Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Silly Atheists

I've been a reader of outspoken atheist Chris Hitchens for a long time. I actually like his wit and his contrarian spirit. But his atheism is long on self-righteous pride and short on understanding. I have often felt like the Christianity he condemns is nothing like what I understand Christianity to be. The same could be said for the writings of the other Super Atheist out there, Richard Dawkins.

Thomas Hibbs, in a fantastic article in First Things, reviews Terry Eagleton's new book, Reason, Faith, and Revolution: Reflections on the God Debate. Eagleton says the views of Dawkins and Hitchins are so similar, you can just lump them together into an entity he calls "Ditchkens."

Here's my favorite part:

From Ditchkens, one would never know that there are forms of Christianity reducible neither to fundamentalism nor to effete Unitarianism. There has been a sustained Christian tradition of scriptural commentary that acknowledges the autonomy of science and is quite self-conscious about its own hermeneutics. Ditchkens reduces God to a sort of Loch Ness Monster for whose existence there is no convincing evidence. As Eagleton clarifies with help from Thomas Aquinas and contemporary interpreters such as Herbert McCabe, God is not the big, bad daddy in the sky, “the largest and most powerful creature.” Neither is theology intended to explain the operations of nature. But it does respond to questions concerning “why there is anything in the first place, or why what we do have is actually intelligible to us.”

Of course, some contemporary Christians are easy targets for Ditchkens. They are not spared Eagleton’s wrath: the comic irrationality of the “young earth” movement; the theological despair of those who care more about securing a religious America than about their own religion; and the advocates of a Gospel of Success that skips Good Friday and turns Easter Sunday into a shopping spree at an upscale mall. By contrast, what Eagleton sees in the gospels are a persistent reminder that the “truth of history” is a “mutilated body” of a “tortured innocent.” There is “no self-fulfillment that is not a self-divestment.”

Basically, Eagleton does two things: he reveals the shallowness of Ditchken's attack on a Christian strawman and, second, he points out why Christians' entanglement with politics and bad theology have exposed themselves to widespread discrediting.

Personally, I long for a day when people can hear the message of Jesus absent hot-button political debates and cultural stereotypes.