Spiritual Seekers, Don Murray
You have no doubt heard that, according to Christopher Hitchens, God is not Great.
It’s six or seven years since he caused the big fuss. However, it is only now that I have actually read his book, thanks to a Christmas gift. Sadly, Christopher died two years ago, 10 days before Christmas.
He was an imposing scholar, writer and debater, especially on political issues, but he also delved into religion. His breadth of knowledge and experience boggles the mind. He read widely and traveled all over the world. When he comments on various religions he does so having explored their history and beliefs and having experienced their rituals. He cannot be faulted for lack of research and knowledge. He knew the Bible better, and had more religious knowledge than most of us who have religious training.
He has performed a valuable service. He has unrelentingly exposed the dark side of religion. He takes special aim at the monotheisms: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. However, having spent two-thirds of the book exposing the evils these religions have perpetrated, he affirms that “There is no ‘Eastern’ Solution.” No religion escapes his scathing castigation. He says, “I now know enough about all religions to know that I would always be an infidel at all times and in all places, but my particular atheism is a Protestant atheism” (P. 11).
I must confess that his continuous negativity is irritating. However, many modern day spiritual searchers, including me, would agree with much of what he says. The God or gods he does not believe in we do not believe in either. He is helping us say farewell to a form of religion that has lost its hold on us.
Hitchens stands as a symbol of the end result of the rational and scientific movement that began 500 years ago when Galileo gazed into the heavens. I call it the Newtonian paradigm. It sees a clockwork universe where everything is rational and explainable. Science provides the answers. As Bonoeffer noted from his prison cell, we don’t need God to explain anything.
The evolution of science and rationalism was a giant step forward in human understanding and awareness. Truth can now come from careful observation and experience. The source of truth shifted, as it were, from heaven to earth.
Science has made possible our modern world. The downside is that we have made a god out of science. As the saying goes, we have gone to hell with a good thing. In this regard, Hitchens is as much a fundamentalist as any biblical literalist. He is guilty of the same kind of mindset. Instead of the Bible being the source of all truth, for him it is science.
My chief criticism is that Hitchens fits the description of what one cleric was heard to say of another, “Away down deep he’s shallow.” Hitchens has no place for myth or intuition or the various ways that awareness comes to us. He writes off religions as false myths that have led the people astray. He is often right in his assessment, but he fails to understand the truth and power of the stories that reveal our own reality to us. He fails to explore or appreciate that the religions which humanity has created have expressed the force within us, and within the universe, that makes us human. He seems to be unaware of the mystery of mind and psyche. The wonder and reality of consciousness eludes him.
To give him his due, he is aware of the wonder and mystery of the universe. “If you would devote a little time to study the staggering photographs taken by the Hubble telescope, you will be scrutinizing things far more awesome and mysterious and beautiful than any creation or ‘end of days’ story” (P. 8). He at least pointed us in the direction of the Universe Story, although he failed to grasp its significance or follow it.
Hitchens’ gift was to help us face the dark side of human history. But to stop there would be to deny the spiritual impulse, the yearning for connection, that pushes us to be who we can be and enables us to be of service to the world.
Don Murray is a retired united minister. He lives in Shortts Lake.