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The Root of All Evil: Don’t Bite Too Hard

This afternoon I ran into a friend of mine, and we somehow got into a discussion about something I said in yesterday's post – about how I am troubled by the idea that something needs to be "Christianized" in order to … Read More

By / May 2, 2007

This afternoon I ran into a friend of mine, and we somehow got into a discussion about something I said in yesterday's post – about how I am troubled by the idea that something needs to be "Christianized" in order to be universalized. Although I can see how it works as a metaphor, I'm not convinced that there isn't an underlying creepiness to it regardless of whether or not the idea is meant to be taken literally.

My friend had a different take on it. He thinks of Christianity as being a way of life that is open and accessible to all people, Jew or Gentile. For him, the metaphor seems to work because if we take Christianity at its word (great pun, huh?), it is a gesture of openness and inclusion.

Now I'm going to be difficult. I have a problem with the fact that this "openness" hinges on the recipient being a full-on believer in JC as the Messiah, in a literalist kind of way: "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him will not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).

So, the offer is universal, but if you don't accept the offer on its precise terms, you get shut out, ultimately fried in the Lake of Fire if we also take the apocalyptic book of Revalation at its word.

It's a piece of Halloween candy with a tiny little razor blade lodged into it. Don't bite too hard.

But the question, then, at some point, becomes whether religion itself is the razor blade lodged into our collective consciousness — whether it's not just Christianity that is a potential problem, but all religion. Well, it's not really my question, but I'm going to raise it anyway.

Today I read an entry over at a blog I like — the post has to do with a panel this past Sunday at the LA Times Book Festival on Religion and Society, moderated by novelist Thane Rosenbaum and "dominated by [author of God is Not Great: How Religion Poisons EverythingChristopher Hitchens' personality, if not by his anti-religious argument."

I was not lucky enough to see this panel, but it sounds like it got pretty heated.

During the question and answer session, after one man was shouted down by the panel for asking an apparently-forbidden question (I couldn't hear it), another man stood and asked (I'm paraphrasing): "Yeah, let's take a moment to bring science back into this if we can. We live in a world where, thanks to the advances of scientific understanding, our species has mollified (sic?) itself sixfold, and yet more Americans expect to be raptured than believe in evolution." I didn't really listen to the end of his question, because it seemed a softball that any of the men on the panel would've been happy to reshape in their own words. "Here, here!–Science!" Yawn.

I'm guessing that the bad man asked a question pertaining to religion.

And, says my fellow twenty-something blogger:

Even if I'm totally alone in my generation, I want to say this: intellectuals between 40-60 (boomers and their younger cousins) seem increasingly willing to blame religion as the sole source of the world's problems — this from the generation who blamed capitalism as the sole source of the world's problems right up until they made their fortunes in the stock market and bought a yacht or a new set of golf clubs. Christopher Hitchens, in particular, explicitly argued that religion (not just radical religion) is always and everywhere a source of trouble. Hitchens even suggested that religion effectively teaches radical solipsism, and that the ontologies of the major world religions all teach people to believe that they are somehow cosmically important. Imagine: the Baby Boomers calling other people self-centered!

But I thought we had successfully transitioned into the Post-Secular era, where all of that "God is dead" nonsense has undergone its own tragic death, where people of all belief systems are re-visiting the notions of ritual and religion and re-claiming [some aspects of] their religious heritage. Maybe it's just the young'uns….

It seems to me that Hitchens, and others like him, are falling into their own trap of either-or, extremist thinking. Is that not also a "religion" of sorts, one that is potentially evil? How about a little middle ground?

The author of the blog entry above breaks this down in a couple of cool ways, one of which offers a not-so-literal reading of a biblical (Christian) passage that I won't take the time to quote here.

This reading would certainly seem too radical for many a Christian; it's true, I have effectively "reduced" the Bible to less-than-literal meaning. But if I believe it, this is still religion, it seems to me — and I cannot see how it is one of the fundamental causes of evil in the world.

So, religion — what we gonna do 'bout it?

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