Friday, December 16, 2011

Christianity in a Christopher Hitchens world

Christopher Hitchens died early this morning.  Notoriously outspoken on everything, notorious political conservative, those in my circles will know him most for his vocal role in the new atheism.

Figures like the triumvirate of Hitchens, Dawkins, Harris are on the poster of post-Christendom.  Mind you, most Americans still believe in God.  And a simple listening to the GOP debates will confirm that Christian fundamentalism and evangelicalism are far from dead.  Those who like to tout how cool they are because they know we are now in an age of post-Christendom are likely a bit premature.

Belief of all kinds is persistent.  It usually is not rational.  People will believe in things they hold dear in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary.  No, I do not want to use Hitchens as an argument for post-Christendom.

What he and the other new atheists represent is a powerful force in Western society.  They will not convince those over 30.  The most long-standing front in the battle of ideas is with our children, teens, and twenty somethings.  What impact will people like Hitchens have on them?

At one time, we could shield our children from ideas we didn't like.  We still have home schooling, Christian high schools, and private Christian colleges.  Then there's the internet, the great leveler.  And there are movies and satellite.

Here are my suggestions, for what it's worth:

1. Focus on what is really central and important in Christian faith.  Major on the major.  God exists, loves, and is active in the world.  Christ reconciles us to God and shows us how to love our neighbor.  The rest is the details.

2. Learn something.  Let's face it, we've earned the reputation we have for being stupid.  Start listening to the experts on whatever subject--that's why they're called experts.

Don't get me wrong.  Anger driven ignorance goes a long way.  But you have to keep feeding the anger, and you have to work constantly to dodge the experts.  Anger runs out and leaves you feeling empty.  You get tired of trying to come up with new counter-experts.

It's your choice.  I'm betting the strategy above has more staying power.  I'm betting we'll keep more of our children in the faith.  I'm betting we'll have healthier churches.


FrGregACCA said...

Indeed. And remember: MY faith is primarily about changing ME, only secondarily (if that) about changing YOU. If you like what you see in me, that's very cool, but I'm not going to get very far with you if my faith is focused first and foremost on hitting you over the head with it.

If you are looking for God, I can help with that. If you're not, then let's focus on other things we might have in common, like creating a better world.

"Woe to you... hypocrites! for you traverse sea and land to make a single convert, and when he becomes a convert, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves." - Matthew 23:15

JohnM said...

I doubt Hitchens, Dawkins, and Harris are really household names outside your circles, so I'd question how much influence they really have. I'd add, if they ever drew any away from faith, those were probably ones looking hard for an excuse in the first place. I have to wonder if any answer could have held them.

FrGregACCA said...

Orthodox priest and former Dean of St Vladimir's Seminary, Fr. Thomas Hopko, is fond of saying:

"You don't believe in God, eh? Well, tell me about the god you don't believe in. Chances are I don't believe in that god either."

Jose said...

Hitchens and others are most persuasive when they stand in opposition to the narrow minded, arrogant, and hateful people who claim to represent the Christian church. We would do well to avoid any appearance of that stereotype.