slip you into the Sin of Pride over having more of it that others! Something the scriptures teach is beyond their control!

  4. Thank you very much for the compliment of listening to my comment and replying to it. I'm definitely not Hitchens.

    Anyway, the Creeds,like baptism before communion, are not a required part of services around here and even the bishop has been known to dodge questions of interpretation. Strange silences occur depending on whom one sits near. Several of the local priests seem of the opinion, "If you're baptized and a good person, you'll be fine." An excellent excuse to sleep in Sunday, but not one to help grow faith. Part of why the issue of authority and which parts of the Bible "real" Anglicans believe resonates with me is that it was a book club that read J.I. Packer and C.S. Lewis that reawakened my desire for faith and God--and many of the Episcopalians around here dismiss/dislike/detest them and many others never read them. So if Packer and Lewis are out of fashion anymore, how does one decide what Episcopalians "really" believe?

    Ok, I'll try to stop writing books as comments and go back to lurking. Thanks again.

  5. Hitchens is wrong about Christianity being Paul's construction - People who identified as followers of the new religion were first CALLED Christians at a time and place where Paul was concurrently teaching, but that doesn't mean that he was the driving force behind its formation, especially since this was fairly early on after his conversion. Indeed, the new religion has its own label, "The Way", from before Saul converted and it's also used several times after. (Unless anybody thinks that Acts is in the same category of interpretation as Genesis and Revelation and is only "metaphorically true" XD )

    Back on topic though, Hitchens is right that if you're not willing to say that something or other is in fact true, you might as well stop wasting your time and "Sleep In On Sundays" as one bus ad by the Freedom From Religion Foundation in my town put it.