Ever wondered why our mainline churches are dying? Christopher Hitchens is one of the worlds most notorious atheists, a polemicist known primarily for his political punditry, and for his 2007 book God Is Not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything, the premise of which he is more than happy to take anybody on. Recently he was challenged to a debate, or a “conversation,” as they call it, by Marilyn Sewell, a self-described “Liberal Christian” and retired pastor of the First Unitarian Church of Portland, one of the largest Unitarian churches in the country. The results were not pretty. Who is the greater threat to the christian faith? Sewell, or Hitchens? You be the judge, gentle readers. Take particular notice of how DESPERATELY she craves his approval.
Marilyn Sewell: The religion you cite in your book is generally the 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 and distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion? [Here the standard “I’m not that kind of christian” approval seeking as she throws conservative christians under the bus].
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. [How sad. Even the Devil believes in God, and even an atheist knows more than this Liberal pastor the meaning of being a christian]
Marilyn Sewell: Let me go someplace else [LOL, that was easy! It doesn’t take much to roll them]. 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 the 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.” [doh! LOL.] Christianity, remember, is really founded by St. Paul, not by Jesus. [Nor by Tillich] 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. [Good God, an atheist has to quote the Bible to this sad excuse for a pastor] If none of that’s true, and you seem to say it isn’t, I have no quarrel with you. And that’s because You’re not going to come to my door trying convince me either. 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. [Always sad when an atheist has to quote scripture to a professing christian. Which is why Liberal christians pose no threat to the secularists. Their religion is too mild and ambiguous to be threatening].
Marilyn Sewell: Well, probably not, because I agree with almost everything that you say. But I still consider myself a Christian and a person of faith. [The fact she, a “christian” agrees with almost everything he, an atheist, says should cause her pause, but doesn’t. She feels exactly as Hitchens does about, and I’ll say it, REAL christians]
Hitchens: Do you mind if I ask you a question? Faith in what? Faith in the resurrection?
Marilyn Sewell: The way I believe in the resurrection is I believe that one can go from a death in this life, in the sense of being dead to the world and dead to other people, and can be resurrected to new life. When I preach about Easter and the resurrection, it’s in a metaphorical sense. [Sorry, some things can be metaphorized away, but the resurrection isn’t one of them. Even the atheist Hitchens knows this when he quotes Paul]
Hitchens: I hate to say it—we’ve hardly been introduced—but maybe you are simply living on the inheritance of a monstrous fraud [Yup! Well, maybe not “monstrous”, but a fraud nevertheless] that was preached to millions of people as the literal truth—as you put it, “the ground of being.”
Marilyn Sewell: Times change and, you know, people’s beliefs change. I don’t believe that you have to be fundamentalist and literalist to be a Christian. You do: You’re something of a fundamentalist, actually. [To her, the ultimate putdown: “fundamentalist”]
Hitchens: Well, I’m sorry, fundamentalist simply means those who think that the Bible is a serious book and should be taken seriously. [I couldn’t agree more!]
Marilyn Sewell: I take it very seriously. I have my grandmother’s Bible and I still read it [that’s “proof” she takes the Bible seriously!], but I don’t take it as literal truth. I take it as metaphorical truth. The stories, the narrative, are what’s important. [Hardly a ringing endorsement here]
Hitchens: But, then, show me what there is, ethically, in any religion that can’t be duplicated by Humanism. In other words, can you name me a single moral action performed or moral statement uttered by a person of faith that couldn’t be just as well pronounced or undertaken by a civilian? [POWNED]
The rest of this atheist/Lib christian smackdown, here. Sadly, the good Rev. Sewell is not alone. According to a recent poll, 50% of mainline church pastors agree with Rev. Sewell–the Bible is just one big well-intentioned hoax. Could that be why our mainline churches are shrinking at such a rapid pace? Look out across the pews and you will behold a sea of white heads. The last of their kind. I give them 10-15 years, tops, before all their doors are permanently locked and windows shuttered.