Christopher Hitchens, the famous (or infamous) atheist and self-proclaimed “anti-theist,” recently articulated quite well what is at stake in Christian belief and why liberal Christianity is, in essence, not Christianity at all, in his interview with the liberal Unitarian minister Marilyn Sewell in Portland Monthly. Here is my favorite and, I believe, most potent part of the conversation.
Sewell: The religion you cite in your book is a generally fundamentalist faith of various kinds. I’m a liberal Christian, and I don’t take the stories from the scripture literally. I don’t believe in the doctrine of atonement (that Jesus died for our sins, for example). Do you make any distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?
Hitchens: I would say that if 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.
Sewell: Let me go someplace else. When I was in seminary, I was particularly drawn to the work of theologian Paul Tillich. He shocked people by describing the traditional God—as you might, as a matter of fact—as “an invincible tyrant.” For Tillich, God is “the ground of being.” It’s his response to, say, Freud’s belief that religion is mere wish fulfillment and comes from humans’ fear of death. What do you think of Tillich’s concept of God?
Hitchens: I would classify that under the heading of Statements That Have No Meaning—At All. Christianity, remember, was really founded by Saint Paul, not by Jesus. Paul says, very clearly, that if it is not true that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, then we the Christians are of all people the most unhappy. If none of that’s true, and you seem to say it isn’t, I have no quarrel with you. You’re not going to come to my door trying to convince me. Nor are you trying to get a tax break from the government. Nor are you trying to have it taught to my children in school. If all Christians were like you, I wouldn’t have to write the book.
Read the entire interview here.