They’re really not that far apart.
It probably comes as no surprise that a Unitarian Universalist has no real grasp on the gospel. However, it may surprise some people that an atheist is actually closer to the truth than someone who considers themselves a “Christian.” I found it interesting to compare and contrast the views of atheist Christopher Hitchens and Unitarian minister Marilyn Sewell in this interview between the two.
A few interesting exchanges are highlighted:
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 any distinction between fundamentalist faith and liberal religion?
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.
Let me go someplace else. [continues with next question…]
While Hitchens rejects God and the gospel, at least he understands what the gospel message is. Sewell thinks you can have “Christianity” without the gospel, and doesn’t really want to talk about the gospel.
…I agree with almost everything that you say. But I still consider myself a Christian and a person of faith.
Do you mind if I ask you a question? Faith in what? Faith in the resurrection?
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.
Hitchens rejects faith (in anything outside himself, at least) as a basis for a reasonable worldview, but he recognizes that faith requires an object. “Faith” by itself is meaningless. We must have faith in something or someone.
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.
Well, I’m sorry, fundamentalist simply means those who think that the Bible is a serious book and should be taken seriously.
I take it very seriously. I have my grandmother’s Bible and I still read it, but I don’t take it as literal truth. I take it as metaphorical truth. The stories, the narrative, are what’s important.
I wish more people understood Hitchens’ definition of a fundamentalist, rather than seeing it is an epithet for stodgy narrow-minded people who think everyone should think and act just like them. Sewell betrays that she really doesn’t take the Bible seriously, despite her claim to the contrary. If truth is only revealed in metaphors, then each individual can decide for themselves what the metaphors really mean. Truth is then simply what you make it, so the Bible is irrelevant. If you only use the Bible to illustrate truths that you determine independently, you could just as well use the Koran, Mother Goose, or Dr. Seuss.
[Some people think] that “faith” is an automatically good word. I think it’s not. When people say, “I am a person of faith,” they expect applause for it as we see in every election cycle. If I could make one change in the culture it would be to withhold that applause, to say, “Wait a minute, you just told me you’re prepared to accept an enormous amount on no evidence whatsoever.
Hitchens recognizes that faith must have an object, but he apparently thinks that such faith is always a “leap” with no rational basis. That is not true of Christian faith. Our faith in God is rational. The Bible is worthy of trust. A Biblical worldview is cohesive and is the only worldview that can consistently make sense of the world in which we live.
I don’t know whether or not God exists in the first place. . . . I don’t believe that God intervenes to give me goodies if I ask for them.
God is a mystery to me. I choose to believe because—and this is a very practical thing for me—I seem to live with more integrity when I find myself accountable to something larger than myself. That thing larger than myself, I call God, but it’s a metaphor. That God is an emptiness out of which everything comes. Perhaps I would say “ reality” or “what is” because we’re trying to describe the infinite with language of the finite. My faith is that I put all that I am and all that I have on the line for that which I do not know.
The God of the Bible describes Himself to us, and calls us to know Him. Praise God that we don’t have to waste our lives pursuing that which we do not know.
I’m not sure why Sewell holds on to the Christian label; she certainly rejects everything that makes Christianity unique. Hitchens sees through the facade that Sewell tries to portray as authentic faith. For his part, Hitchens recognizes that humans are different than animals and that there is more to life than just the material world around us, but he can’t reconcile this with his rejection of the supernatural and a higher authority.
(HT: Justin Taylor)