Rabbi Jeffrey Salkin: God Loves Christopher Hitchens Anyway

Christopher Hitchens, journalist and author of his memoir “Hitch 22,” poses for a portrait outside his hotel in New York, June 7, 2010. Photo courtesy of REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton *Editors: This photo may only be republished with RNS-HITCHENS-BOOK, originally transmitted on April 20, 2016.

This is the seventh yahrzeit (if one can accurately use the term) of Christopher Hitchens – pundit, public intellectual, pain in the butt, and notorious atheist.

I miss “Hitch,” as he was affectionately called. Not because I often agreed with him, which I did not.

No – I miss him because he was interesting, fun, and maddening. More than that: Hitch loved ideas, and we live in a time when there seems to be a shortage of ideas.

More than even that: I sometimes wonder what Hitch would be saying about the world today.

For the purposes of my remembrance of Hitch, let me remind you of a particular trend in American life that occurred about ten years ago. Hitch was one of its principle drivers, though he was not its only driver.

I am referring to his famous book, God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything.

Hitch called organized religion “violent, irrational, intolerant, alllied to racism, tribalism, and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children.”

He called  for humanity to “escape the gnarled hands which reach out to drag us back to the catacombs and the reeking altars and the guilty pleasures of subjection and abjection … to know the enemy, and to prepare to fight it.”

To mark Hitchens’ yahrzeit, I decided re-skim his book.

This is what I learned — or re-learned.

Hitch was a very smart man. He was a very intellectual man, a very clever person, a charming conversationalist who was apparently a lot of fun to hang out with and to share a drink with. Frankly, I would have loved to have had that opportunity.

But, for someone who wrote a best-selling book deriding religious faith, it is amazing how little he knew, and how superficially he had studied.

Yes, he browsed through the Bible — enough to have found the passages that are offensive and/or irrational. But, beyond the Bible? No. Any works of theology? No.

Any encounter with, say, Maimonides to see how the great thinker might have responded to some of Hitchens’ complaints? No.

It is as if someone who has never driven a car, and has never changed oil, chose to write a book on auto mechanics.

Let me focus on one topic that Hitchens raised. You will not be surprised to know that it is the most popular anti-religion allegation.

It is that religion is the source of war and violence in our world. When you consider that Hitchens wrote his book in the shadow of September 11, 2001, it is easy to see how he could have moved in that direction.

How do I respond to this allegation? Certainly without defensiveness. He is right. Religion had been the source of much violence and many wars — though in a great many cases, religion was but the pretext for violence — the real reasons often being economics and land grabbing.

However, if I were to simply look at the twentieth century, I would have to come up with the following grisly body count. Let me quote David Wolpe, who knew Hitch and nevertheless often rose up to debate him.

“The following staggering numbers of those killed are the results of societies, in each and every case, where religion was alternately persecuted, outlawed, or widely reviled:

20 million in the Soviet Union.

65 million in the People’s Republic of China.

1 million in Viet Nam.

2 million in Korea.

2 million in Cambodia.

1 million in the Communist states of Eastern Europe.

The sobering truth: Atheistic regimes are far less tolerant than theistic regimes, and at least since the French Revolution, are far more likely to engage in large scale murder and genocide.

Hitchens could have viewed religion a different way.

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Source: Religion News Service

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