Blogging God is Not Great, Chapter 17
Chapter 17: An Objection Anticipated: The Last-Ditch “Case” Against Secularism
I’ve been looking forward to this chapter also. The two points that he gives have been in the back of my mind since the beginning of the book:
- WIthout divine authority, humanity “will act in the most unbrided and abandoned manner” (230).
- Secular governments (USSR, China, etc) are also guilty of similar grave evils.
Hitchens astutley points out the folly of saying that religions are no worse than Nazism or Stalinism. It’s a pretty weak ground to argue from. Further, he goes on to argue that religious folk in Europe and Russia lent aid and support to fascism and communism in its early years. He names Pope Pius XI explicity, but he hasn’t so far engaged Bonhoeffer, who was featured in the early chapters of the book.
I’m perplexed at his assertion about Vichy France on page 237. He says that the 1789 revolutionary motto Libertie, Egalitie, Fraternatie was removed from currency and replaced with “the Christian ideal motto” of Familie, Travail, Patrie (Family, Work, Homeland). I don’t argue that the motto was replaced, but what makes this a “Christian ideal?” It appears to me to be nothing more than a Francophone version of Arbeit macht frei, Work Makes One Free. The Christian ideal, to the contrary, is the the Truth shall set you free, not Work, not Homeland, not Family. It’s confusing to me, but I’m getting used to the attempts as proof by assertion in this book.
I’m not familiar enough with Vatican-Nazi relations to contradict formally anything that Hitchens is writing. He entertains Nazism for about seven pages here. However, his only source is Cornwell’s Hitler’s Pope. After reading one unsympathetic book on the subject, Hitchens feels ready to pontificate himself. Has he bothered reading, say, two books on the subject? Perhaps a second one with a different viewpoint? Like the Galileo affair, I’m pleased enough to know that there is more than one interpretation of the events.
However, whatever the interpretation, the fact remains: Christians of all churches were complicit in the early days of fascism. “It has been admitted by the religious authorities themselves” (242). He admits a small place for a few activities of “churchmen,” perhaps having Bonhoeffer and Barth in mind, that bore positive witness from religion. Again, the error is enough for conviction; no room is to be found for contrition, repentance or redemption.
Again Hitchens names religion as the product of idiocy and fear (245, 247). Of course, it is an idiocy and fear from which he is exempted. One wonders how he among so few have made this transcendant move and if he might, as a secular Prometheus, impart that skill to the idiotic, fearful masses. To have this wisdom and withhold it, only to watch the weak suffer, is immoral.
Toward the end of the chapter, he gives some credit to the religious folk turning over South African apartheid. He does no honor to Desmond Tutu or Nelson Mandela by bothering to mention their names. Indeed, he would not dare mention that one is an Anglican bishop and the other is a Methodist who has spoken many times about the importance of his faith. No, they are namelessly commemorated as “secular Christians.”
An interesting read to be sure. It is quite useless to assert the superiority of religion on the basis of its morality. Plenty of secular folk can be moral people and plenty of religious folk have been profoundly immoral. It doesn’t take sixteen chapters to show what can be gotten from casual observation, however.
Taking Htichens as an examplar of secular and rational humanism, I am surprised continually to find that he has no space for forgiveness. He hasn’t shown it so far and I’m not expecting him to bring it up in the last chapters.
Perhaps the gulf between these two worldviews is not morality, not intellect, not an appreciation of the transcendant and not love. The gulf is the ability to repent and to forgive.